Legends of the dell

Margaret Hughes of Tapanui bred City of Dunedin. Photos: Gillian Vine
Margaret Hughes of Tapanui bred City of Dunedin. Photos: Gillian Vine
Dunedin-bred September Snow is flowering now in the Upper Botanic Garden.
Dunedin-bred September Snow is flowering now in the Upper Botanic Garden.
Marquis of Lothian was officially the first named rhododendron bred in New Zealand.
Marquis of Lothian was officially the first named rhododendron bred in New Zealand.
Lemon Lodge was bred at Pukeiti, in Taranaki.
Lemon Lodge was bred at Pukeiti, in Taranaki.
Kiwi Magic is one of Canterbury breeder Jeff Elliott’s most popular releases.
Kiwi Magic is one of Canterbury breeder Jeff Elliott’s most popular releases.
Ilam Cream is one of a series bred by Edgar Stead.
Ilam Cream is one of a series bred by Edgar Stead.

Gillian Vine is overwhelmed by the number of New Zealand-bred rhododendrons.

A reader phoned me to suggest a story about spring flowers, adding that it seemed to be a particularly good year for rhododendrons.

The conversation sidetracked into the importance of buying local, then went on to New Zealand-bred rhododendrons, so it seemed my topic was decided.

By 1855, a Taranaki grower was advertising hybrid rhododendrons for sale and the province proved perfect for the shrubs.

Taranaki later was at the forefront of breeding new varieties, but it was in Dunedin that the country’s first official hybrid was produced. Nurseryman William Martin, of Fairfield, bred Marquis of Lothian about 1880 and it is still a well-regarded variety.

David Tannock, who was the superintendent of the Dunedin Botanic Garden (DBG) from 1903 to 1940, was responsible for the establishment of the Rhododendron Dell in 1914; some of the original plantings still exist.

Dunedin’s Tannock Glen has a fine collection of rhododendrons. PHOTOS: GILLIAN VINE
Dunedin’s Tannock Glen has a fine collection of rhododendrons. PHOTOS: GILLIAN VINE
In Taranaki, the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust was established in 1951 by breeders Bernie Hollard (Kaponga, Hollard’s Red, Milton Hollard) and John Yeates (Kimbolton Gold, Kimbolton Yellow); and William Douglas Cook. The trust was later to release its own hybrids, including the well-known Lemon Lodge.

Things were going nicely in Canterbury, too, with leading breeder Edgar Stead prefixing his plants with Ilam, the Christchurch suburb where he lived. To me, Stead's Ilam Cream is still one of the most attractive lemon rhododendrons, thanks to the pink accents on the blooms.

Jeff Elliott carries on the Canterbury work, with his Kiwi Magic a standout.

In Dunedin, as elsewhere, amateur hybridists were responsible for a lot of a new varieties.

One was Robert Balch, deputy director of the DBG, and the deep red rhododendron that bears his name is just coming into flower in Balch’s Island, the corner of the Rhododendron Dell that commemorates his work.

Other Balch hybrids were Alpine Meadow, Blue Mist, Rosebird and Dainty Lass. There is a good specimen of the tall-growing Blue Mist at Tannock Glen, in Opoho, a garden well worth a visit.

On Balch’s Island are several shrubs bred by Bruce W. Campbell (1921-1984). He worked for Allied Press, was the Evening Star garden writer and for many years edited The Star Garden Book, was a foundation member of the Dunedin Rhododendron group and still found time to hybridise rhododendrons at his Ravensbourne home. Waireka (1963) was named after the street where he lived and Rothesay (1983) is a fine choice for a smaller garden.

I have never seen Ember Elf, Bruce Campbell, Cream Delight, Manapouri Sunrise or Ed Hillary, but I hope they are still being grown.

My favourite Campbell rhododendron is September Snow. Still available at some nurseries, it is a superb white with brown stamens, felted leaves and heavenly perfume. Despite the name, it starts flowering from mid to late August, a most welcome harbinger of spring.

In November, be sure to visit the DBG for the lovely display of City of Dunedin. Found just inside the main gate, it was bred by Margaret Hughes, of Tapanui.

There have been other local breeders, too, like C. A. McLaughlin’s pretty little lavender Dalkeith and Birchfield; David Sumpter’s Dainty Lass; Bennett’s seedling; and Mrs J. Kerr’s Moonlight Sonata.

With lots of New Zealand choices, it could be time to extend the “buy local” and support Kiwi hybridists’ efforts, starting with a rhododendron or two.


 

Comments

I have 2 Ember Elf plants in our garden. One was bought from Blue Mountain Nurseries. Also a September Snow & a Dalkeith both flowering at present

 

Advertisement

postanote_header_620_x_80.png

postanote_620_x_25.jpg

Local journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Otago Daily Times reporters and photographers continue to bring you the stories that matter. For more than 158 years our journalists have provided readers with local news you can trust. This is more important now than ever.

As advertising drops off during the pandemic, support from our readers is crucial. You can help us continue to bring you news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter