Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Finnish Rhododendrons at the Arboretum

Rhododendron 'Helsinki University'
I have been admiring the ultra-hardy Finnish or "Marjatta" series of rhododendrons for quite a while now. By my reckoning, there is only room for ONE of these large specimens in my new garden, and now I'm faced with making the torturous decision as to which one that should be...

All of the Finnish rhododendrons are incredibly winter hardy - down to at least zone 4 and some even to zone 3. They are elepidotes, meaning they have very large leaves. (As compared to the small-leaved PJM type.) Large evergreen leaves and raging northern winters usually spell disaster, but these toughies are an exception. They offer an exciting opportunity for us northerners to add bold texture to the winter garden.

Here are the cultivars I've personally seen growing in Wisconsin, mostly at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and Olbrich Botanical Gardens:

Helsinki University

Rhododendron 'Helsinki University'
I've seen a few mature specimens of this one, and all were very tall and upright. Magnificent is a word that comes to mind. The foliage was mostly in good condition, and I like the nice bright pink color of the flowers. It's hard to tell the scale of the plant from the picture, but these are about 7-8 feet tall at least. It perhaps has a tendency towards legginess, which would not necessarily be a problem for me as this will be a background plant in my shade garden.


Hellikki

Rhododendron 'Hellikki'





'Hellikki' has bright reddish pink flowers, a deeper color than 'Helsinki University'. I haven't seen as many plants of this one, but it appears to be slightly smaller growing. On the few that I saw, the foliage did not look terribly happy, although that could have been an accident.










Mikkeli (aka St. Michel)

Rhododendron 'Mikkeli'
Rhododendron 'Mikkeli' with Japanese painted fern


'Mikkeli' ('St. Michel') definitely has the nicest foliage of all that I have seen. The leaves are particularly large and seem to hold up extremely well against winter weather. This is supposed to be the hardiest of all the cultivars, down to zone 3. This one also grows tall - the mature specimens in the Arboretum are at least 7-8 feet. BUT, I find the color of the flowers uninspiring. They are a very pale grayish pink which fades to white. Foliage is my main reason for wanting to get an evergreen rhododendron, but I WAS hoping for a bright splash of spring color as well...









Haaga

Rhododendron 'Haaga'

'Haaga' has bright pink flowers of a medium hue. The foliage is smaller than 'Mikkeli' or 'Helsinki University', and the overall plant height is somewhat smaller too.

Elviira

Rhododendron 'Elviira'





The color on this one is awesome - bright coral red. (Apologies for the terrible glary photo - it's the only one a managed to get!) 'Elviira' blooms earlier than all the others I've seen - mid-May here, as opposed to late May to early June for the others. It won't suit my purposes because it's a low, flat-growing bush and I'm looking for a large, tall specimen. It reportedly grows to be only about 2 feet high - the one I saw was only about a foot high, although it may have been immature (I've only ever seen one of these).








 
Pohjola's Daughter

Rhododendron 'Pohjola's Daughter'
'Pohjola's Daughter' is another low, broad shaped rhododendron, although larger than 'Elviira'. The flowers are a very pale pink, which often fade to near-white. (Again sorry for the awful picture - I include it for completeness' sake.)

So.. I'm still not sure which one to get. What I want is a rhodo with the foliage and habit of 'Mikkeli', but the flowers of 'Hellikki' or 'Haaga'. That probably doesn't exist... sigh.

There are three more cultivars that I have not seen in person yet: 'Kullervo', 'Pekka', and 'P.M.A Tigerstedt' ('Peter Tigerstedt'). 'Pekka' looks particularly interesting, but I'd like to take a look at a mature live specimen before purchasing it. The Finnish Rhododendron Society has a helpful page with some info on all nine cultivars.

13 comments:

  1. What gorgeous Blooms! Great blog, I'm excited to learn more about using tomato covers this year so will be sure to check back here for advice!! cheers Julia

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    1. Thanks Julia, I've got tomato seedlings on the windowsill already - we'll see how they do this odd year. Love your galoshes!

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  2. I love the look of 'Mikkeli' with the Japanese painted fern. I confess to preferring its blossoms to the brighter ones, but then, I haven't lived in WI all winter. (When I lived in VT/zone 4...yes, I could see bright pink being a necessity in spring.) 3 cheers for the Arboretum/Botanic Gardens--what great resources!

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    1. Yes, pale Mikkeli is very elegant looking - you have much more refined tastes than me! In theory, I like the idea of a serene white and silver shade garden, but in reality my eyes are drawn to the most ridiculous fluff-balls of bubble-gum pink. Hard to be at conflict with oneself, but at least I'm aware of the issue :-)

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  3. Difficult decision indeed! My vote is for Haaga. It is a very pure, very full pink. I have a huge weakness for it.

    Stacy

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    1. Yes I'm having a really tough time here! I love the color of Haaga but I'm not sure if the plant will get quite tall enough for me - I'm looking for a super gigantic monster-rhodo to hide my water barrel :-) I'll have to check exactly how big it gets.

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  4. So beautiful! My neighbor has the Hellikki variety, and the blooms are exquisite. I do like the Haaga as well.

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    1. Thank you Sage. I'll probably settle on one of those - just love that bright pink color.

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  5. I very much will enjoy visiting your garden and the beautiful Rhododendrons at the University and Botanical gardens. Thank you for visiting GWGT. I had a beautiful Rhody in my garden, along with two azaleas, but my dog literally ate them, and I have no idea why. They do grow well here in some locations.

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    1. Wow that is hilarious! I didn't know dogs ate rhododendrons... We have lots of bunnies, ground squirrels, and other varmints that will eat almost anything, so I have little wire cages all over the yard. Looks pretty awful - hopefully I can take them off someday!

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  6. Oh Wow! These are really beautiful!

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    1. Thank you - yes, I just wish I had a gigantic park of my own so I had room to grow them all! (plus hundreds of peonies and crabapples and hydrangeas and... why is everything I like so BIG?)

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  7. Hello!
    You were hoping for a hardy cultivar that has foliage and habit of 'St. Michel' (syn. 'Mikkeli') and flowers of some pink variety. This is new one, 'Kristiina'
    https://portal.mtt.fi/portal/pls/portal/tai_mtt.tai_mtt_rp_lajikkeet.show_detail?p_tunnus_seqno=295
    grows over 2 metres (6-7 feet?) tall and flowers are pink of a warm tone. This was released last year.

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