The great Rhododendron comeback

With its large purple blooms of rhododendron tricathum featuring on the front page of the catalogue of the Chelsea Flower Show.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s chose the historic print from its extensive catalogue of botanical drawings in the Lindley Library.

The shrubs are also prominent in a number of gardens this year. Thomas Hoblyn’s show garden for Homebase uses rhododendrons to conjure up images of the Cornish coast where the whites, scarlet and purple blooms are a common sight.

Growers have welcomed the comeback as an opportunity for rhododendrons to fight back from years of bad publicity and perhaps become as popular as they were in Victorian times.

The shrubs were first brought to the UK from Asia in the 19th Century as ornamental plants and were soon a popular feature in the gardens of stately homes.

But the invasive species is now blamed for drowning out woodland in many of the last wilderness areas of the UK such as the Highlands, Cornwall and Wales. In Snowdonia the rhododendrons have buried the heather and in Brownsea Island, Dorset it threatens the red squirrel as native pines cannot grown.

The National Trust has launched a campaign to control the species by spraying and cutting the trees down.

More recently rhododendrons have been blamed for spreading Phytophthora ramorum, that also comes from Asia.

In the US it is known as Sudden Oak Death, which is misleading as it attacks most trees including beech, larch, ash, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut.

As well as causing trees to “bleed” a thick red sap, sudden oak death makes leaves turn brown and curl and then destroys its host with great speed.

At the moment in the UK it is mostly affecting Japanese larch trees in the west of the country and millions have been felled.

However the Forestry Commission is confident they can keep the disease under control by simple ‘bio-security measures’ such as ensuring infected trees in forests are culled straight away and any visitors or machinery in the area are disinfected.

This should stop spread of the disease and therefore there is no reason that gardeners cannot continue to enjoy rhododendrons as much as the Victorians who first brought the beautiful shrub to our shores.

Source; The Telegraph