Tag Archives: scented rhododendrons

Plant Collector: Rhododendron sino nuttallii

Just beautiful - R. sino nuttallii

Just beautiful – R. sino nuttallii

Oh my, but we are besotted with the nuttallii rhododendrons which flower on even as November draws into December. We would rate these in the elite class as far as rhododendrons go. Not only are the heavy, waxy trumpets large and showy, they are also very fragrant. This one is planted on a bank which was a good decision because we can look down on it and the scent wafts up. Some of the others here are several metres above nose and eye level so the scent is a bit academic because they are best viewed from afar.

The foliage is large and heavily textured (bullate for the botanical or like heavy seersucker for those of a sewing disposition) and over time the main stems develop beautiful shiny, peeling bark in a cinnamon colour. These are large and open growing shrubs so do not fit the tight and tidy mould preferred by some.

‘Sino’ just means it is the Chinese form of the species, as opposed to R. nuttallii which is found in Tibet, North Burma and northern India. The Chinese form is bigger and showier and more sensitive to cold temperatures. These plants are rarely offered for sale though you can sometimes find some of the hybrids that have been bred from them.

Rhododendron sino nuttallii

Rhododendron sino nuttallii

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Fragrant rhododendrons

This is my final feature written for the Weekend Gardener. However, I would urge readers to respond to their readership survey in this latest issue. They want feedback – give them your comments. Tell them what you think of the new directions they are taking. Do. Please.

First published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Floral Dance gets its scent from R. sino nuttallii but is a very different flower and plant.

Floral Dance gets its scent from R. sino nuttallii but is a very different flower and plant.

Loderi Venus is one of the fragrant Loderi series but hard to find for sale and more of a small tree.

Loderi Venus is one of the fragrant Loderi series but hard to find for sale and more of a small tree.

Many people don’t realise that there are more scented rhododendrons beyond the well known Fragrantissimum or the Loderis, though these cultivars have certainly stood the test of time.

The early Loderi series were bred at England’s Leonardslee Gardens at the turn of last century and Fragrantissium has been around even longer. There is little to rival the Loderis even now for big, full trusses, but they are more akin to small trees than to shrubs. Added to that, they have to be grafted and there aren’t many specialist rhododendron nurseries continuing with grafting so they are not generally available on the market.

Most gardeners need plants which are more compact.

FRAGRANTISSIMUM

In the smaller growing, very fragrant white flushed pink class, Floral Gift is our preference

In the smaller growing, very fragrant white flushed pink class, Floral Gift is our preference

In the smaller growing, very fragrant white flushed pink class, Floral Gift is our preference. Fragrantissimum has been around since 1868 and is the best known fragrant rhododendron. It has a wonderful scent but it is a bit leggy and open and you don’t get many flowers to the truss. Its blooms are also rather soft, so it is inclined to weather mark. There are quite a few different options in this type with their scented blooms in white with a pink flush. Princess Alice, Elsie Frye and Harry Tag are all more or less similar. All are smaller growing (around a metre high) and have good scent but you need to encourage them to form a good shape by pruning and pinching out leggy growths at the right times. Our preference in that colour range is our own Floral Gift. It has a sturdier habit of growth and its large flowers are so heavily textured that it endures most bad weather without damaging the blooms.

R. polyandrum is one of the most fragrant species with its huge blooms, but it is a larger grower with a very open habit.

R. polyandrum is one of the most fragrant species with its huge blooms, but it is a larger grower with a very open habit.

FRAGRANT SPECIES

R. cubitti is a fragrant species which is easy to grow but because it flowers very early, it is not suitable for cold climate areas.

R. cubitti is a fragrant species which is easy to grow but because it flowers very early, it is not suitable for cold climate areas.

Most of those we grow as garden plants are hybrids – crosses between different varieties of rhododendrons. There are a number of fragrant species but these are not always easy to grow. In fact many are downright difficult. But the ones which have proven their worth as garden plants for us include the following:

R. polyandrum is the fragrant parent of many hybrids and is so strongly perfumed it will stop you as you walk past with its scent hanging heavy in the air. It has enormous cream flowers with each bloom measuring at least 12cm across. The flowers are soft so weather mark easily and the plant is rather leggy and open in growth, but where space allows, it is a wonderful garden addition.

R. maddenii is hardy for New Zealand conditions and has very heavy textured flowers which feel as if they have been cast out of wax. It is usually white with a pink flush and it flowers late in the season which makes it a good choice for colder areas. It is another relatively large grower in the two metre range.

For frost-free areas, R. veitchianum is a gem with its pure white, frilly, scented flowers.

For frost-free areas, R. veitchianum is a gem with its pure white, frilly, scented flowers.

R. cubittii is a pretty, frilly pink and white with good scent. It is an excellent smaller grower to around 1.5m and will even take full sun but the downside is that it flowers early in the season. This means that in cooler areas, it needs some protection from frosts or the flower buds will freeze and fall off and it won’t be happy at all in really cold, inland areas.

R. veitchianum is even more tender. In fact it is has about the same hardiness as a vireya rhododendron which means that any frosts more than a degree or two will not only destroy the flowering but also burn the foliage. But it is a great option for warm areas of the country and it will reward you with pristine white, frilled flowers smothering the bush in early spring and good fragrance. It also has a tidy, compact habit of growth on a smaller growing plant.

FRAGRANCE AND COLOUR

While we all love the fragrance of flowers, the plants are not producing this scent to please humans. Generally it is linked to attracting the right insects for pollination. While the rhododendron relatives of deciduous azaleas and some vireyas will use both colour and scent, fragrance in rhododendrons is generally linked to white and pale colours. You won’t find big bold, full trusses of red, blue or purple rhododendrons with scent. Part of the hybridist’s quest is to try and get new varieties with combinations of desirable characteristics.

Felix Jury’s series of R. polyandrum hybrids brought a greater colour range to scented rhododendrons in New Zealand - Barbara Jury

Felix Jury’s series of R. polyandrum hybrids brought a greater colour range to scented rhododendrons in New Zealand – Barbara Jury

SCENTED HYBRIDS

Bernice

Bernice

The late Felix Jury (yes, he was my father in law) set out to try and combine fragrance, colour and healthy foliage and named a series of new rhododendrons. Many of these are still available on the market today. None of them have the big full trusses of the traditional rhododendron, but they have many other aspects in their favour, including performing well in warmer climates. His R. polyandrum hybrids all have scent, though not as strong as their scented parent. They do, however, make tidier garden plants and bring more colour. These include Bernice (crimson tones), Barbara Jury (pure yellow fluted blooms), Moon Orchid (frilly apricot and yellow) and Felicity Fair (more pastel honey colours).

Felicity Fair

Felicity Fair

R. sino nuttallii (the sino just means it comes from China) is a magnificent rhododendron species with fragrant white trumpets but it is rarely available for sale. It has, however, given birth to two colourful offspring which are compact growers and much easier to produce so more widely available. Floral Dance (above) has very frilly, very fragrant, large trumpet flowers in white with a yellow throat and deep carmine blush and tips. The heavy textured dark foliage is a bonus. Floral Sun is a half sister with pretty soft golden flowers. Its fragrance is not as strong (which means getting close enough to put your nose by the flower to smell it) but the mass of pretty flowers and the tidy, compact growth make for an excellent garden plant.

Whether we ever get a big red Rubicon or a big blue Bumblebee with strong fragrance is unknown territory but it will be by the hand of the plant hybridiser, not nature, if it happens.

Moon Orchid

Moon Orchid

Floral Sun is the soft yellow half sister of Floral Dance and becomes a very tidy, compact garden plant with masses of blooms.

Floral Sun is the soft yellow half sister of Floral Dance and becomes a very tidy, compact garden plant with masses of blooms.

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.