Rhododendron 'Praecox' is one of the earliest flowering rhododendrons, producing rose-purple blooms in small clusters at the branch tips as early as February and throughout March.
At Rosemoor we find that it loses most of its leaves in winter. This has the advantage that the flowers are not hidden by foliage. Growing to a height and spread of only 1.5m (4ft), it is perfect for a small garden or a large container. Plant shallowly in moist but well-drained, humus-rich acid soil, preferably in full sun and in a sheltered position. Late frosts may damage early blooms but there are usually more buds coming along to take over.
Rhododendron 'Praecox' AGM is most effective at the front of a border, on a slope or as part of an informal planting scheme. Under-plant with yellow flowers to give contrast or with red, pink and purple flowers to give a harmonious composition.
Yellow Anemone × lipsiensis 'Pallida' AGM, Narcissus 'Jenny' AGM or primroses make good companions as would hellebores, Corydalis, pulmonarias and primulas in shades of pink, red and blue. Plants that have dark leaves such as the bergenias (e.g. Bergenia 'Wintermärchen' AGM or Bergenia purpurascens AGM) will harmonise in colour but contrast in form.
If you have more space to play with, then plant in a group as we have done here at RHS Garden Rosemoor. Near to Rosemoor House we have placed them alongside a mix of shrubs, some of which flower at about the same time as the rhododendron, for example Pieris japonica Taiwanensis Group with erect racemes of urn-shaped white flowers and Tasmannia lanceolata (syn. Drimys lanceolata - see photo) with fragrant yellow-green flowers. In the Winter Garden, Skimmia japonica 'Godrie's Dwarf' provides scent and pale pink flowers as a harmonising backdrop and Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' AGM with its yellow variegated leaves contrasts in colour.
Rhododendron 'Praecox' is a versatile shrub, perfect for a small garden; the lovely flower colour of rose-purple makes it easy to team up with other plants and they are much daintier than the exuberant flowers often associated with this genus.
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