The Other Rhodies

P90504KThere are countless species and cultivars of rhododendrons. Some have been in cultivation for centuries. Their big bold blooms are spectacular against a backdrop of their dark evergreen foliage. They prefer shelters spots, and some are happy to bloom in places that are too cool and too shaded for other flowers to bloom so well. They are so impressive that no one notices that they lack fragrance.

There is certainly a lot of variety among rhododendrons. Some are low mounding shrubs, while other can grow as small trees with open branch structure. Flowers can be white, pink, red, purple, blue or maybe even yellow or orange. Most flowers have some sort of pattern within the main color, but some are solid colors. Nonetheless, regardless of all the variety, we think that we can recognize a rhododendron when we see one.

Then there is Rhododendron occidentale, the Western azalea. The flowers are sort of recognizable as either big azalea flowers or lean rhododendron flowers, but are quite distinct from what we think of as familiar rhododendron flowers. The color range is very different too, with more white, marked with yellow, pink or orange. Even more surprising is that the bloom is quite sweetly fragrant!

Foliage is also very different from what is expected from a rhododendron. Not only is it deciduous, but if well exposed, it can actually develop soft yellow, orange or brownish red color in autumn. Individual leaves are rather narrow and papery.

We have only a few Rhododendron occidentale at work. They are not as tolerant of the partial shade from the redwoods as the more familiar rhododendrons are. However, they do happen to be blooming exceptionally well this year, while the bloom of the more familiar rhododendrons is less impressive than it has been in many years.

Six on Saturday: Azaleas

 

As the flowering cherry trees fade, the azaleas get their turn. Like the flowering cherry trees, the azaleas are not as spectacular as they were last year. I know it is relevant to the weather, although I do not know what the weather did to inhibit so much bloom with so many of the early spring bloomers. I know there was a lot of rain, but that should not have been a major problem. There was not much chill, but there should have been enough.

I do not know if this will be the most subdued bloom ever witnessed here, but the limited color might be more apparent because the azaleas and rhododendrons were more spectacular last year than they had ever been. According to their bud set, the rhododendrons will be even less impressive than the azaleas. The dogwoods might have had the potential to be as spectacular as last year, but some were disadvantaged by structural pruning.

These six azaleas were the best of what was blooming here this year. The pictures were taken about a week ago. I should know the names of all the cultivars, but I don’t. They do not look the same in landscape as they do on the farm where they grow. I could guess on a few. The only one that there is no mistake about is #4, which is ‘Coral Bells’. Color is a bit off in this picture. #5 looks like ‘Hino Crimson’, but without bronzed new foliage.

Rhododendrons are coming along slowly but surely. They will not be ready for next week. Fortunately, as wimpy as our bloom is this spring, there is plenty to get more pictures of for next week.

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This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Western Azalea

70607We think of rhododendrons and azaleas as being from cooler and moister climates. After all, that is where they do best. Yet, there does happen to be a native western azalea, Rhododendron occidentale, that lives in the Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges from San Diego County to just southwest of Portland, Oregon. (Azalea and Rhododendron are varied specie of the same genus.)

Bloom is mostly white, with pink, pale yellow or golden orange. Some of the fancier garden varieties bloom clear white, or with more vibrant color. The lightly fragrant, two inch wide flowers bloom in groups of two or three on open conical trusses. Each truss produces as many as a dozen flowers in sequence, so a new flower replaces a fading flower for a bit more than a week each spring.

Western azaleas plants are unfortunately not much to look at after bloom. They grow somewhat slowly and irregularly to about three to five feet tall. The two or three inch long deciduous leaves that can turn yellow and orange where autumn is cooler are more likely to turn an unimpressive grayish brown here. Foliage can fade prematurely if the weather gets too hot and arid through summer.

Deciduous Rhododendrons

P80509They are not a myth. They are quite real. So are the related and similar deciduous azaleas. There are certainly not as popular or as diverse as the familiar evergreen cultivars, but they have their place.

Like the popular evergreen cultivars, deciduous rhododendrons and azaleas have been extensively bred so that they are more spectacular than their ancestors in the wild. They lack the purples and blues of the evergreens, but they compensate with bright oranges and yellows that are uncommon among the evergreen cultivars, as well as reds, pinks and whites. Some of their colors are bright and fiery, while some are more relaxed. Compared to evergreen rhododendrons, the flowers of the deciduous rhododendrons are smaller, thinner, and suspended in smaller trusses. However, these smaller trusses are often significantly more abundant, and are flashier as they bloom before new foliage develops in spring.

Deciduous rhododendrons and azaleas are not grown for the foliar color in autumn, but where autumn weather is cold enough, their foliage can color somewhat well. It is mostly clear yellow, but can sometimes turn orange before falling away cleanly, leaving neatly bare stems through winter.

What deciduous rhododendrons and azaleas excel at that their evergreen counterparts can not compete with is their fragrance. Many are moderately fragrant. Some are VERY fragrant. It is rare that such showy flowers are also so fragrant. (Most flowers rely on one technique or another to attract pollinators.)

Now that the evergreen rhododendrons are blooming, our few deciduous rhododendrons are just about finishing. Visitors often ask about the fragrance, since they do not expect fragrance from rhododendron or azalea flowers, even though they can see little else blooming in same area. These flowers are so popular that we would like to plant more near windows of meeting rooms.P80509+(The article from my weekly gardening column that is typically posted on Thursday was posted yesterday, which is why this article, which is more appropriate for Wednesday is posted today.)

Six on Saturday: Azaleas

 

There is just too much blooming this time of year to fit it all into one Saturday. These azaleas were blooming quite some time ago, and these pictures are at least a week old. Some might be almost two weeks old. I just could not use them last week because there were still camellias to show off.

1. What this one lacks in profusion, it compensates for with large flower size. We used to grow one that looked like this but perhaps with slightly richer color. It was known as ‘Phoenicia’. It was a bit too garish for my taste.P80505
2. These flowers are smaller, but seriously more profuse. In fact, they are so profuse that, like #4, #5 and #6, the foliage is barely visible behind so many flowers. It is garish too, but I rather like this particular flavor of color.P80505+
3. Okay, so they are not as profuse, but they are such an excellently bright red. It looks like ‘Ward’s Ruby’ to be, but I can not be certain. All these azaleas look so different in this landscape than in production on the farm.P80505++
4. Not much foliage could be seen through these glowing flowers. They are more profuse than they look. They just do not seem so profuse because they are not dense. I do not know which cultivar to compare this one to.P80505+++
5. ‘Coral Bells’ has very profuse and very densely arranged tiny flowers. They form a layer over the exterior of the plant. Although I would say that these are more pink than coral, this cultivar is unmistakably ‘Coral Bells’.P80505++++
6. ‘Fielders White’ is the best that I saved for last. They are perfectly white medium sized flowers that are profuse enough to almost obscure the foliage, but not so profuse that the perfect form of the flowers is obscured.P80505+++++
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/