Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front -

Rhodo­den­drons have two key fea­tures that make them top ad­di­tions to cold­cli­mate gar­dens: they are ev­er­green and have spec­tac­u­lar spring flow­ers.

De­spite these pluses, they’re not re­ally con­sid­ered on-trend. How­ever, that may be chang­ing, as I saw them re­cently in medal­win­ning gar­dens at the Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, which may sug­gest they are gain­ing in the floral fash­ion stakes.

There was a time when rhodo­den­drons were the height of gar­den fash­ion in cold­cli­mate gar­dens. In Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian times, the pas­sion for them was due in part to their com­bi­na­tion of spec­tac­u­lar flow­ers and ev­er­green leaves, but also due to the craze for any­thing from the “Far East”.


Most spring-flow­er­ing ev­er­green rhodo­den­drons bud up in late sum­mer and au­tumn, then sit tight through win­ter wait­ing for spring sun­shine be­fore their flow­ers open.

The old rhodo­den­drons in my gar­den are in bud but are not go­ing to crack a flower un­til all the other spring flow­ers have bloomed. Just when I’m con­vinced they won’t flower, they burst into clouds of pink and mauve.

There are ear­lier-flow­er­ing cul­ti­vars in­clud­ing the early red rhodies that have been in flower for some weeks but peak dis­plays are still on the way. There are about 800 rhodo­den­dron species, from the com­monly grown ev­er­green aza­leas to the tree-sized Rhodo­den­dron ar­boreum.

While most species come from habi­tats in the north­ern hemi­sphere such as Europe, Asia, the Hi­malayas and Myan­mar, and across North Amer­ica, there are species in our hemi­sphere at high al­ti­tudes in the trop­ics.

The red-flow­ered Aus­tralian rhodo­den­dron ( R. lochiae) is in­cluded in a group known as vireya or trop­i­cal rhodo­den­drons. These are gain­ing a strong fol­low­ing and are well worth grow­ing in Tassie.


Ev­er­green rhodo­den­drons come in a spec­trum of colours. As well as reds, pinks, lilacs, whites and yel­lows, there are the more un­usual blue forms (such as Blue Di­a­mond).

Some flow­ers are speck­led while oth­ers are bi-colour. Some are also scented. There are also va­ri­eties with var­ie­gated leaves in­clud­ing the red and white-flow­ered Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, one of the eas­i­est of all to grow.

Their tra­di­tional land­scape use is as ev­er­green shrub­beries or as an ev­er­green un­der­storey be­neath tall de­cid­u­ous trees, of­ten sur­rounded with a car­pet of spring bulbs such as blue­bells. Rhodo­den­drons also make ex­cel­lent com­pan­ions for Aus­tralian na­tive plants, grow­ing well in the fil­tered shade of eu­ca­lypts

In small gar­dens, com­pact va­ri­eties can be grown un­der small de­cid­u­ous trees such as Ja­panese maples. Smaller rhodo­den­drons can also be grown in large con­tain­ers.


These are long-lived plants and ex­pen­sive to buy so give them the best care.

Rhodo­den­drons are not top sell­ers so plants in gar­den cen­tres may have been in their pots for sev­eral sea­sons and could be root-bound. Avoid spindly, woody or root­bound spec­i­mens, in­stead choos­ing ro­bust plants with strong growth, healthy fo­liage and a vig­or­ous root sys­tem.

De­spite their ex­otic ap­pear­ance, rhodo­den­drons are low-main­te­nance plants. The main task is to dead­head spent flow­ers. Strong new shoots (of­ten called “can­dles”) fol­low flow­er­ing so dead­head im­me­di­ately af­ter, be­fore the new shoots be­gin to elon­gate. Dead­head­ing re­moves un­wanted seed heads and ti­dies the plant.

A clus­ter of Pink Pearl rhodo­den­drons in bloom bring colour to the gar­den. Pic­ture: ADOBE STOCK

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