Rhododendrons- really, it’s not what you think.

April 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

For most of my life, rhododendrons have been the official flower of mediocrity. Elementary school reports on the state flower, rhododendron lined highways, and overgrown foundation plantings in front of EVERY home reinforced this belief. To add to that, the Rhododendron Species Garden has a sign on Interstate 5 beckoning people to pull off into Federal Way, pretty much a mediocre ‘burb. I’ve looked at this sign for years in a driving induced zombie-like state. For reasons unclear to me, one day last year I stopped.

Definitely NOT mediocre. Kind of magical, actually.

And thank goodness these photos were unearthed in my files because they were taken in middle-ish, late-ist April last year. So that gives you time to strap on your fanny pack and head to  Federal Way for the Rhododendron Species Garden. And what luck, their plant sale is April 15th and 16th in the Weyerhaeuser parking lot (across the street)…. and actually come to think of it, the Weyerhaeuser campus is a whole nuther thing. Worth its own post AND its own drive.

Rhododendron pachytrichum

I don’t know what about this day made me stand in front of rhododendron bushes, but there I was, appreciating the color flushes from bud to blossom. And there size! Many rhodies want to be small trees. How wonderful when they are allowed to grow that big. Walls and canopies of pink bells? Hello!!!!! My inner five year old is screaming Fairy Fortress!

Rhododendron calophytum


Part of my former problem with rhodies is that I thought they look weird in the landscape. Kind of garish. It can be totally out of my blossom to foliage comfort zone. Improper use of scale…. This one is so big, however, it transcends and enters the ‘holy crap’ category. It reminds me of what an old art teacher used to tell me…When all else fails, make enough of something simple- to the point of obsession. , or make something simple as big as possible.  This rhody is as big as possible.

Rhododendron williamsiana ?

I don’t really know which one this is but its leaf shape and structure made me stop in my tracks. I love it. I want to touch it,  roll in it.

The great thing about this place is not only the Rhododendrons. Honestly a lot of them aren’t even in bloom this month, but they also have a great collection of other plants such as viburnum, magnolia, and evergreens.

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Popcorn'

This garden has also got some great places. What was most wonderful was that I was the only person here. It had also just rained that morning and the sun was shining. And in the Northwest, we know that that makes for some squishy, forest magic.

Next to this green pond is a little sign warning children not to step onto the water because it is not solid. Tiny ferns cover the surface. Tiny. Ferns. Art rule number three, that I’ve added, when all else fails, make something as small as possible.


Rhododendron roxieanum oreonastes

This one was my favorite of the day because of its super cool leaf and structure. AND because of its name which leaves me with only one question… Roxie, what is an oreo nasty?….  (snort)… nevermind. Roxie, please keep it to yourself.

So nice to be reminded that what I see day to day is not what is really all that’s going on.

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§ 2 Responses to Rhododendrons- really, it’s not what you think.

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