Gardens - Featured Gardens

Rhodo scholar

Jodi Delong
Photography by
John Sylvester

Study the ways and wonders of rhodos and make them top of the class

Jan Riddell, a niece of the plantsman, says Dick "needs to be absolutely convinced of hardiness. He grows hybrids in different situations just to make sure." As each cultivar is thoroughly documented, the plants are being registered by John Weagle, Dick's friend and fellow plantsman, with the American Rhododendron Society. Presently, the group has collected detailed information on some 125 of Dick's rhodos; Weagle estimates that there are well over 1,000.

'Barbara Hall' (R. catawbiense crossed with an R. fortunei x R. wardii hybrid) is one of Dick's cultivars that has been registered. The rich pink blooms have a deeper pink throat; the foliage is a soft green. There's also a mellow yellow early-bloomer (not named, as yet) that is a hybrid of H. aureum (an Asian native hardy to Zone 2) and an R. fortunei x R. wardii cross. It's extremely bushy, with a mature height of one to 1.5 metres, but does require good drainage and full sun. A multi-hued hybrid, which gives the appearance of being orange from a distance, is hardy to –28°C (bud hardy to –21), according to Dick. Another hybrid of a purple and a pink cultivar is, oddly enough, pure white with a purple throat.

Forcat 87-C (R. catawbiense x R. fortunei) is a pink cultivar that reaches about four metres at maturity, when about 25 years old.

Dick's years of breeding have made him a respected authority on rhododendrons-he is a recipient of the prestigious Gold Medal of the American Rhododendron Society. He is also a founding member of the Atlantic Chapter of the Rhododendron Society of Canada, and his plants grace a number of public gardens, including Oxen Pond Botanic Gardens in St. John's, Newfoundland, and Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

But he is modest about his accomplishments, reserving credit for the plants themselves. "I have a different attitude about plants; I don't run around taking credit saying 'I bred this plant.' I didn't do that, the plant does it. But I've had a lot of fun with helping them."

Proven performers
Prairies and Northwestern Ontario (Zone 3)
R. dauricum, R. lapponicum (where summers are cool);
R. mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink'.
Hybrids: 'PJM', 'Ramapo', 'Elviira', 'Helsinki University',
'Roseum Elegans'. Azaleas: R. canadense, R. vaseyi, R. viscosum, Northern Lights series (e.g. 'Orchid Lights').

Central and eastern Ontario, southern Quebec (Zones 4 and 5)
The above plus R. makinoi, R. smirnowii, R. yakushimanum.
Hybrids: 'Boule de Neige', 'Boursault', 'Edmond Amateis'.
Azaleas: 'Corneille', 'Gibraltar', 'Persil', R. schlippenbachii.

Around the Great Lakes and the Golden Horseshoe (Zones 5 and 6) The above (except R. lapponicum) plus R. bureavii, R. calophytum, R. fortunei, R. vernicosum. Hybrids: 'Janet Blair', 'Party Pink', 'Spellbinder', 'Vinecrest', 'Vulcan's Flame'. Azaleas: 'Boudoir', 'Delaware Valley White', 'Elsie Lee', 'Helen Curtis', 'Stewartstonian'.
-Nancy Traill

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