The race to rescue rare rhododendrons

Redevelopments in Lady Anne's Garden have led to the discovery of a multitude of unusual rhododendrons - some of which grow nowhere else in the world

Springtime is always a good moment to enjoy the seemingly endless range of species and cultivars that form that most diverse genus of flowering trees and shrubs: the rhododendron.

Rhododendron 'Willy-nilly'Within RHS Garden Rosemoor’s collection of this very varied genus we have a number of plants that should be more frequently seen. Some of these were raised by Collingwood Ingram who was a good friend of Lady Anne’s and gave her many plants for her developing garden.

As areas of Lady Anne’s Garden have been redeveloped over the years, previously un-noticed plants have been found. In some cases they have turned out to be the only ones known to be in cultivation for example Rhododendron ‘Thomasine’ (see below) and R. ‘Harry’s Ruby’ (named after Harry Smith, Lady Anne’s gardener); very rare, including R. Coronet Group and R. ‘Freckle Face’; or those not in general cultivation such as, R. ‘Willy-nilly’ (see above), R. ‘Carolyn’, R. ‘General Wavell’, R. ‘Miss Muffet’ and R. 'Rogue River Belle'.

In the hope of making these plants more available and reducing the risk of them becoming lost altogether they are being micropropagated by Ros Smith of Rosewarne at Duchy College.

Rhododendron 'Thomasine' (pink)This involves taking mature buds in the autumn that would produce flowers in the following year. These are then sent to the laboratory where the meristem tissue (virus-free, rapidly growing cells) is grown on in a sterile environment. As many of these plants are very old they do not have enough vigour to produce the type of growth required for traditional cuttings; micropropagation enables a lot of plants to be produced from a small amount of collected plant material.

Hopefully these methods will prove successful over the next few years, which will mean that these plants are saved for future generations and will add further beauty to our wonderful springtime garden displays.

Useful links

Get RHS advice on how to grow rhododendrons

See what's on at RHS Garden Rosemoor over the coming weeks

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