Plant Collector: Rhododendron veitchianum

Rhododendron veitchianum - frilly, fragrant and white

Rhododendron veitchianum - frilly, fragrant and white

There is something about the pristine purity of a white flower, a snow white flower with just a hint of green in the bud stage and the merest reference of yellow in the throat. Add to that the fact the flowers are relatively large, frilly, sweetly scented and there are masses of them. The plant itself is compact and stays bushy around the 150cm mark, with most attractive, oval leaves. Being a species, there will be considerable variation in the wild but the form we have, which is probably the most common form in this country, is a particularly good selection from Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco.

Veitchianum occurs naturally around Thailand, Burma and Laos which is an indicator of another characteristic – it is not particularly hardy. In fact in the nursery, it is one of the only rhododendrons that we used to worry about getting burned by frost. It never gets frosted in the garden here (young nursery plants are more tender) but it is not going to love you if you live in an area prone to heavy frosts. On the bright side, it is part of the maddenii group and this means that it is much more resistant to thrips – the nasty leaf sucking insects that turn rhododendrons silver. So it is what we refer to as a higher health rhododendron suitable for growing in warmer areas of the country. The name honours the Veitch family of nurserymen who employed no fewer than 22 different plant collectors over a period of 65 years (late Victorian times onwards) and who were responsible for introducing a vast array of new plant material to avid English gardeners. I am not sure how they would have got on with R. veitchianum but maybe they grew it in glasshouses.