Traveling The World In Your Own Garden

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Submitted by Barrie Agar 

 One tends to take for granted the shrubs, trees, and flowers that populate our gardens, and give us such pleasure throughout the year. A trip to the local garden center will reveal a multitude of different plants, displaying brilliant and spectacular flowers, plants we bring home and make a part of our landscape. But how many people think about the origins of these botanical beauties? For when we walk about our gardens, we are in truth walking around the world.

Those Zinnias that set fire to the Summer bedding scheme come from Mexico. Our beloved apple originates in a small area of “apple forest” in China. The Yucca from the South western states, the flowering cherry from Japan, the Fuchsia from Southern South America,  these plants often changed from their natural form by breeding and hybridizing, but still recognizable. The humble Geranium (technically a Pelargonium) grown in the Northern hemisphere for so long we have forgotten its origin, is in fact more at home in South Africa.

So if you have an unfulfilled hankering to trek through the Himalayas, to imagine the snowy peaks and mist laden valleys, you could do worse than plant some Rhododendrons and live your montane dreams at sea level.  While the Rhododendron is found throughout the Northern hemisphere, the Himalayas have produced some particularly beautiful plants.  The leaves and bark can be striking as much as the flowers.  Rhododendron barbatum with its blood red flowers also has fine polished reddish stems and slightly embossed leaves. Paradoxically, many are from the lower foothills and are not completely hardy, however their hybrids can be perfectly suited to our climate. 

Rhododendron griffithianum is an example of a tall Himalayan Rhodo, with white scented flowers that can only be grown in sheltered gardens. However one of its progeny, ‘Pink Pearl’ a large growing shrub with pale pink flowers is still a popular hybrid a hundred years later. Its mass of blossom can be seen ringing the lake in the Japanese Gardens at Royal Roads in late May.  Planted circa 1917, these have been flowering regularly since that time. Rh. griffithianum is also one of the parents of the popular ‘Loderi’ hybrid. These shrubs have white or pink tinged flowers, and have inherited the scent and size of their parent.

Rhododendron arboretum is the national flower of Nepal, and as its specific name suggests can indeed reach tree like proportions, up to 20 meters in its native forests. Growing at various elevations, the uppermost plants tend to be white, those of the middle reaches are pink, and those in the valleys are a striking red.
Rh. campanulatum is compact, with white to lavender hybrids. One of its hybrids is ‘Susan’, a reliable, mauve flowered shrub which never disappoints.
There are hundreds of Rhododendron hybrids available to the gardener, covering a wide variety of colours and sizes. Not all of them may have a Himalayan parent, but they may give a lush exotic feel to your garden in April and May, as they hold their colourful trusses proudly aloft, whose to say it did not come from the storied Himalayan ranges?

 The 2020 Cowichan Valley Garden Fair, sponsored by The Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society (CVRS), would have been the 20 Anniversary of this ever popular, yearly event.  Unfortunately this year’s Garden Fair, scheduled for Saturday April 25th at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds, has been cancelled in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  CVRS hopes to have a smaller plant sale at a later date, if circumstances allow!

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