April's plant of the month

An early rhododendron gives bold and brilliant bursting buds

Now that the days are finally getting considerably longer and warmer the feel in the garden has changed. No longer are the brightly-coloured stems the focus on a crisp morning, instead it’s a new flush of growth, the bursting of buds and the air filled with fresh scents and birdsong.

This time of year marks the beginning of the bold and brilliant blooms of the rhododendrons we have here at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, many of which date back to when the garden was first laid out by Geoffrey Smith, and are of considerable size, adding huge drama to the woodland.

Rhododendron 'Praecox'A favourite of mine which you can see in several areas of the garden is Rhododendron ‘Praecox’, (see photo, right) praecox meaning ‘early flowering’.

In contrast to the big old giants in the woodland, this rhododendron is quite small, but it makes up for this in flower power, covered at this time in vivid purple blooms that last for several weeks if protected from frosty mornings and early sun, which can damage the delicate petals. Although we have several throughout the gardens, the best spot to see them is in the old winter garden - here they are next to the path, protected from the early sun by a large Mahonia × wagneri ‘Pinnacle’ that at this time is bursting with zingy yellow flowers.

It’s a brilliant contrast and foil to the purple flowers. They are also underplanted with early spring bulbs, and varying shades of Primula denticulata making a striking spring display. We love it, and we hope you will too, and take some inspiration from our glorious spring woodland garden.

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