The lawn is a gift of the English garden tradition from the eighteenth century. Early…
Victorian England treasured US rhododendron.
Right now you see rhododendrons in bloom everywhere.
The native rhododendron has fascinated me for many years. I always look forward to its late May and early June blooms.
Here’s a view of my garden right now. [below]
Our native rhododendron, however, played a greater part in the English garden in the nineteenth century than our own. At that time they were more popular in England than here in America.
Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in the June issue of 1870 lamented the fact that Americans did not appreciate the rhododendron.
He wrote, “It has often been a source of wonder, that the idea that the most beautiful of all American ornamental plants – the Rhododendron – could not be grown in its native country, should ever prevail; yet so universal is this belief, that though persistent efforts have been made by enthusiast nurserymen, like Parsons of Flushing, and Hovey of Boston, to introduce it to public notice, and to show that they can be as well grown as any other plant, only a few yet realize the fact; and thousands of our readers do not know what a rhododendron is.”
Today we acknowledge the battle between native and exotic plant choice for the garden. The issue is certainly not new.
Native plants, according to the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs, were not as popular as ornamental plants from countries like China and Japan. But first these plants, including native US varieties, had to appear in the English garden.
The same happened to the rhododendron.
Eventually, it assumed an important role in American gardens.
Frederick Law Olmsted used the rhododendron extensively in 1895 for his landscape design at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.