Graf Zeppelin

Rhododendron catawbiense x
griffithianum 'Graf Zeppelin'

"Her face be rounder than the Moon
And ruddier than the Gown
Or Orchis in the Pasture --
Or Rhododendron -- worn."

-Emily Dickinson,


Graf Zeppelin'Graf Zeppelin' rhododendron is named for Germany's great passenger airship from the golden age of dirigibles. In its heyday it was the most beloved of all aircrafts throughout the world. The Graf Zeppelin was 776 feet long & 100 feet tall.

An American air mail postage stamp series commemorated the Graf Zeppelin, & these stamps were even used for mail that crossed the Atlantic by zeppelins. One of those stamps is shown in the illustration below.

Its namesake in the rhododendron world has a ten year height of five feet, with upright branching habit, & glossy evergreen slightly twisted leaves. It has rich pink ruffly flowers in large ball-shaped trusses of up to ten flowers per truss, paler in the heart with yellow or orange freckling on the dorsal.

It is an Ironclad, adaptable in the garden, being an especially hardy shrub on the shortlist of rhodies resistant to root weevils (which happily are no great threat to rhododendrons here in Kitsap County, Washington, but can be unholy horrors in some places). It's cold-hardy to minus 10 or minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Graf ZeppelinDeveloped by van Nes & sons, it is was bred from two earlier varieties ('Pink Pearl' x 'Mrs. Charles S. Sargent') & has in turn been used in breeding programs for later cultivars.

Regarding its parents, R. griffithianum x catawbiense 'Pink Pearl' is a classic Ironclad dating to 1897, itself still popular. R. catawbiense 'Mrs. C. S. Sargent' is named for Mary Sargent, a devout gardener, as well as being the wife of the pioneer hybridizer Dr. Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927), first director of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum.

'Graf Zeppelin' was installed in a sunny position with some protection provided by a nearby 'Black Swan' beech. This is in a friend's garden that I helped landscape. The 'Graf Zeppelin' was already present in the landscape, but I added the 'Black Swan' as the one Granny Artemis & I planted for ourselves some years earlier became our favorite tree.


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