For all my indifference to gardening, I love rhododendrons. Why?
Because I spent a day wandering around the world-famous Rothschild Collection of rhododendrons and azaleas at Exbury Gardens on my honeymoon in a wet June in 1990.
Because the first time that I visited Cumbria in the spring, I realised that there were literally masses of wild rhododendrons, making my favourite place even more special.
Probably because they flourish in the wild, given the correct conditions, and therefore are part of a natural landscape requiring NO MAINTENANCE.
Daughter of Mine groans whenever I say, “Ooh, look at that rhododendron!” because, apparently, I say it all the time. I don’t. Even I know they are not in flower all year round.
Anyway, since visiting Nymans Gardens in Sussex over the Easter weekend and seeing their glorious displays of this beautiful family of plants, I have added ‘plant rhododendrons’ to my ever-growing list of projects.
But I’ve learnt during my research into the species that it’s not all good news for the rhododendron:
‘Its foliage prevents sunlight reaching forest floors and stops other plants, including tree saplings, from growing.’ – A big problem in Scotland apparently, but presumably in the Cumbrian landscape too?
The leaves, flowers and nectar of some species are poisonous. The domination of the plant in large areas effectively destroys the whole food chain; insects don’t eat it, bird numbers decline because there aren’t any insects to eat, and in turn larger predators such as sparrowhawks are also forced out of their natural habitats by the loss of prey to the area.
Allegedly, humans can get ‘Mad Honey Disease‘ by eating honey made from rhododendron flowers. Not that I plan on becoming a bee keeper, although the disease is short-lived and rarely fatal.
And according to Shepherd’s Blog, sheep have been known to die after eating the plants when other feed is scarce. Thankfully, a common antidote is at hand – a strong cup of tea (or more accurately a stomach tube, drenching gun or dosing bottle of tea). The premise is the tannins in the tea neutralise the poisons.
I just knew a good cuppa cures all.