Looking Forward to Spring

Let's see... it's the middle of March, 2020, and everyone is trying to cope with the coronovirus pandemic. In my area, garden club meetings, plant sales and spring flower shows have all been cancelled. And, of course, the annual American Rhododendron Society Convention, scheduled for late April, has been cancelled too. These are all things I look forward to every spring.

But, there's still lots to anticipate. I've already seen Rhododendron 'Seta', 'Cilpinense', 'Cornell Pink' and 'Christmas Cheer' (see blog; 'Early Blooming Rhododendrons') in bloom at my house, and it looks like 'Mary Fleming' will open on the next warm, sunny day. Rhododendron buds are swelling and so are the lovely companion plants like Erythroniums, Trilliums, and Bloodroot.

I am lucky enough to have a warm, protected deck and I like to bring containers up to enjoy from my kitchen window. I mix and match the display depending on the state of blooms, and it usually ends up being a riot of colour. The picture below is from my deck in mid April, 2019. I'm already looking forward to this year's display as I expect it to be every bit as bright and cheerful. So, since we're all staying home for awhile, we can putter around the garden and enjoy our own gardens' private spring shows.


ARS Celebrates its 75th Anniversary

The American Rhododendron Society celebrates its 75th Anniversary with a return to the Portland area, where the Society began in 1945, to present a group of world-renowned keynote speakers and tours to the Northwest’s outstanding gardens and nurseries. Informative guest speakers include Jens Nielsen, Kenneth Cox, Lionel de Rothschild and Steve Hootman. Outstanding garden tours are planned to the Crystal Springs Garden, the Cecil and Molly Smith Garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden. The 2020 Convention will also feature a plant sale, photo exhibit/contest, and rhododendron science poster session.

The six chapters of ARS District 4 will host the 75th anniversary Convention, titled "2020 Vision, Looking Forward Reflecting Back" to be held at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, WA on April 29 to May 3, 2020, with optional pre-tour, April 27-28, and post-tour, May 3-5. Non-ARS members are invited and most welcome to attend.

Companion Plant: Mahonia

The Mahonias, or Grape Holly, are attractive plants, that are easy to grow, have evergreen leaves, bright flowers, colorful fruits that are not poisonous or injurious, and have few pests. From groundcover to low shrubs to stately background specimens, there is a Mahonia for nearly any place in the garden. The flowers are most always some shade of yellow, often fragrant, sometimes powerfully so. Berries, in clumps or pendulous clusters, are in the blue-purple-black range, and make good jelly. Foliage is leathery, pinnate, spiny to one degree or another, often red-tinted when young, and sometimes coloring purple-red in winter,

For the very smallest groundcover type, look for M. repens (Creeping Mahoni), a suckering form only 12 inches tall that's very tough. A bit bigger, to 18 inches, with shinier, longer leaves, and also a spring to early summer bloomer, is M. nervosa (Cascades Mahonia). Taller again, 4 to 6 feet or so, also suckering into thickets of stems and blooming May-June, is M. aquifolium (Oregon Grape).

Native Azalea Species

Native azaleas that you might consider for your own garden:

  • R. canescens, also known as Sweet, Piedmont, or Florida Pinxter Azalea, blooms early in the spring. It is a large shrub, with fragrant, white to dark pink flowers. Hardy in zones 6b to 10a.

  • R. austrinum, the Flordia Azalea, is the first to flower in the spring and is indigenous to northern Florida and the coastal plains to Mississippi. Hardy in zones 6b to 10a.

  • R. canadense, or known as Rhodora, is a very hardy deciduous species native to Maine and eastern Canada. Flowers are rose-purple and have deeply cut petals in delicate trusses. An upright, compact plant with bluish-green leaves. 'Alba' is a white form. Hardy to -25F.

  • R. atlanticum or Coast Azalea forms a multi-stemmed upright plant with very fragrant flowers, white flushed pink or purple. It has bright, bluish-green leaves, hardy to -15F.

  • R. calendulaceum or Flame Azalea, flowers in brilliant shades of orange to red and, sometimes yellow, on an upright vigorous plant. Native to Pennsylvania and Ohio. This is a tetraploid with large-sized flowers, hardy to 25F.

  • R. flammeum called the Oconee Azalea is native to the lower Piedmont region across Georgia to South Carolina. Flowers are yellowish-orange to red. Hardy in zones 6b to 9a.

  • R. periclymenoides, formerly R. nudiflorium, is known as the Honeysuckle or Pinxterbloom Azalea. It is deciduous with unusual pink and white flowers that curve backwards exposing the style and stamens. Native from Massachusetts south to North Carolina. Very hardy to -15F.

  • R. vaseyi is one of the loveliest native azaleas. It is an upright plant with smooth tapering leaves. Also known as Pinkshell Azalea. The flowers range from white to pink, spotted red and bright yellow. The foliage in Fall becomes a great red color. 'White Find' is a choice white-flowered form. Hardy to -15F.

  • R. prinophyllum, formerly R. roseum, also known as Roseshell Azalea, has spicy fragrant flowers. Native from Quebec south through New England, and west to Tennessee, central Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. Flowers are pink to purplish pink. Very hardy in zones 4b to 9a.

  • R. viscosum or Swamp Azalea with a spicy fragrance to the flowers, can be pink or white. The flowers are long, slender, tubular, and sticky. This azalea tolerates wet and dry conditions, sun or shade, and offers good fall color. Hardy to -25F.

  • R. prunifolium or the Plumleaf Azalea, is a freely flowering plant with wide tubular-shaped blooms in apricot to orange-red. It like some shade and a moist environment, hardy to -15F.

Leonardslee Gardens Reopens

One of England's most renowned rhododendron gardens, Leonardslee near Horsham in West Sussex, has reopened after being closed to the public for nearly a decade. The Grade I-listed garden, first planted in 1801, features an outstanding spring display of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and bluebells. Among Leonardslee's many treasures is the spectacular Rhododendron 'Loderi' hybrids, now more than 100 years old, created by former garden owner Sir Edmund Loder.

Restoration began when the present owner, Penny Streeter, OBE, acquired the estate in 2017. Penny and her team have restored and improved the garden and estate buildings for visitors to again see the garden's many rare and endangered rhododendrons and azaleas.

Leonardslee is home to a wide range of wildlife including foxes, rabbits, grey squirrels, badgers, weasels, stoats, shrews, voles, and its famous wallabies. The 240 acre estate has more than 100 free roaming deer. The Leonardslee wallabies were introduced by naturalist Sir Edmund Loder in 1889.

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!