Friday, January 3, 2014

Winter in the Rhododendron Species Garden, Part 1


Of the approximately 1,000 known species within the Rhododendron genus throughout the world, over 700 are represented in the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, WA.  While the garden displays some impressive rhodies, my mission was to find new plants that not only survived but still look great after last month's big arctic frost where we had temperatures dip down to 10 F/-12 C.

First, let's take a look at a few ferns - the garden is filled with them. Dryopteris wallichiana is large and makes a very architectural statement.  It would make a great landscape fern even if it went deciduous in the winter but look - it's completely evergreen!

Dryopteris wallichiana
The garden also had a large clump of Dryopteris sieboldii.  This is my favorite fern of all time and I really mean that.  I am lucky enough to have this one in my garden.  It has a very tropical appearance yet needs no protection in our climate.

Dryopteris sieboldii
This stand of Blechnum chilense definitely took a beating during the frost but should make a full recovery come spring.  In milder winters the fronds will stay upright at 2-3 feet high.

Blechnum chilense
This was an intriguing one.  Brilliant red-orange foliage in early January?  What is this?  I need one!

Not sure about this one - maybe some kind of mutant Vaccinium ovatum??
As overpopulation starts becoming a reality in my own garden, miniature plants are becoming an increasingly vital commodity.  Rhododendron keiskei pulls off the miniaturized/dwarf look very nicely.  

Rhododendron keiskei
Speirantha convallarioides makes a nice evergreen groundcover and looks like it handled the subfreezing weather beautifully.  It resembles a miniature, flattened cast iron plant which it is indeed closely related to.  On top of that, it's very rare which makes it all the more enticing.

Speirantha convallarioides
Hardy scheffleras continue their invasion of the Northwest.  This one is Schefflera alpina and was collected by the director of the Rhododendron Species Garden, Steve Hootman, in Northern Vietnam.

Schefflera alpina
Here we have three Schefflera fengii specimens which were collected by Steve Hootman in the Yunnan province of China.  From the looks of the ground around the base of the plants (having a nerd moment here) it looks like they might have been covered in leaves during the frost.  I did e-mail Steve about this.  I'll keep you posted if I hear back.

Schefflera fengii
Iris foetidissima has been, until now, in the subconscious part of the plant wish list in my brain.  After seeing this beautiful clump of green strappy leaves with a few bright orange seed capsules, it is now in the conscious part.

Iris foetidissima
I was a bit disappointed by the lack of winter-blooming rhodies, but alas there was one very dismal display.  I'm guessing the ones that are supposed to bloom in winter had their flower buds frozen off by the arctic frost.

Rhododendron moupinense
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming up tomorrow, where I will take you inside the greenhouse and show you some exceedingly cool plants they have growing inside!


  1. Thanks for sharing some survivors of the December freeze. It's been a few years since I last visited the RSBG and I miss it terribly, even though I've only been there twice before. What can I say, it squirmed it's fine ericaceous roots into my heart. The Dryopteris wallichiana is gorgeous. Definitely adding that one to my wishlist. I wonder how I could have missed that stand of Blechnum chilense. Will have to check it out when I finally make it back to the garden. And the conservatory! I think it was under construction during my last visit. I am dying to see it! I have 10 vireyas and hope to have many, many more.

  2. I think you're correct about the V. ovatum. It does have very brightly colored foliage for that species, but everything else looks right. Where can I get a clone? ;)