Rhododendron barbatum -‘the red tree that is bearded or barbed’
Rhododendron barbatum is among the earliest-flowering rhododendrons in the woodland, jostling for attention among the many electric pinks, pale pinks and whites of other early-flowering rhododendrons. Unlike the majority of rhododendrons here at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, this plant has red flowers so can easily be spotted.
This tree is magnificent! Its individual tubular scarlet-red flowers sit together in dense grapefruit-sized clusters, which in turn sit neatly above descending glossy green leaves. As well as its impressive blooms this plant has a very architectural branch structure with beautiful purple and cinnamon-coloured peeling bark.
There are only two specimens of R. barbatum in the garden and the best is tucked away along a small barked path in part of the garden known as the woodland edge, just above the BFG statue and below the Log Ness Monster play area. This specimen is large at around 3 metres in height, so puts on an impressive display.
This plant is a good choice for a gardener who wants to plant a rhododendron that is a little bit different. It is evergreen, has great flowers, colour and interesting bark, and so offers interest all year round. It requires dappled shade and sheltered conditions, with moist but well-drained acid soil. Once planted it requires very little attention other than the simple pruning away of any dead, dying or diseased branches. It benefits from an annual mulch of composted leaf litter each year.