In our front yard is my favourite Rhododendron. I love it! It returns my love each spring by blooming profusely; vivaciously parading its array of blossoms in such numbers that its long, viridian leaves, beautiful as they are all year, must take a seasonal backseat. Its official name, Honourable Jean Montague, is as regal as its colour, a deep crimson with purple undertones.
I paint it every spring without fail, the accompanying painting being one of my romantic encounters. I brought a branch of it into class for a workshop I taught. The effect of its intense colour on the group was an endorsement to my infatuation with this incredibly vibrant plant.
Immediately everyone wanted to try to paint it. What a challenge to try to find those dazzling reds on a painter’s palette!
The Rhododendron is the perfect plant for our cool, wet Northwest climate. Especially at home on North Island, its growers can ignore the instructions to “plant in partial shade”.
Forget that! The North Island sun has never disturbed any of the Rhodos in my experience, especially Honourable Jean, which sits in the sunniest place in our yard and loves it.
My goal, which I expressed to a number of people, was to collect Rhodos that bloom at different times so that there are ongoing blooms throughout most of the year. Several years ago, when our good friends, Graham and Mary Park, sold out their nursery in Coal Harbour, we purchased 50 Rhodos and our dream came true. They are now well established in our front yard, making April to July the most colourful time of year for us.
We recently had an Elderhostel bus drop in to our gallery. In talking to a chap from Calgary who, nevertheless, had a distinct British accent, I was informed that, given the right kind of Rhodos, you could have one blooming in every month of the year.
“I’ve seen them in gardens in England,” he insisted and spoke of a place where, from an elevated platform, there were Rhododendrons as far as the eye could see, blooming all year long.
I must admit that I was sceptical. As much as I would like to believe the story, I would love to hear from anyone who knows this to be true; a second opinion, so to speak. At the very least it would be lovely to get in touch with people who have them blooming on into the late summer.
Rhodo lovers unite!
Gordon Henschel owns an art gallery in Nimpkish Heights. www.henschel.ca