On these pandemic days we have been trying to take walks around the neighborhood and have noticed a lot of rhododendrons in front gardens. I also have a small rhododendron in from of my house, a part of the low growing conifers that make up the grass-less front yard. We also have two rhodies growing on the Hugel in the back yard. They are not doing well because the hugel, which is made of piles of logs as well as soil, does not give them sufficient nurture. We are rethinking their location.
It is magical to walk past rhododendrons, large or small, and see the fat buds that will open in mid to late May. We have a Hawley friend, Jerry Sternstein, who has more than 400 rhododendrons on a sunny slope. He often has an Open Garden event on Memorial Day and it is quite an event!
‘Scintillation’, a lovely pink rhodie is also very dependable. When I exclaim my admiration of his rhododendrons, Jerry sighs and says, “Ah, but they are nothing to Valigorsky’s rhodies. Needless to say Jerry soon took me to John Valigorsky’s garden.
It is possible that this section of Valigorsky’s rhododendron walk includes Calsap (white), and the red flower on the right is Gigi Dexter hybrid.
Both Jerry and John reeled off the names of their rhododendrons, in so many shades, but I got lost in the list. This is one of my favorites that day that beautiful spring day.
There was some discussion about whether or not bees will die from rhododendron pollen or nectar. It is not likely, according to the reading I have done, but Grayanotoxin neurotoxin found in the nectar of rhododendrons. Some people worry about honey made from rhododendron flowers, but this is not a great problem either. Valigorsky told me bees did not like rhododendron nectar. I have never seen many bees buzzing around rhodies.
Jerry and John are both devoted to their rhododendrons, but they have very different sites. Jerry’s garden happily blooms in full sun, enjoying the naturally acidic soil of Hawley. John’s garden in the Pittsfield area enjoys some shade but blooms in defiance of the alkaline soil. There are fertilizers like Holly-Tone that help acidify soil. Both men say the important thing in planting a rhododendron is to remember the motto “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” No $5 holes for these rhodies. All they need is a slight depression in the soil, with soil then being brought up around but not touching the trunk.
There are so many beautiful rhododendrons it is hard to make a choice. I am looking at the varieties of rhododendron while I think about adding one to a spot in front of our front porch. I love pieris Japonica which currently grows there but it is more scraggly every year. Time to replace it. With a rhodie.
For wonderful information about rhodies, including the best performers in your region check out the American Rhododendron Society’s website.