The website of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh proudly informs us: “Together, the collections in our four Gardens – Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan – comprise the world’s richest assemblage of species rhododendrons”. So in early May, 14 members of the Colinton Garden Club signed up for a guided tour of the Rhododendrons at the Edinburgh Botanics. The weather threatened to dowse the event as we set off along the southern border of the garden. However the sun shone and we were spurred on by glimpses of the bright flower canopies of the larger rhododendrons.
The full range of the Rhododendron’s beauty soon became apparent: the rich petal colour within the lattice-work of the growing bud; the splendour of the flower cluster; the mixed greens of new growth. And of course the whole plant in bloom, where flower dominates leaf. One of the most beautiful displays was given by R. anwheiense, originally collected from Anhui Province in Eastern China, where it grows on cliffs at 4000 – 6000 feet.
Our Botanics guide also pointed out other interesting plants in bloom: Gentiana acaulis, Magnolia cylindrica and
Bypassing the Pond, we arrived at the Montane and Wet Tropics Houses, where the national collection of rhododendrons in the Vireya subgenus is held. These plants are readily damaged by typical Scottish frosts. Although flower form is varied, many have elegant elongated trumpets as shown in the photograph.
Also on show were striking examples of Vanda coerulea (the Blue Orchid) and Vanilla imperialis with its deep purple-red labellum. On the homeward leg to the John Hope Gateway, we looked up to the azalea area where ovoid beds of orange and red contrasted well with the bright green lawn of Spring grass.
This outing is recommended to our sister societies. Timing is important in order to see as many rhododendrons in bloom as possible – our programme convenor Susan Plag judged it right with early May. Fifteen participants is probably the upper limit for all to listen to one guide and to progress comfortably through the narrow corridors and archways of the Tropics Houses. Finally, as we did, you could meet beforehand in the Gateway Restaurant for a light lunch.
Bob Jones (Colinton Garden Club)