Vaccinium - Rhododendron Companion Plants

Huckleberry, blueberry, cranberry - that's what I think of when I consider Vaccinium, but actually throughout the world there are as many as 450 Vaccinium species, ranging from tiny creeping vines to large tree-like plants. We may not think of them as landscape material because of their more obvious food/farm value, but they have features that make them very attractive in any mixed garden.

My favorite is Vaccinium parviflorum, the red huckleberry (Zone 5). I can't walk through any of our local British Columbia forests in winter without marveling at the way they sprout from the tops of old cedar stumps like fanciful hats. The tracery of the delicate branches is magical in the early morning frosts. If I were lucky enough to have a woodland garden, I would surely have a stump upon which to seed one.

The highland blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum (Zone 4) is native to eastern North America, and has been hybridized extensively for commercial food production in many parts of the continent. Red winter twigs to cut for Christmas decoration, apple-blossom pink flower clusters in spring, glossy foliage and luscious blue fruit in summer, and brilliant leaves of red and gold in fall all combine to offer more than many cultivated ornamental shrubs. There are early, mid-season and late fruiting varieties, and flavors from mild to sweet/tart for your discerning palate. They will all grow easily in moist acidic soil that drains well in winter, preferably in full sun, and need roughly a 5 x 5-foot space to mature. Pruning is rarely needed except for dead or damaged wood.

Another favorite is Vaccinium vitis-idaea, the lingonberry. A very hardy evergreen species (Zone 3), widespread in Arctic and alpine regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, it grows only about 10 inches tall and suckers to form a small thicket in sun or part shade. Typical tiny pinkish bell flowers turn to shiny red berries. The larger fruited form 'Koralle' is a prolific producer, and a smaller overall version, V. vitis-idaea ssp. minus, has deep pink flowers, and grows only 8 inches tall. Even if you don't care to eat these tart little beauties, they are highly decorative in the garden.

Happy Planting!

Rhododendron catawbiense portrait

Common names: Purple Laurel, Rose Bay, Catawba Rhododendron.

R. catawbiense grows in the wild in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia to Georgia and Alabama, occasionally eastward to near the coastal plain. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees. Leaves are thick, leathery, dark green above, pale green beneath, shaped oval or elliptic, 2" - 5" long.

Flowers held in an umbel-like cluster, colored rose-purple to lilac, rarely white, with olive-green spots on upper lobe, not fragrant. Flowers bloom in May and June. Calyx lobes broadly triangular or semicircular, less than 1/3" long. Corolla rotate to campanulate shape, up to 2 1/3" across. Ten stamens; filaments purple, anthers white. Purple style about as long as stamens.

Cold hardy to -25°F ( -32°C). Widely used by hybridizers to create cold-tolerant hybrid varieties.

R. catawbiense
Photo by Rhododendron Species Foundation (ac77-620)

Origin of Pumpkins

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 5500 B.C.

The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word "peopon" which means "large melon". Peopon was changed by the French into "pompon". The English changed "pompon" to "pumpion". American colonists then changed "pumpion" to "pumpkin".

Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed. Indians would roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them. They also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats.

When white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians and pumpkin soon became a favorite food. Early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from stews and soups to desserts.

The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled the pumpkin with milk, spices, and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.

Award of Garden Merit for Deciduous Azaleas

In 2016 the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit (AGM), the Society's highest plant accolade, was given to the following deciduous azaleas:

R. 'Chelsea Reach': large, double blooms, pale yellowish white, flushed purplish pink on an upright growing plant.

R. 'Crosswater Red': deep true red flowers, upright plant habit, good fall foliage color.

R. 'Gena Mae' long-lasting, double light greenish yellow flowers with orange edges and center.

R. 'Golden Oriole': flowers brilliant yellow with a deep orange blotch.

R. 'Jock Brydon': scented, large blooms, white with speckled reddish orange blotch, upright plant habit.

R. 'Parkfeuer': large blooms, vivid reddish orange, shaded vivid red.

R. schlippenbachii: broad, pale to deep pink blooms, rarely white, on a tall, upright plant.

The RHS reconfirmed AGM's for the following deciduous azaleas:

'Arneson Gem', 'Coccineum Speciosum', 'Daviesii', 'Fireball', 'Gibraltar', 'Golden Eagle', 'Homebush', 'Irene Koster', 'Jolie Madame', 'Klondyke', 'Narcissiflorum', 'Persil', 'Satan', 'Silver Slipper', 'Soir de Paris', 'Sunte Nectarine', 'Whitethroat', R. arborescence and R. vaseyi

All of the azaleas awarded AGM's are hardy to -4° to -5°F (-15° to -20°C).

Calla or Ethiopian Lily

The Calla or Ethiopian Lily has long been grown as a florist flower, popular at weddings and funerals alike, and easily recognized by the elegant, white trumpet-like spathes. Originating in several parts of Africa, the hardiest species, Zantedeschia aethiopica, can be grown in the garden in rich humus soil in full sun, with ample summer water, and is hardy to Zone 4. Growing from tuberous rhizomes, the glossy, arrow-shaped leaves stand upright to 3 feet, and a long succession of large, white blooms from late spring through summer emerge among them. The "bloom" is actually a modified leaf or bract up to 10 inches long, and the true flower is merely the yellow spadice arising from its center.

Selections have been made for more compact forms, as in 'Little Gem' and 'Apple Court Babe', only 18 and 24 inches tall; an extra hardy, stout-growing type, 'Crowborough', and the unusual 'Green Goddess', with bright green and white handkerchief-like flowers.

There are now interesting colored forms available, but these should be grown as potted plants or lifted in fall, as they are not all hardy. The Golden Calla, Z. elliothiana, has 4-in. blooms in a color range from cream to yellow through orange to deep rust and crimson. Leaves are heart-shaped, often spotted white, and stand 2 to 3 ft. tall. The Pink Calla, Z. rehmannii, has more linear leaves and has 2 to 4-in. blooms from blush thru pink to deepest royal purple. Wow! These make excellent accent plants for patios or conservatories, or may be planted in borders and lifted for winter.

The rhizomes of all can be divided in fall for plants to share, or plant again about 4-in. deep. Be careful to provide good air circulation to avoid fungal diseases, especially in cooler weather, and use caution when handling. The sap can cause skin irritation and all parts of the plant are poisonous to eat. The blooms make excellent long-lasting cut flowers and have no fragrance to compete on the dinner table.

Seven Dwarfs Rhododendrons

In 1977 I purchased from a local nursery which was closing forty R. yakushimanum hybrids, 20 cm tall in pots at what seems now a ridiculous price of 40p each. These remained in pots until we moved to our present garden at Radlett in Hertfordshire in 1982 when they were planted out.

Among this collection were a group named the "Seven Dwarfs", created by Percy Wiseman, the well-known hybridizer at Waterers Nursery. In the ensuing years, these plants have grown considerably and are not so dwarf anymore! The following descriptions are of interest to those starting a rhododendron collection in their garden.

'Bashful'
Registered 1971. R. yakushimanum x 'Doncaster'. Pale pink with a brown blotch. A very hardy plant, needs little attention and goes a long time without watering. Now measures 1.6 meter in height by 2.5 meter width.

'Doc'
Registered 1972. Half yakushimanum and half unknown. Pink. Awarded the HC in 1978. This is a fine plant with magnificent blooms and superb compact habit. One of my favorites, blooming in late May. Now measures 1.5 meter in height by 2.3 meter width.

'Dopey'
Registered 1971. Only a quarter yakushimanum with much other blood in its veins; facetum, dichroanthum and griersonianum. From its appearance one would think it had no yakushimanum in it at all. A deep rich red. Award of Merit 1977, FCC 1979. A favorite at Glendoick, I have read. While this is a fine plant, it suffers badly from mildew here in the South East in our long dry summers. Now measures 1.5 meter in height by 2.5 meter width.

'Grumpy'
Half yakushimanum, half unknown. Award of Merit 1979. Peach fading to cream. This is the only true semi-dwarf plant of the group suitable for a rockery or border. It is prone to bark split caused by the late frosts after periods of warm weather here in Hertfordshire. It has fine foliage with brown indumentum, and has a superb hummock-shape with the excellent tight round yakushaimanum-type truss. Only two of the original four have survived. These now measure 1.0 meter in height by 2.5 meter width.

'Hoppy'
Registered 1972. Half yakushimanum and quarter 'Doncaster' and quarter unknown. Award of Merit 1977. The name 'Hoppy' was used rather than 'Happy' as Rothschild registered a rhododendron of this name in 1940. This is also one of my favorite in flower opening pale lavender, fading to pure white. A wonderful sight in a woodland setting. This is "The Giant" dwarf which, in time, will grow into a plant of some size. Now measure 2.5 meter in height by 3 meter width.

'Sleepy'
Registered 1971. Half yakushimanum, quarter unknown, quarter 'Doncaster'. Pale mauve, spotted brown. This is the runt of the litter which I found very difficult to grow. Despite all my efforts, the leaves always showed signs of cholorsis, and the plants lacked any vitality and slowly died one by one probably due to our very dry summers. One plant, which I gave to a friend locally, survived but in a stunted, miserable condition. I have not seen this plant for sale in the nursery trade for some years which I think speaks for itself.

'Sneezy'
Registered 1971. Half yakushimanum, quarter unknown, quarter 'Doncaster'. This is an easy vigorous plant which layers very readily, with good dark green foliage but is not to my taste as it is a rather garish red/pink which fades badly in sunlight and does not sit easily with the surrounding plants in my collection. If you do try it, I suggest placing it amongst white flowering varieties. Now measures 1.7 meter in height by 2.8 meter width.

Amongst the others in the original collection were: 'Venetian Chimes', 'Percy Wiseman', 'Golden Torch', and 'Chelsea Seventy'. The first three have proved to be excellent garden plants, very hardy, keeping their semi-miniature stature. They are beautifully compact in habit, and will fit in every well with smaller garden schemes. 'Chelsea Seventy' while having a startling flower with strong dichroanthum influence has a leggy habit with not particularly inspiring foliage.

 
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