The perfect fit

SMALL WONDER: Rhododendron 'Dora Amateis' at its spring best.
SMALL WONDER: Rhododendron 'Dora Amateis' at its spring best.
  • Some plants will take over your garden, but David Overend knows how to keep them in check.
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Some plants were never meant to take root in an average garden; some plants grow big and need space – lots of space – while others are simply just too invasive. It’s a case of making the correct choice.

Take rhododendrons, for example. When they were introduced to this country they were planted in the “gardens” of the rich which were large enough to accommodate most of what the world of Nature could offer.

Some thrived but knew their place; others thrived but grew too big for their roots, and certain areas of Britain are still paying the price.

Rhododendron ponticum is the perfect example. Where conditions are suitable, it will out-compete most native plants, effectively eliminating other competing native plant species.

But just as one swallow doesn’t make a spring, so one particularly aggressive rhododendron doesn’t make a species. Anyone who has wandered through a spring garden bursting with rhododendrons in flower must want to enjoy that glory on their own patch.

The good news is – anyone can. Forget about the big boys, dwarf rhododendrons can be enjoyed in containers on a patio or balcony.

The Yakushimanum (otherwise known as Yak) hybrids grow slowly, and, with the right feeding and watering, will put on glorious displays of flowers year after year without ever outgrowing their space.

Container growing allows all the benefits of being able to get the soil conditions just right and you can relocate your plants as the fancy takes you. If you’ve got more space, you can make them a bigger part of the garden.

Acid soil is generally a must, so it’s possible to combine larger plants with ferns, perhaps in the shade of mature trees. Hostas also make great partners.

Try matching the Rhododendron ‘Blue Peter’ with Hosta fortunei to get maximum value from the lilac flower heads of the rhododendron. A worthwhile guideline to keep in mind is that the more floriferous a variety is, the less suitable for naturalistic settings it tends to be.

For this reason, the really showy examples, like Rhododendron ‘Linda’, with its vivid cerise flowers, are best nearer the house.

There are also dwarf alpine varieties perfect in rock gardens – for example, ‘Dora Amateis’, with lovely white flowers in spring but a maximum height and spread of only 60cm.