Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Misnomer Garden: Not just Rhodies, and more than a foundation

I believe it's Rhododendron strigillosum, in full glorious bloom at the Rhododendron Species Foundation, one of the most miserably named of magnificent gardens. Of course they have lots and lots of rhodies (nearly four hundred species, I believe, and dozens of forms of some of them, almost all with locality data)...that would certainly be enough to justify their existence, but this is in fact a full fledged botanical garden and a wonderful display garden to boot! There are tons of un-rhododendrons to complement the rhodies, and a depth of programatics and extensive facilities and appurtenances of all sorts that put many mere botanical gardens to shame. I first visited this institution way too long ago (not long after it was founded, I fear), right after a large rock garden had been constructed and planted to tiny lepidotes...maybe twenty years ago. Didn't think much about the place subsequently...

After all, rhododendrons are not exactly appropriate landscape plants in Colorado. Although I have grown my share (and many have thrived in special microclimates here). But something told me I should check them out. I was joined by Peter George, president of N.A.R.G.S. and my dear buddy Bill Adams of Sunscapes Nursery two weeks ago and rain notwithstanding (it drizzled through our whole visit as you shall see), I spent an enchanted hour or two literally rushing through the Garden before our flight.

Despite the early season (March 10) there were dozens of rhodies already in of my favorites is the tiny, groundcoverin Rhododendron forrestii, which I have even managed to grow and bloom in Denver. Of course, for us it did not form a massive spread meters across!

Ypsilandra thibetica is just one of countless wonderful herbaceous companion plants that occur here and there throughout the grounds. This one is a high elevation collection by Steve Hootman, the redoubtable director of RSF: I neglected to photograph Primula moupinense or Lonicera crassifolia, just two other spectacular herbaceous plants that have become instant classics thanks to the collecting prowess (and generosity) of Steve and his associates.

A tiny, subtropical Agapetes sp. in the Italicbrand new Conservatory at RSF: I was enchanted by the wonderful assemblage of cloud forest ericads and companion plants (Pleiones in full bloom: sorry I couldn't show everything!) displayed here. This is one of the most wonderfully exected conservatories I have seen...It looks stunning despite only being open for a year or so, featuring primarily the dazzling Vireya section of Rhododendron from Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Below is proof that it was raining (sorry for the water smear on the unidentified gem: wish I could have shown you pictures of them all--dozens in every color imaginable).

Here is an overview of a tiny portion of the Conservatory: wonderful rock work. What fun it shall be to return in a few years and see it all knit together with all manner of subtropical gems!

There was a terrific "Stumpery" designed to show off ferns of all kinds, sweeps of Epimedium, and all manner of woodland gems, and Rhodies in every permutation imaginible. The gift shop and the expansive nurseries were impressive: most of the rhodies grown on site from verified germplasm...way too much to share in this brief blog.

A picture above of Peter George on the left, and Steve Hootman, CEO of the Garden on the right alongside propagation benches (notice, filled with un-Rhodies galore). I honestly don't think there are many plantsmen of Steve's caliber in the country, and few indeed lead botanic gardens of this quality. He has dedicated twenty years to RSF, and his vision is expansive and compelling. I wish we had days rather than brief minutes to really absorb the depth of this remarkable institution.

Have you noticed how at the end of garden tours, plantsmen always end up in the propagation the vast expanse of seedpots filled with tiny rhody seedlings is just too irresistible not to share. Imagine these pricked out in coming weeks and planted in the endless blocks of lath houses and nurtured and soon available to you and other enthusiasts across the country through their distribution scheme.

I think I have conveyed some of my enthusiasm for what I now think may be one of the handful of finest botanic gardens in America. They are constructing an extensive new rock garden, and contemplating more: if they achieve that (and bring down a fraction of the gems such as the 250 kinds of daphnes from Mount Tahoma Nursery a few miles away from them in Graham) they shall leave the rest of us in the dust. Hopefully Steve won't follow up on this pregnant hint!

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