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April 2013

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Small rhododendrons, hostas and spring bulbs


After another wet winter, a number of plants have died as a result of having their roots sitting in sodden ground for months, though our rhododendrons have come through well. Of the smaller varieties, 'Egret' is one of the best, it produces masses of white bell flowers. To contrast with this, 'Peter Chappell' has deep red purple flowers of similar shape. 'Curlew' with its yellow large flowers is a reliable variety to flower but its display can be destroyed by late frosts. 'Ginny Gee' with pale pink flowers looks great planted next to the cut-leaf maple, Acer palmatum var. dissectum.

I do love purple-flowered rhododendrons. Rhododendron 'Fastigatum' is excellent, very compact with blue grey foliage setting off its deep purple flowers. For a larger variety, Rhododendron augustinii fills the bill. Ours, now 40 years old, are 3.5 m high, covered in late May with its purple flowers. Of the larger forms, 'Glendoick Velvet' with its mid-season purple flowers is superb. For something different try Rhododendron sanguineum var. haemaleum which has flowers more black red than purple, ours flowers in a sunny spot at the end of spring.

With so many new species and varieties available there are a wide range of leaf shapes available. Of the long narrow-leaved forms which we grow I love 'Makinoi', pink in flower with narrow woolly indumentum on its leaves. It is one of the few that likes alkaline soil. Rhododendron roxianum has metallic green foliage during summer but likes sharp drainage like all grey green foliage plants. Rhododendron yakushimanum has foliage covered on its underside with velvety indumentum, but sadly many of the hybrids have not inherited it. Rhododendron flinckii has soft yellow flowers that contrasts against the cinnamon-coloured indumentum. Rhododendron bureavii has felted foliage on both sides in shades of rust, a must for every garden. When planting rhododendrons, I dig a large hole and fill it with fibrous soil and top-dress with compost or peat to encourage new roots but keep it away from the stem of the plant.

I complement these shrubs with lower planting. The large-leaved hosta varieties 'Big Daddy' and 'Blue Hawaii' are particularly good in the blue-green colour range. 'Dream Weaver' has a shot of pale yellow in the centre of the leaf while 'Frances Williams' and 'Earth Angle' produce an outer band of colour on the foliage. I find the yellow leaved varieties look great in the spring but dis-improve as the season develops.

Division of clumps every few years will ensure both vigour and size of leaves. I am growing some new varieties that have good stem colour in shades of reds and browns. 'Fire Island' has intense yellow foliage with spotted crimson stems. 'Paradise' is similar with dark-edged leaves. I keep them in semi-shade in pots on a stone table with a collection of sempervivums. Now is the ideal time to divide recently flowered spring bulbs, snowdrops, daffodills, muscari and scillas. The hostas can conceal the dying foliage of the bulbs and an application of high-potash fertilizer will encourage flowering next year.



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