When my sister and I were much younger, I remember taking a trip with our parents to someplace called “The Rhododendron Garden.” For whatever reason, our visit became a sort of running gag through the years: it was a meandering, stalwart garden with an abundance of squirrels and not much else.
It took me a while to connect that rhododendron garden to the one I decided to take my mom to for Mother’s Day this year. Maybe it was the timing that was off – to be sure, Mother’s Day coincides with the peak bloom time of most rhododendrons and many azaleas. And, of course, that meant the garden was packed with people (and, yes, lots of squirrels, ducks, geese and other wildlife). Even then, I find it hard to believe we could ever had such a lackluster experience in this kind of wonderland.
The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland, Oregon.
There are plenty of waterfalls, lakes and ponds that give the garden an almost Asian feel.
What I’m guessing is some sort of wild violet?.
The beautiful, pale green bracts of a dogwood tree.
I’m thinking this is actually some kind of spirea. Can anyone confirm?
Primula malacoides. Much more interesting than the garden variety, if you ask me.
Beyond just rhododendrons, the garden is lush with mixed plantings of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and Northwest staples like hosta, pulmonaria and barberry. To be honest, after a few months merchandising plant material for a big box store, I was almost retching at the thought of one more stupid rhodie. But let me assure you that this garden has something new for even the most jaded or anti-rhodite among us.
I was smitten with deep maroon and bicolored blooms, stripes, chimeras, doubles that looked like miniature roses and the ridiculous shapes and neon colors of the Exbury azaleas.
Azalea ‘Percy Wiseman.’ In a follow up post, I’ll address the differences between azaleas and rhododendrons. Hint: there might as well not be any.
The sweet, bubblegum pink double blooms of Azalea ‘Pink Rosebud’ look just like miniature roses!
Where Exbury azaleas fall short by being deciduous, they make up for with their supernatural blossoms. ‘Homebush’ is no exception.
My mom thinks the buds look more beautiful than the flowers. Indeed, they were often darker, more vibrant or even a totally different color than the open bloom! These are on Rhododendron ‘Polernacht’.
Just your average lilac-colored rhodie.
Some rhododendrons, like ‘Unique,’ grow tall enough to tower over us like trees..
A lone bench struggling for space against some zealous azaleas!
What’s more, Mother’s Day weekend is when Crystal Springs hosts their annual Rhododendron and Azalea Show. So if you didn’t get enough action out in the gardens, you’re sure to find something inside that tickles your fancy. There’s a literal rainbow of different colors, from near-black to orange to white, in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.
I couldn’t believe the variety present at the Rhododendron and Azalea show. Many of the entries shown here were from Van Veen Nurseries.
Clockwise from top left: R. ‘Humbodt’, A. occindentale, R. linearifolium and Azalea ‘Komo Kulshan’.
Well, I’d say that was a success!
I don’t think my family will ever stop using “The Rhododendron Garden” as a euphemism for something endlessly disappointing. In fact, when I told my father I’d gone, he asked if it was still just as terrible. I’m not sure if we had stepped into a trans-dimensional vortex all those years ago, but I told him that he would be pleasantly surprised by what’s there now. And for the rest of you, I can’t recommend enough visiting the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. For more information, be sure to visit their website.