The Art of Gardening
Most rhododendrons ever bred thrive in Puget Sound conditions when given part shade, good rich soil and proper care. Every spring, though, customers ask us: do you have any rhodies that will take full sun? Full shade? Stay dwarf? Get tall? Bloom early? Bloom late? So here are a few of our favorite best-performing "extreme rhododendrons."
The following rhodies will tolerate full sun (yes, we mean afternoon sun too) when given good soil, care, and consistent watering. Anna Rose Whitney is a tall girl (5-6' in 10 years) with lovely large trusses of deep rose-pink flowers. Pale pink Christmas Cheer is one of the earliest to bloom (in February most years). If you prefer red, Cary Ann is a cheerful coral, while (The Honorable) Jean Marie de Montague is a bright red show-off. For white, choose between tall Gomer Waterer or tiny (1-2') Dora Amateis. Purple-lovers can't go wrong with a P.J.M. but the species Rhododendron impeditum is ideal if you want a dwarf (can you say sunny rock garden?), while Purple Splendor is perfect if you want a dramatic deep purple. Finally, for bright yellow flowers, choose the species Rhododendron lutescens or R. luteum.
For shady situations, remember that if you're planting under trees, your poor rhody is dealing both with shade and with competition from the tree roots. So treat it kindly! For pink, try the early-blooming dwarf Cilpinense or midseason Cotton Candy. Or Molly Ann will give you a deeper rose. Two small rhodies will light your shade with white blooms: early-blooming Lucy Lou followed by Snow Lady. Vulcan flames red, while little Ernie Dee offers frilly lavender blooms.
f you need rhododendrons that stay small, we've already mentioned Dora Amateis, R. impeditum, Cilpinense, Lucy Lou, Snow Lady and Ernie Dee. All of them will be perfectly happy in normal rhododendron conditions as well as extremes. A few others to consider are R. keleticum, a compact 10-12" plant with violet blossoms spotted with red; lipstick-red Elisabeth Hobbie; violet Ramapo; rich yellow Chikor; and the unusual greenish-yellow Shamrock.
For the other extreme of height, Gomer and Anna, above, will happily stretch themselves for you. So too will Blue Pacific (guess its color), Lem's Monarch with its perfectly formed trusses of bicolor pink flowers; rose-red Very Berry or deep-red Taurus; and banana-yellow Horizon Monarch. (Gee: what does Monarch in a rhododendron name indicate?)
The earliest bloomers (February) are Christmas Cheer Bubblegum, and a few of the species rhodies: R. mucronulatum, R. pemakoense, and R. praevernum, all available in shades of pink, pink, and pink. A little later, most of the little guys listed above will start to bloom: Shamrock, Lucy Lou, then P.J.M. and Cilpinense.
Finally, for a June showing most years, try our friend Gomer for white, Blutopia for purple, Good News for scarlet, Graf Zeppelin for ruffled two-tone pink blooms, Tortoiseshell Wonder for salmon-orange, or, of course, our own Northwest native, the pink to purple toned R. macrophyllum.
And if none of these strike your fancy, don't despair: Sky Nursery is carrying 300 other varieties to choose from. Check our website to download the list, but load plenty of paper: the full list is 9 pages. Once you've set your heart on one, though, please call or email for availability: all 300 are not guaranteed to be in stock when you show up.
By Terri Williamson
Skylights Spring 2008, Vol 23, No. 1
articles on the art of gardening
articles on trees & shrubs