Rhododendron century

RHS Executive Vice-President Jim Gardiner celebrates 100 years of the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the RHS

Rhododendron 'Hydon Dawn'2015 marked the centenary year of the founding of the Rhododendron Society.

Its story is a tale of how four men's vision of promoting this group of plants has continued through to this day, and is as much about our social history as it is about the plants themselves....

Exciting new introductions

Plant hunter George Forrest (1873-1932)Collectors including Ernest Wilson, Frank Kingdon Ward and George Forrest (see photo) took the horticultural world by storm in the early part of the 20th century by hugely expanding the range of rhododendrons in cultivation, primarily through the introduction of species collected in China.

The Rhododendron Society was established in 1915 at the height of this period of horticultural upheaval, with J C Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall as Chairman. Their first AGM was held at Chelsea in 1916. Between 1916 and 1931, the Rhododendron Society Notes were published, culminating with the publication of The Species of Rhododendron, which was the first monograph of the genus.

Open to all

In 1927 the society's membership was opened more widely, and it became the Rhododendron Association. A joint committee with the RHS was established in 1930 to judge rhododendron hybrids at Exbury (transferred to Wisley in 1938), with Gerald Loder becoming its first Chairman in 1931. When the Association was 'absorbed' into the RHS in 1945, it became the Rhododendron Group (along the lines of the RHS Lily Group) with the Joint Committee which meets to judge at RHS Shows being responsible for  the group's administration.

Wooden box used for transporting plant hunting specimens. The box is stamped with the address of 'The Director. Royal Horticultural Soc. Garden, Wisley’. It also carries the mark of T.Cook & Son Rangoon and the address of 'J C Williams at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall'.The Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group judge at flower shows, including those at RHS Gardens Rosemoor, Wisley and Harlow Carr. 

The AJ Waley Medal, the Loder Rhododendron Cup and the Rothschild Challenge Cup are all trophies awarded initially through the Committee but is now the responsibility of the Group - whose Chairman sits on the RHS Woody Plant Committee.


The Group's yearbook, Rhododendrons, Camellias & Magnolias 2015 is available online from RHS Books & Gifts

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