The Teddington Gardener

Syon, Pansies and the Seven Dwarfs..

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A brief photo-stop by the Thames at Isleworth yesterday, on my way to Syon – birds wheeling around, planes overhead and folk already out on the river…

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playing with the stately-home-kitchen-garden-theme….

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out went the barbecues and charcoal briquettes, in with some class…

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Pansies in the sunshine… happy plants

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My (current) favourite Rhododendron, a Yakushimanum (Yak. for short) hybrid named Grumpy.

I will have to look out for the full collection (Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy…) to see if I like them as much. The underside of the deep green leaves is a rich contrast in camel suede – a very tactile indumentum. I shall have to refresh my memory as to what purpose this serves, but appreciate it is an attractive, sometime very dusty (see the variety Dusty Miller) and woolly attribute.

Happily, I remember that I have a copy of the RHS Trials and Awards series for these Rhododendrom Yakushimanum Hybrids (a very useful little collection of essays – I have those for Hardy Fuchsias, Hydrangea paniculata, Hardy Lavenders, Herbaceous Sedums and Hardy Geraniums 1/3 – they can be picked up at Wisley for a couple of pounds and elsewhere, probably – they are also online).

Neil Lancaster authors this one, with Linda Jones, Trials Officer at the RHS Wisley, and is dated May 2006 (Bulletin Number 13).

http://www.rhs.org.uk/getattachment/12daaa8e-1ce5-4c40-bae3-00219bcaa465/Rhododendron-yakushimanum-Bulletin.aspx

The trial was conducted over ten years, starting in 1996, and over the period 134 entries were judged for the Award of Garden Merit by the Woody Plant Trials sub-committee. The trial encouraged the public to see and compare a large range of cultivars. In addition, identities of plants included in the trial were checked and herbarium specimens were made.

Rhododendron yakushimanum was first discovered in the early 1900s on Yakushima Island, a small windswept mountainous island off the coast of Japan. It is an ideal plant for the lime-free garden and tolerant of many different aspects, including full sun  – and is obviously very hardy. Slow growing too, remaining small for many years.

The indumentum, darkening with age to a tawny brown, is important (I read) in reducing water loss and protecting against extremes of temperature. It is also thought to be a barrier against insects and pathogens.

With so many positive attributes, it is no wonder that it has been hybrized so much – and the ‘yaks’ as they are known, are a growing group of garden worthy plants. The first Rhododendron Yakushimanum plants arrived in the UK in 1934,  sent to Lionel de Rothschild – so a recent ancestry here in Britain with the gardens at Exbury and Wisley playing their part in their evolution.

Of the famous Seven Dwarfs Series, bred at Waterers Nurseries, Dopey and Bashful retained their Awards of Garden Merit in this trial. Grumpy was not fêted, but I shan’t mind – it is the most compact of the series and I am hoping for a successful showing from the two plants I have, in containers.

Ericaceous compost – regular repotting to prevent soil stagnation, rainwater irrigation, addition of seaweed with iron fertiliser, a semi-shady spot and I’ll keep an eye out for vine weevils. I have two large, traditional flower pots ready, but glazed in a glossy black, which will do just nicely.

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