Rhododendron x catawbiense
"Her dress was purple, her slippers were golden."
'Purpureum Grandiflorum' is an unregistered heirloom rhododendron developed by H. Waterer before 1850. The Waterer family founded Knaphill Nursery in Surrey about 1790. By 1810 the Waterers were performing some of the earliest hybrid experiments with rhododendrons from China & North America.
The nursery was a major force in Surrey & at its height extended to one hundred acres of growing fields. But every time a shrub was sold, a bit of the soil went with it.
By the prewar era of the 1930s the top soil had been depleted by the long-sustained high level of production & from removing the soil with each shrub sold, so that growing costs soared with the need for continuous soil replenishment.
The nursery further declined during the appalling war years & the remnant sold to another nurseryman. Part of the old Knaphill Nursery is today a soccer field, having been donated for this purpose in 1924, & today still called Waterer's Park, home of the Knaphill Football Club.
That long period of providing plants to Sussex gardens means the whole region has remained forever since a wonderland of Magnolias, Camellias, Rhododendrons & Azaleas, so many of them of enormous size flowering the countryside most especially in April & May.
And the fuller legacy of the Waterer dynasty are the Knaphill azaleas & Waterer rhododendrons that have remained garden standards for well over a century, in temperate gardens round the world.
A sampling of the classic Iron Clad rhodies developed by generations of Waterers include Catawba Album with large white trusses, 'Mrs. Furnival' with pink, the famously bright red Vulcan, & others too numerous to shake a stick at.
'Purpureum Grandiflorum' blooms in May & early June, having purple flowers with golden dorsal flecks. Its ten-year height & width is five feet, a compact large-leafed Iron Clad, cold-hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It likes bright shade to full sun.
The specimen shown here, in a friend's garden, has some protection from a nearby large evergreen but even so gets pretty strong direct afternoon sunlight with no signs of exhaustion.
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