Six On Saturday: The strange case of the two tier rhododendron and other oddities

So Monty Don recently said  ‘Gardening is easy. Stick it in the ground the right way up and most plants will grow perfectly well.’ Which is essentially true but every now and then strange things happen:

One

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I think I know why my rhoddy looks like this.  It’s possible that the tree was planted soon after the house was built, which would make it about 100 years old.  I think it had been left to its own devices and being on a north facing border it had reached forward for some sun.  I think the previous owner then cut it back hard at the bottom to regain some of the lawn.  My evidence: when we moved in I discovered a large pile of wood stashed behind the foliage.  Since then the bottom of the tree has regenerated and this year has put out some fabulously healthy flowers and more luscious green leaves.  But the top of the tree struggles on with yellowing leaves and smaller and much later flowers.  My guess is the bottom is sapping the energy of the top.  So do I radically cut back the top, probably reducing the height by half – which feels like vandalism, but if it needs to be done….or do I lightly prune the top every year until the tree balances itself out again?  It has plenty of water and although north facing it does get early morning and late afternoon sun so I think the conditions are okay.  Any thoughts?

Two

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This beautiful iris came free, picked up from the allotment sharing bench.  I think it is  ‘White City’ and last year they were all the palest blue colour fading to white.  This year there is an interloper.  Now since it was a large clump divided from an even larger clump maybe the purple iris has been there all along and has only  just flowered. Or has it been cross pollinated?  Either way I am enjoying them both.

Three

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Is my Sneezeweed trying to tell me something?  I bought some last year with the aim of adding some late colour to the borders but it has been in flower since May.  Label says ‘Flowering period: late summer’.  My, the year is going fast!

Four

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Back to some normal happenings.  These stunning Siberian irises came as several divisions from a friend’s collection.  This is their second year in the garden and they have multiplied amazingly, definitely a case of growing perfectly well.

Five

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The equally successful Astrantia ‘Claret’.  I did try to grow some from seed but that didn’t happen so I happily bought some 9cm pots which have bulked up well in their second year.  The roses in bud behind are ‘Blush Noisette’ – so close to popping but not for this week!

Six

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I must give a shout out to the growers at the Finchley Horticultural Society who also seem to have the knack of making gardening easy.  I decided to diversify my tomato growing this year.  Instead of 15 plants of one variety grown from seed I have six plants of three varieties bought at last week’s plant sale.  I’ve missed the roller coast ride of raising them from seed but I’m going to enjoy the variety: Marmonde, Golden Crown  and Alicante.  I was also tempted by some chilli plants and a couple of Romano peppers.  I’ve taken the plunge this year and planted them direct into the soil instead of in grow bags.  Let’s see what the greenhouse soil has got in it!  I have grown my own basil which I’ll be planting around the tomatoes.

There’s an extra gardening day again in the UK.  Will it be hot and sunny, hot and thundery or a wash out?  Let’s hope we can all find a way to enjoy the weekend whatever.  More gardening stories can be found at The Propagator’s blog.  The contributors also seem to be growing very easily.

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17 thoughts on “Six On Saturday: The strange case of the two tier rhododendron and other oddities

  1. I would cut the head of your rhodo if I were you. I had a similar problem with one of mine last summer and had to wait until winter to remove old stems that had yellow leaves ( or even more leaves at all). I removed 2/3 of the shrub! … and it starts again this spring and blooms. So I guess they’re enough resistant for that.
    PS : pretty irises !

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  2. The flowers on the bottom bit of your Rhodo look like R. ponticum, which is occasionally used as a rootstock. You say the top bit flowers much later, is it a different flower. If the bottom bit is ponticum stock then that’s the bit that needs to go.
    I bought an Astrantia with flowers the colour of yours a couple of years back; it’s flowering white and green with the barest red flush behind the petals. ??

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    • My daughter is bringing back my ladder this weekend and I’m planning to take a closer look at the top flowers. John K also thinks it’s a rootstock problem. The bottom does seem very vigorous. My dark astantia is very dark all through. But I also bought some called Roma which are as you described which I think is why I bought them. They are more delicate and A. Claret is winning hands down for me.

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  3. Your irises are just stunning! Trees and plants are endlessly fascinating. They keep us on our toes whilst they dance around on their rootstocks!

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  4. I’ve managed to grow a few astrantia from seed this year. Hadspens blood and ruby wedding I think. Just 2 or 3, they seem quite tricky to germinate. Hopefully they will grow on to be big enough to plant out and form a clump.

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  5. #1 If the old stems are deteriorated all the way down, there is no point in trying to salvage them. They can be cut ‘cleanly’ back to the base. (Do not leave stubs.) The new growth is trying to replace it. If you would prefer to keep the big old stems, that can be done too, but will take a bit of extra work, involving thinning out the healthy lower growth to promote upper growth. It will take a few years, and compromise bloom somewhat, but would be worth it if that is what you prefer.
    #2 The darker bloom could be a ‘sport’ or a mutant shoot. Bearded iris are so genetically unstable from extensive breeding that sports occasionally happen.

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  6. Well you have some oddities there (as Sir Humphrey would say, of the utmost oddness). I’ll agree with Jim that you have two Rodos – root and branch. The ponticum rootstock will continue to kill the top, being far more vigorous than whatever the original grafted plant was. You could remove the bottom (and keep removing it as and when it grows again, as it will now) and find something to underplant with Or even, perhaps, keep the ponticum and remove the top But do you want to keep ponticum? It’s like vareigated things; once they revert and you let them do it, they get into the habit and revert more vigorously than you can keep up with. It’s like duckweed. A b****y pain! I’d probably remove the lot and start again. Good luck with whatever you decide. Those Heleniums look rather stunted. Maybe next year they’ll grow properly and flower at the right time. New plants can misbehave; you never know how they were grown.

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    • Thank you to you and Jim for your thoughts on the rhodo. Much for me to investigate and a decision to be made. My first thought was to cut back the bottom and underplant, the new growth is already spreading out towards the lawn, so yes it does seem more vigorous. Time to tackle this one.

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