I never intended including such a common shrub, as a rhododendron as an ornament for my home. I always thought, who bother to bring a flower that is available everywhere, and exists in nearly every garden, into my house . But I changed my mind when I walked past a friends garden in my neighbourhood and saw this 6ft dome of tightly packed deep crimson flowers staring at me – I thought to myself why can’t I enjoy some of these on my dinner table. There and then this everyday flower changed into a lovely house decoration in my vase and was crowned as the flower for this week.
Flower of the week from YOUR garden to YOUR table 13th – 19th June.
Botanical Name: Rhododendron, Common Name: Rhododendron
The common rhododendron – rhododendron ponticum has had a bad press, although it flowers profusely with masses of mauve flowers it has been classed as an invasive species.
The Forestry Commission claim it to be a ‘non native species’ imported from Spain in the 1700’s and it has not stopped spreading ever since! [Had it been a ‘native’ U.K. species we would have allowed it to spread as it wishes!] . Besides spreading it is said to have an extremely negative impact on both wildlife and the ecology of the sites it inhibits. It can be toxic to many native herbivores. The problem has become so acute that the National Trust have now developed a system of injecting poison into the stems of the plants on the border of their rhododendron gardens to prevent them from suckering and spreading. Nevertheless, this species is still widely used as a rootstock for many of the rhododendron hybrids and it is these beautiful hybrids which are available in a massive range of colours with flower clusters sometimes as big as a rugby ball, that I am advising you to plant in your garden and enjoy in your vase.
Warning! Although it is unlikely for anyone to even try to eat the leathery leaves or the flowers – do be careful as they are said to be toxic. Certain types of bees have been found dead as a result of ingesting the nectar and the subsequent honey can be dangerous to humans.
Buying and Planting guide: Plants are bought as potted plants and usually planted in the autumn, but I would strongly advise on buying and planting now. This is because now that they are in flower you will see the actual size and colour of the flower of the plant you are buying; as there are so many hybrids the colour on the plant label may be misleading. I once was tempted by a plant label to buy Rhodedendron Variegatum – it looked unique with its variegated leaves. I thought I would be getting the best of both worlds, unusual leaves and unique flowers, but in fact the leaves are easily damaged by late frosts, and its flowers are small and far between, in a very ordinary mauve colour, and it cost the earth! It might also be a type that takes years to flower– by buying now when they are in flower you will at least know what you’re getting (but still read the plant label as some are dwarves and some are giants!).
Plant it in acid soil – if you know your soil has a high ph, add some ericaceous compost if possible. All varieties are happy in dappled shade. Don’t let it overtake your garden, lightly prune it to the shape you want after flowering each year and you will have a choice plant for life!
Back (money) saving tip:
I have a tool that I use regularly on my allotment that most garden centres don’t even sell! Those that do sell it, call it a drain spade and usually stock it with the building tools.
It is indispensable for removing dock roots as you see in the picture as most spades will not dig deep enough leaving the underground root to regrow . This tool goes straight to the point and removes the roots of any weed without you having to make a whole excavation programme all around it! When planting potatoes or planting out modules it will make the hole only the size you need without having to bend down, whilst when working with a normal spade you are removing loads of unnecessary soil.
It is available from B&Q, Wickes and builders merchants for around £20.
Do your back a favour and go and buy one – soon everyone on the allotment will be begging you to borrow it!
Enjoy your gardening week!
Next week : Making fruit trees fruit.