A compressed spring seems to be our lot this year. Everything was kept in waiting by the protracted spell of cold weather and is now making up for lost time.
The rhododendrons seem to have come through without much difficulty, a few scorched leaves, but not too much damage. Although the rhododendron flower can look like it should be on a delicate orchid-like plant in a steamy jungle on the equator, they are generally very tough. If you look into where many of them are from it is understandable. Rhododendrons are found only in the northern hemisphere, although there is a tropical offshoot of singular beauty.
Many rhodos hail from the slopes of the Himalayas, an area not noted for its moderate climate. The higher in elevation a rhodo grows, the more likely it is to be hardy. Some, in fact, may spend the winter under snow. There are also rhodos from the eastern side of North America which are well acclimatized to cold winters. Hybrids of these are good choices for the homeowner who lives in an area that may have colder weather in the winter. The smaller leafed and dwarf rhodos such as R. impeditum, Snow Lady, Ginny Gee and Bob’s Blue provide a dazzling early spring display as well as being fairly trouble free. Larger growing varieties such as Scintillation, (pale pink) Taurus (brilliant red) Horizon Monarch (yellow with pink shadings) also give a colourful show later in April-May.
It’s not just the flowers that are eye catching, more and more now breeders are aiming for interesting and spectacular foliage as well. Indumentum, which is protective hair beneath the leaf can be showy in its own right. Sir Charles Lemon has a cinnamon pelt under its leaves, while Cherries and Merlot has a purple underside to its leaf that is attractive when the flowers are but a memory. Ever Red has dark reddish leaves that remain a deep colour all year.
To see some of the variety of flowers the rhododendron can produce visit local gardens or nurseries to see what is on offer. The Cowichan Valley Garden Fair takes place on Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds and showcases the rhododendron. A truss show displays the variety of rhodos in bloom at this time of year, and a host of local nurseries and growers will have their plants for sale. This is a good opportunity to see and purchase some otherwise difficult to find plants and meet with garden experts. The Master Gardeners will be there to answer your questions and The Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society who put on the Fair, will have experts there happy to talk about their favourite plant!
Barrie Agar is the president of the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society, sponsors of the Cowichan Valley Garden Fair.