Over the past fifty years, the quest here has been to breed rhododendrons better suited to growing in warmer climates and not inclined to the nasty silver leaves caused by thrip (a common leaf sucking insect). In its time, Bernice was an advance in colour and size in the maddenii group of rhododendrons. Its parents are polyandrum (which gave some scent and increased flower size) and Royal Flush Townhill (which contributed the colour genes). It has flat trusses of bell-shaped flowers and can give the impression of a wall of bloom with almost no foliage showing. Over the decades, we have seen many varieties come and go but Bernice has stood the test of time and remains one of our top picks for a brilliant performer right on cue every year.
Pronounced Burniss, not Ber-neice, as I can say with authority because this, arguably the best performing rhododendron Felix Jury selected, was named for his wife’s best friend – Bernice Kelly. Mrs Kelly was an old Waitara identity whom I recall well as a down to earth character who physically made the concrete blocks for the cottage she and her husband built. These days there are pensioner cottages on the site, but the memory of Mrs Kelly lives on in the rhododendron named for her.