Rhododendon johnstoneaum “Ken Burns”

Rhododendron johnstoneanum "Ken Burns"

Rhododendron johnstoneanum "Ken Burns"

October is the peak time for rhododendrons and while this group of plants has seen a considerable slide in popularity in recent years, there is delicious anticipation in watching buds fatten, show colour and then gradually open. We would not want to be without plenty of them in our garden and this week it is “Ken Burns” that is looking delightful. It is hard to describe the colour. I would call it honey buff, others describe it as champagne. The buds are buffy yellow with a pink flush and the fully open flowers fade out to a cream with a yellow throat. It is even lightly scented. The leaves are quite small and slightly hairy and the plant stays well furnished and compact to about 1.2 metres high and a similar width. But for those of us living in warmer parts of the country, one of the real stand-out features of “Ken Burns” is that it stays healthy and rarely gets affected by nasty thrips (which turn the leaves silver and weaken the plant) or by sun scorch.

I had always thought that this is just a superior selection of the species R. johnstoneanum (which is as it occurs in the wild – raising species from seed gives variation within the seedlings), but it appears that there is a school of thought that it may be a natural hybrid (in other words, R. johnstoneaum crossed with something else unknown). The story goes that the original plant was growing in the garden of Mr Ken Burns who lived near Timaru and it was nearly lost when a bullock leaned too heavily on the fence and inflicted major damage on it. Somebody salvaged the plant and named it for Mr Burns. It is not at all the done thing to name plants after oneself. Since then, all plants bearing this name have been propagated by cutting which keeps the plant true to name. To raise it from seed would be to give rise to more seedling variation so it would no longer be “Ken Burns”.

3 thoughts on “Rhododendon johnstoneaum “Ken Burns”

  1. Marge Hurst

    Thank you so much for this. I believe you have identified what has been very happy in my garden for 25-30 years. (I have just gone out to have a close look at blooms, buds and leaves and mine sure looks like the twin of this one!) I planted it with a number of other rhodos and many camellias at that time. Since then all the other rhodos have bit the dust, too dry for them methinks as there is a large pohutukawa nearby, but this one has flourished. It is now probably 2 metres high and perhaps 2.5 metres wide, in one direction, Of course, not thinking, it was planted too close to a red camellia which is too close to what may be “Desire” camellia on the other side. Not your “House and Garden” planting but just now very spectacular nonetheless! I have often wondered how I would ever identify this particular rhodo as it has done so well here with, as you say, no thrip problems whatsoever. I can now recommend it to all my friends who are looking for a carefree plant!
    The camellias, BTW, all flourished although a number stopped blooming for some reason. Those have been cut out below ground, but still insist on sending up shoots years after their supposed demise. Damn.
    Thanks again.

    Marge Hurst

  2. Abbie Jury Post author

    Desire is a very pale, white flushed pink, formal flower (not red) but you are right – camellias are devilishly difficult to kill. Resistant to Round Up (glyphosate) – we usually get Our Lloyd to dig them out. A reluctance to flower in camellias is usually linked to lack of light. And Ken Burns is certainly a fine rhododendron.

  3. Marge Hurst

    No, there is a red one (also formal) between Desire and the Ken Burns, that’s why I said “not your House and Garden planting! About 1.2 metre centres!! What was I thinking? Probably just followed the size on the label which someone has since told me is the 10 year size…NOT 25 year size.
    The the camellias which didn’t flower were pretty much in full sun. The red and Desire which both bloom profusely, get more shade, but still not much. Can’t figure gardens, can you?
    Shame I don’t have a “Lloyd”, all I have are three “occasional” sons who really don’t like garden work and only help Mum because she’s getting a bit past digging out BIG plants.



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