Compatible Companion Plants
Rhododendron ABC's #20
One joy of growing a collection of Rhododendrons pecies and hybrids is the placing of the plants and creating an interesting garden. There are so many types and varieties, that it is possible to combine very small rhododendrons with small flowers and leaves, with very large specimens with large flowers and leaves. But, it must be admitted, that there is a good case for combining our favorite plants with other plants that have at least some of the same cultural requirements as rhododendrons. The main requirement, of course, being that the plants can tolerate the acidic side of the pH range.
There are hundreds of plants from which to choose. So how does one go about finding proper companion plantsto share garden space with our favorites? I have found a number of books and catalogs that are great helps in making selections. Probably my favorite book is The Color Dictionary of Flowering Plants for Home and Garden by Roy Hay and Patrick Synge and published by Crown Publishers in New York in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society in London. Catalogs from Greer Gardensin Eugene, OR and Whitney Gardensin Brinnon, WA have also been excellent sources of information and specimens, not only for common things, but also for many rare things. There are also many other specialty nurseries which publish lists and which one can visit to find many things which can add interest to a collection.
There is not enough space to list all the plants that I believe can add much to a rhododendron garden, but in this and the next ABC's, I should like to mention a few of my favorites.
First there are the low growers and ground covers. Of all these, my vote for ground covers goes to Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia mummularia. This plant is vigorous (don't plant it close to any rare rockery alpines that you may want to preserve), grows and trails long viney stems that show up especially well, trailing over rocks and walls. Its bright yellow flowers are produced for a long time and show well against the long green-leaved, trailing stems.
A low plant, not in the ground cover category, that I really like is the Shooting Star, Cyclamen neapolitanum. This plant makes a pleasing appearance late in the Fall, often blooming in October and November with pink and white flowers and interesting mottled leaves. The third low bloomer that I have admired and repeatedly planted, and eventually always lost, is the Bunch Berry, Cornus canadensis. In some moist gardens with proper light exposure (like rhododendrons, it prefers light but not direct sunlight), this jaunty little dogwood flower flourishes and is a delight. It is worth a try in any garden to see if it can become established.
These three are plants that I like a lot but there are many more than can be considered. Lilies of almost any shape or form are very good, as are the Frittilaries, especially the showy Crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialist. Trilliums, including our native Trillium ovatum blend in very well and add interest to the Rhododendron scene. (If deer are a problem, one may have trouble keeping trilliums in bloom). One could go on for a long time and describe many interesting low plants, but this will have to do for now.
In the next ABC's, I should like to list some of my favorite shrubs and trees that make fine rhododendron companion plants. These can range from shrubs a few feet or less in height to trees 100 feet or more in height.
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