The story of the collection of rhododendron species—and hybrids—at the Gardens at Lake Merritt reveals a unique interplay of three elements: there is a benign climate, there are energetic volunteers and park staff, and there’s allure of the plants themselves.
As a result of these dynamics, rhododendrons that struggle in colder and hotter climates thrive in our urban public park.
Two Gardens within One
Within the Gardens at Lake Merritt there are really two rhododendron gardens. The Vireya Garden, an inside collection of tropical rhododendrons, is located in a large lath house at the back north edge of the garden near the Japanese garden, and includes 30 species and 30 hybrids. The Vireya Garden has contributed very much to the knowledge and popularity of these tropical plants; it is renowned both locally and in the wider rhododendron world. The Rhododendron Garden itself is an outside collection of rhododendrons on approximately a quarter acre, featuring rhododendrons that do well in the Bay Area, namely those of subsections Maddenia, Grandia, and Falconera. California Chapter members of the American Rhododendron Society developed both these gardens. . Barbara Campbell was instrumental in getting an agreement with the City for use of the lath house. The collection, developed over several years in the mid 1990s by the legendary Bill Moyles, comprises 38 hybrids and 30 species.
According to Bill: Several species I acquired…are, I think, only in cultivation here. Eighty-five to ninety percent are in pretty good shape—some magnifique: R ericoides is a unique example, though not as a flowering plant; R. sessifilifolium is really nice and of interest horticulturally … there is also a nice form of R. Christiane from Kew seed; both plant and flower are of interest. This is now Tora’s garden, and to see her take this interest is very refreshing. See the rest of the story here: link