On the 23rd May 1916, the Rhododendron Society held their first AGM at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Since their first AGM, a hundred years have passed, during which time the Rhododendron Society has evolved, and its horticultural interests widened. It is now known as the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group (RCMG). To celebrate the Centenary, David Millais, the current Chairman of the RCMG, and owner of Millais Nurseries in Churt near Farnham (who is also the great nephew of J G Millais – one of the founder members of the Rhododendron Society), created a special exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 to mark the occasion. Millais Nurseries exhibit was awarded a Gold Medal by the RHS judges.
Every exhibit that Millais Nurseries create is different. This year their Gold Medal winning exhibit for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show featured a ‘walk through’ display of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, which encouraged visitors to take in the scent and the beauty of these special plants. One side of the exhibit featured Rhododendrons that were popular 100 years ago. These plants are old favourites, but as they tend to be taller, larger, and more imposing plants, sadly, not everyone can accommodate them in today’s smaller gardens. The other side of the exhibit featured smaller, more compact plants, including some of the newest varieties of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, which have been specially bred to be suitable for today’s smaller gardens but regain the charm and beauty of the original varieties.
Three new Rhododendrons launched by Millais Nurseries at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show were entered into the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of The Year Competition. All three plants were shortlisted in the top twenty new plants of the competition, and all three finished within the top ten.
Rhododendron ‘Orakel’ was bred in Germany by Holger Hachmann. This new, resilient Rhododendron is hardy to -24 C. During late May and early June Rhododendron ‘Orakel’ produces dark purple flowers, which feature a distinctive, blackberry coloured blotch. David Millais believes this new variety to be one of the best purple Rhododendrons he’s ever seen. Height – 150cm – 175cm (5ft – 6ft) after ten years. Rhododendron ‘Orakel’ will be happiest when planted in moist, acid soil, or good quality ericaceous compost, in dappled shade. No pruning is necessary, simply deadhead when the flowers have gone over. Apply fertiliser in March each year, and again after flowering.
Rhododendron ‘Prinses Máxima’ was bred by Tijs Huisman, and named after Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, the Dutch princess, who married the Crown Prince of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, who is now the King of the Netherlands. This new Rhododendron has a very complicated parentage – a number of different Rhododendron varieties were crossed to create this special plant. This complex breeding program resulted in creating a new Rhododendron, that produces very beautiful, cream coloured flowers, which feature a prominent red spotting over the lobes of its double flowers. Rhododendron ‘Prinses Máxima’ flowers in mid-May, its flowers are both distinctive and unusual.
Rhododendron ‘Prinses Máxima’ is hardy down to – 20 C. This Rhododendron has an upright habit; you can expect its height to reach 150cm – 175cm (5ft – 6ft) after ten years of growth. Plant Rhododendron ‘Prinses Máxima’ in dappled shade, in moist acid soil or good quality ericaceous compost. No pruning is necessary, simply deadhead when the flowers have finished. Apply fertiliser in March each year, and again after flowering.
Rhododendron ‘Sun Star’ is a deciduous azalea, bred in Holland, by Tijs Huisman using seeds from Fred Minch from the USA, the resulting plants of which, were then crossed to create this new Rhododendron luteum cross. This new azalea produces fragrant, double flowers in May. The flowers start life as dark, salmon pink buds, which then open to yellow flowers, which then fade to a soft orange colour as they age.
Rhododendron ‘Sun Star’ is hardy down to -20C; this new azalea is happiest growing in a sunny spot, in moist acid soil, or good quality ericaceous compost. Apply fertiliser in March every year, and again after flowering. When the flowers have finished it’s the ideal time to trim the plant, to maintain its shape. Rhododendron ‘Sun Star’ is a deciduous plant; in autumn the foliage turns an attractive pinky-red colour. Height – 150cm – 175cm (5ft – 6ft) after ten years’ growth.
Millais Nurseries’ Chelsea Flower Show exhibit featured the top Rhododendron, as voted for by the members of the RCMG. The winner of the vote was Rhododendron yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada’, a much-admired, low growing Rhododendron, that’s generally accepted to be the best form of yakushimanum. Rhododendron yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada’ produces pretty, apple blossom coloured, bell-shaped flowers in May, it has a noticeable white, felt-like covering over the surface of its leaves, which is known as tomentum.
During her Majesty’s visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, David presented the Queen with a beautiful bouquet of Rhododendrons created by Miranda Gunn, and gathered from Ramster Gardens in Chiddingfold. Miranda is the owner of Ramster Gardens and is also a member of the RCMG. David told me that the Queen had commented on how she loved Rhododendrons, and that she particularly liked the big blooms that reminded her so much of her childhood.
With an emotive reason for a display – the centenary of the Society, with such strong connections to his family, and of which he is Chairman – it was a special time for David Millais, and everyone at Millais Nurseries. I enjoyed catching up with David Millais at the Chelsea Flower Show, and congratulated him on being awarded his fourth consecutive Gold Medal from the RHS judges.
This article was first published in the August 2016 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
Other links and articles that may interest you…..
To visit Millais Nurseries’ website, please click here.
To visit the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group (RCMG) website, please click here.
To see the top 20 shortlisted plants, including the finalists, and the winner of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2016, please click here.
To read about the Gold Medal winning Show Garden, that Andy Sturgeon designed for the Telegraph, which won Best In Show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, please click here.
To see photographs from the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, please click here.
To read my interview with Cleve West and find out more about The M&G Garden, that Cleve designed for the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, please click here.
To read about the new roses from David Austin Roses that were launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, please click here.
To read about the Rose of the Year Competition and The Festival of Roses at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2016, please click here.