After phone conversations with both chillen and a lazy breakfast, my idea of the perfect way to spend the day was a drive through the country to visit the Cecil & Molly Smith Garden in St Paul. Richard is a big fan of Rhododendrons, the stars of this garden. My main interest was to see how they had been used and the companion plants chosen. In the above photo, the orange dangling blossoms are an unusual form, R. ‘Lady Chamberlin’.
Paths criscross the long slope of the garden, making it easy to get a close-up view of the many well-labeled specimens.
Towering firs provide dappled shade. We heard grumbling from those who bemoaned having missed the peak bloom time. I found sparser bloom more to my liking than the gaudy collision of color that can result from too many Rhodys blooming at once.
Several understory trees keep things interesting. Mahonia bealei rises from a bed of false Solomon’s Seal and liriope.
Acer griseum’s peeling bark adds to the interest at eye level, while its leafy upper reaches cast lovely shadows.
Beyond the maple, smaller trees congregate.
Looking up, the light shining through the leaves of a honey locust is the perfect foil for the tracery of limbs and branches.
Care to sit a spell and soak up the atmosphere? Plenty of atmosphere provided by the rough bark of ancient trees and the forest smells surrounding a stone bench.
Light and shadow are major players on this stage. I love the way this tall Rhody is silhouetted against the play of light in the background.
A fragrant Pacific Coast native, R. occidentale cleverly greeted us right at nose level.
Amusing topknots of new growth were forming on R. uvarifolium.
The new growth on R. yakushimanum gave it a multi-hued appearance, plus, its indumentum was showing. This, to me, was far more interesting than any flower.
Which is not to say the flowers we did see failed to charm. R. ‘Snow queen’ is a case in point.
But what of those ground covers and companion plants I was interested in? In some areas they were all natives; plants that I recognized from our forest floor.
Pillows of maidenhair fern lined one path.
These urn-shaped, flat-faced ferns covered large patches of ground and caught the light. They look like some that are in our woods, too, but I don’t know their name…maybe a juvenile form of the sword fern?
A small patch of primroses added a splash of color and textural variety to this vignette. The trees and specimen Rhododendrons were all clearly labeled, but not so the ground cover plants. A few that I recognized were trilliums, hellebores, bergenia, dicentra formosa, vancouveria, violets, pulmonaria, calas and fringecups.
Let me leave you with a few scenes from this amazing garden:
And yep, that’s me. R couldn’t resist sneaking a shot when I asked him to hold the camera while I scribbled notes. I hope your Mother’s Day was a grand one.