The Rhododendron Garden Today
A predominant focus is a collection of Robert Scott’s hybrids, such as ‘Lemon Mist’ (R. xanthostephanum x R. moupinense), ‘Sabrina Adler’ (R. ciliicalyx x R. moupinense), ‘Scott’s Starbright’ (R. ‘Else Frye x R. dalhousiae), and ‘Scott’s Valentine’ (a complex cross- unregistered). There is a good-sized plant of ‘Fred Cummings’ (R. arboreum x ‘Elizabeth’) x R arboreum). We are glad to have Fred’s presence felt in the garden by this fine large red hybrid, because Fred was such a fine warm-hearted man!
Paul Molinari worked closely with Bob Scott, and named several of his crosses posthumously. The bed nearest the patio was planted by Paul using many of Bob’s hybrids. There are several plants each of R. ‘Joy Ridge’ (R. ‘Rose Scott’ x (R. burmanicum x R. chrysodoron), a wonderful warm yellow blend, and, most appropriately, R. ‘Lake Merritt’ (R. ‘Rose Scott’ x sister seedling of ‘Scott’s Valentine’). These bloom very early. The Scott hybrids have stood the test of time, and are wonderful examples of sun tolerance in rhododendrons. His frequent use of R. moupinense in his crosses increased their resistance to drought.
But as suggested, the garden features rhododendron species as well as locally associated hybrids. Some species rhododendrons which are growing well in Oakland include R. macabeanum, R. sinofalconeri, R. nuttallii, and R. latoucheae, along with several R. arboreum derived plants, including R. ‘Pink Delight’ and R. arboreum ssp. albotomentosum (Kingdon-Ward # 21976 , commonly called ‘Robert Barry’). Most of these are marginal, at best, in the Pacific Northwest. One of the prizes in the garden is a mature R. aberconwayi ‘His Lordship’, which fortuitously blooms at the same time as the Himalayan dogwood, Cornus controversa]—they complement each other nicely.
Recently, five Western azaleas, R. occidentale, were chosen from collections made by Mike McCullough and propagated by Polo De Lorenzo of Sonoma Horticultural Nursery. These encompass the distributional range of the species, from Oregon to southern California and exhibit a range of flower characteristics. Many will have good fall color. They are planted behind a bench. I am a little concerned that their powerful fragrance may almost be overwhelming here, but this not too terrible a problem to have! Other azaleas also came from the Sonoma Horticultural Nursery, some of them unregistered but fine plants dating to when the Barbers owned the nursery. The Kurumes ‘Ward’s Ruby’ and ‘Appleblossom’, mixed with some of the Glenn Dales and a few modern varieties, could use sorting out.
A backdrop of fine trees frames the Rhododendron Garden. There are four dawn redwoods, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, part of the special original introductions from China, along with a couple coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens. Besides these, Cornus capitata, several Magnolia campbellii cultivars and Gingko biIoba form the upper layer. In order to shade an as yet undeveloped area, three Katsura trees, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, have recently been planted, along with a star magnolia and Styrax japonicum. In other places where shade was needed there is a young Koelreuteria paniculata, the golden rain tree, and Prunus serrula. Our Chapter is fortunate that the area designated for the garden is immediately adjacent to the Garden Center building. This is a prominent location, and, conveniently during our annual show, we are able to point out mature blooming rhododendrons to the public through the windows, so that people may appreciate their form and size, and see for themselves that these plants indeed tolerate sun.
The Rhododendron Garden at Lakeside Park is centrally placed in a perfect situation to help promote the knowledge and beauty of this large genus as garden plants, as they have been appreciated in the past. With the emphasis on rhododendrons that thrive in a warmer climate than more northerly Pacific Coast gardens, the Garden beautifully complements the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Washington. It is hoped that as more local visitors discover the Garden, and as new signage is added describing the fascinating exotic origins of the plants, along with crucial information regarding California Chapter meeting times, that new members will be joining us at the Garden Center, where we will be plotting new developments in the “green heart of Oakland.”
Future plans include adding some tree peonies and a select few herbaceous perennials and ferns to carry interest after the rhododendrons have finished blooming, although with the proposed additions of more species rhododendrons, including R. griersonianum, R. decorum (pink form), R. excellens (AC # 5616), and R. auriculatum, there should be rhododendrons flowering into August! Some of the exciting new hybrids by Augustin Luna of Enjoy Rhododendrons will also be incorporated, such as R. ‘Luna Tropicana’ and R. ‘Luna Eclipse’. It is great to see hybridizing work being continued which utilizes the fragrant Maddenia Subsection.
Much of this historic information was gleaned from websites of the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Department, and from that of the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt; from Kay Riddell (under whose Presidency a committee was directed to compile the History of the California Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, 1986); and from Barbara Campbell, Bruce Cobbledick, William Moyles, Parker Smith, Marvin Larsen, Polo De Lorenzo, and Tora Rocha. Additionally, the parentage of the hybrid plants was provided by Parker Smith, whose wonderful new book, Rhododendrons for California, & Other Mild Climates, will provide further enlightenment about how rhododendrons are thriving in our Golden State. Elaine Sedlak compiled this excellent history, which is excerpted from an article she originally published in the Rhododendron Species Foundation yearbook, Rhododendron Species, Vol. 8, 2013.
People seriously interested in the genus Rhododendron are strongly recommended to join the Rhododendron Species Foundation/Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden: http://rhodygarden.org/cms/
See information on local rhododendrons at: http://www.calchapterars.org