For the next 6 weeks, the nursery and gardens are at their most colourful. The Rock garden is a stunning display of how effective the Japanese evergreen azaleas are. Ideal for even the smallest garden, they are tough and completely smother themselves in flower for several weeks.
The earliest are the Kurume group, descended from the original 50 that E H Wilson brought from Japan; their flowers are smaller but very profuse. Perhaps the finest plant at Leonardslee is the pink Hinomayo and other favourites are the reds of Hinodegiri and Hino Crimson. Tama-no-Utena is a good white. Following the Kurumes, there is an enormous selection; we only have 240!
Palestrina is also white and superb, and contrasts well with purple such as Blue Danube and Purple Triumph. Some, such as the cerise pink Wombat, are usefully low growing, whilst others make taller bushes which can be used as low hedges or clipped; they are usually cloud-pruned in Japan into rounded billowing shapes. For bright orangy-reds try James Gable, Troll or Orange Beauty.
Rhododendron species are very varied, some very small and some enormous. Now is their peak season. Many such as R. yunnanense and R. concinnum have azalea-like flowers on bigger bushes.
Others are compact, rounded bushes valuable for their shape all year R. japonicum pentamerum, R. aleutaceum and R. pseudochrysanthum all have interesting leaves as well as the flowers. From R. williamsianum have come a group of compact hybrids with attractive rounder leaves and delightful bell-like flowers, such as Temple Bell and Moonstone Pink.
For the larger garden, the tree-like R. griffithianum and its descendents are unbeatable, with their enormous trusses of heavily scented flowers.
Excellent examples are R. Loderi Pretty Polly and R. Loderi Pink Diamond, which immediately got the First Class Certificate (FCC) when exhibited to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1914. They have been used to breed a wide range of other hybrids, such as R. Pink Glory, also raised here. (See also Horticultural Articles).