Rhododendron "Great Dane"

mrlynn(z7 GA)August 15, 2014

Any one know of a source for this plant in the USA? It has great blooms and foliage.

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Great Dane is very hard to root so isn't grown commercially in the USA. I don't know of any US nursery that sells it. It's is grown in Europe where grafting is common.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 9:42PM
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rhodyman's explanation may be accurate for the particular case of 'Great Dane", but there are other factors involved in the unavailability of many rhododendron varieties in the US. Recent years have seen the closure of many rhododendron nurseries. Others. including some of the biggest, continue to operate under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The housing market collapse, competition from the big box stores, and the acquisition of nurseries by private equity firms with little interest and less expertise in plants have really devastated the nursery business in the US. There is really no one left to invest the time and money in importing new varieties from Europe or anywhere else.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 6:03AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Mainegrower tells the sad truth here.
We are incredibly lucky Rarefind was saved by a wealthy investor in the nick of time. I can't imagine a rhododendron collecting future without them.
It's pretty much an open secret now that Greer will close sometime next year, so I don't feel bad about posting it. They should update their website with a final availability notice...might help give them a final surge of sales. If that's what they want.
Rhododendrons - if you look at the overall "advanced horticulture" landscape, are a hard sell. Truth is they are only really idiot-proof in one part of the country, the PNW, and even there not completely idiot proof. (I know a nursery owner there who somewhat secret abhors their ubiquity there, he insists they need too much summer watering in most gardens) Many people are happier buying some showy mass-produced perennial that gives an effect immediately, and/or a longer lasting one. Plant Delights would currently appear to be the most financially successful mail order nursery in the country, if Tony Avent's spendy ways are any indication. BLEs seem somber to some people, though I can never figure out why. Quite the contrary for me, in winter they are nice to see versus dead twigs. RIght in my own neighborhood I've seen, one each, a mature holly, camellia and rhododendron completely ripped out of a landscape.
Particularly galling is that quite a few US bred hybrids (Great Dane might be, IIRC) are still availabe in Europe but no longer here. I detect a slight bias by US collectors, wholesalers and retailers to offering whatever is new, versus older varieties. For example there used to be a UK couple who posted a lot of pictures of their Cornish garden - until they had a kid - and they seemed very intent on getting all the old traditional UK hybrids. I think there are more of those kind of collectors over the pond. I'm just happy I managed to get a few of these and that they are growing reasonable well, like the superlative 'Leo'. Kathy Van Veen has offered a few recently that I'm trying, like one called 'Gibraltar'. (nope, not the azalea, but an English elepidote hybrid)

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 3:43PM
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davidrt28: I had been vaguely aware for some time that the Greers had been planning to retire and convert the nursery land to other uses, but did not realize the change was so imminent. I wonder how much their ongoing struggles with phytophthora infection have to do with the timing.

Greer's closure will leave pretty much only Whitney Gardens on the west coast as a mail order nursery with an extensive inventory of rhododendrons. You also have to wonder how long Briggs or Van Veen can survive with fewer and fewer nurseries, retail or wholesale, to buy their products.

I agree that Rarefind has never been better in terms of their plant quality and service, but southern NJ is not an ideal climate for many rhododendron varieties.

In retrospect, we seem to have lived through a golden age of American horticulture in the '80's and '90's. The loss of outstanding nurseries such as Heronswood, Asiatica, Roslyn and many, many others is a tragedy for those who cherish plants. We'll be left, I'm afraid, with only the dreary and ill cared for selections at the big box stores very quickly.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 5:33AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"I wonder how much their ongoing struggles with phytophthora infection have to do with the timing."
I think only in a peripheral sense - the slow down in the housing market since 2008 probably had much more to do with it. IIRC the article in the local Eugene media about the redevelopment of the property suggests Mr. Greer had been planning an exit strategy for some time. The land is quite valuable and you know what...good for him. He deserves it.
Oh, I found it (http://projects.registerguard.com/web/newslocalnews/28608038-41/greer-eugene-business-housing-development.html.csp)

"but southern NJ is not an ideal climate for many rhododendron varieties."
Very true. However, advanced horticulture, seen as a very specialized kind of cultural past time and heritage, is already concentrated in the northeast and pacific coastal regions of the US. There are other things that are similarly geographically situated: notice how since its inception, most of the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow US have been from the Northeastern US? It's not that everyone who collects serious antiques are between DC & Boston, but there are a heck of a lot more of them than between various midwestern cities. (obviously, simple population density comes into play as well) Rarefind is in a good place to find a sustainable semi-local market for rhododendrons, which matters as much as climate. And btw Rarefind should be begging local schools in NNJ.to have their students visit for fieldtrips or intern or somehow do something to keep that kind of horticulture on the radar of the next generation. Alas, even with such measures it will become a far more esoteric pursuit in the future...even many of the baby boom/pre WWII generation appear to be too distracted these days to do it, _even_ compared to the 1990s. I know a retired doctor who admitted to me he spends less time gardening now than when he was working! There are just too many distractions for people these days, and the smartphone revolution is teaching everyone including adults to be that much less patient. Patience is the #1 requirement for advanced horticulture...probably!

"In retrospect, we seem to have lived through a golden age of American horticulture in the '80's and '90's..."
Yep. The only bright spot is the internet will now be there to give micro-producers some wider exposure, and an ability to connect with the dwindling pool of buyers.

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Fri, Sep 26, 14 at 9:16

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 9:10AM
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I certainly did not intend any negative comment about Greer Gardens. Harold Greer as speaker, author, nurseryman has done more to promote rhododendron growing in North America than anyone I can think of. Plans for the land seem excellent. Sad but true that nurseries and gardens rarely survive beyond their creators.

My comment about Rarefind's location - badly put, to be sure - is that the heat and humidity of southern NJ rather severely limits the rhododendron varieties that can be grown. Hybrids and species which need a cooler, more moderate climate will have no real source on the east coast. Already I'm seeing the same very limited number of varieties from a single wholesaler in CT at every independent garden center in northern New England. This is the way hybrids are lost.

The step from from growing on a wholesale basis and relying on someone else to handle retail sales to direct mailorder is a huge one. Many of the micro producers, which are often one person operations, just won't be able to justitfy the expense and increased labor requirements necessary to take that step. Hope I'm wrong about that, but...

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 5:15AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"I certainly did not intend any negative comment about Greer Gardens."
Nor did I! Agree with your comments about him, and I felt lucky to have briefly met him a few years ago. Definitely one of the grand-maitres of American Horticulture.

"is that the heat and humidity of southern NJ rather severely limits the rhododendron varieties that can be grown."
Well, not sure I agree. Not w/severely anyhow...though I can see why it seems that way from Maine. I would posit a nursery trying to be what Rarefind is trying to be...and survive well into the next decade...would *have* to be w/in reasonable driving distance of the Big Apple. Again, there's only so many people who are going to be willing to shell out for high-class dendrological amusements. That eliminates a lot of places from consideration. And, yes, the place isn't filled to the brim with every known fussy R. wardii hybrid, but the climate is certainly not as bad as it could be. Their soil is actually quite good for rhodies. Rarefind could never have happened outside DC, for example. To me, in 2006 when I first visited, I could not believe a rhodo garden could even look like that on the east coast. Such was the diversity of colors and plant forms. Also NB their winter climate permits them to grow, outdoors, some of the hardier camellias. To survive they need to market a broad range of plants. Showing plants outside helps that marketing effort.

"Many of the micro producers, which are often one person operations, just won't be able to justitfy the expense and increased labor requirements necessary to take that step." Hhhmmmmm. This guy was a 1 person operation for a long time: www.desertnorthwest.com I admit it's maybe a little less feasible with rhododendrons, that I broadly see as more tedious to produce than most nursery commodities. I mean, a lot of shrubs, if you don't want to bother w/cuttings, you can just gather some seeds, plant them, and have saleable plants in a couple years. Not w/most rhodies, and especially because most people don't want seedlings. I just noticed a Callistemon seedling in my garden, that was already about 5" high from a dropped seed this spring. By the end of next summer it would be ready for sale. My attempt to raise rhodies from seed have been very frustrating. They are so darn slow, and the last of mine just rotted out for some reason. BTW Cold winters notwithstanding, a Callistemon is a lot harder to kill than most rhodies. That little plant apparently sailed through the very dry spell we'd had in the past 3 weeks, surviving bone dry soil in about 80% full sun. Even in shade I bet any spring sown rhodo seedling would have died w/o assistance.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 9:14PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

" This is the way hybrids are lost. "
Alas, it is only one of several ways hybrids are lost. I'm a bit tired of pontificating now...was out clearing some brush today for a new planting location for Pseudotsuga sinensis in the hope of creating a new rhodo bed w/high shade. (it is the fastest conifer I've ever seen)
Suffice it to say I think "academic horticulture" has something of a bias against hybrids, particularly in the country. Hence they aren't seen as being as important to preserve in our various "plant zoos". Apparently there's some kind of initiative in Germany to make sure hybrids are preserved, but I need to learn more about before elaborating. Which like the UK is another country where we must admit "serious horticulture for its own sake" (which is a rather special category of horticulture...which is often just seen as adornment of buildings and parks here) is a more deeply ingrained part of the country's cultural heritage.

BTW for the record 'Great Dane' was not a North American hybrid.

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Sat, Sep 27, 14 at 21:37

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 9:29PM
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Not to prolong this discussion needlessly, but from what I've read recently, rhododendron nurseries in Europe, including Hachmanns have seen a pretty steep decline in sales. How much this has to do with economic conditions throughout Europe and how much to a declining interest in rhododendrons in general is not clear. If you look at the list of nurseries specializing in rhodendrons in older books from David Leach, the Coxes and others as well as the badly-needing-update list at the ARS site, the sheer number of nurseries in Europe and North America is amazing compared to what is left today.Your previous point about the passing of a generation of dedicated gardeners is, I think, sadly accurate. How - if it's even possible - to interest electronic entertainment, nano second addicted people in gardening is a difficult question. The one very local ray of hope I see is that Maine is one of the very few states to be seeing an increase in small farms. The new entrants are young, enthusiastic and organically oriented. Not the same as ornamental horticulture, but at least suggestss some are rejecting life in a cubicle staring at a screen for something more authentic.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2014 at 6:34AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"Not to prolong this discussion needlessly,"

No, not at all. Thanks for the chance to discuss something that neither of us see as good news, and yet not throw one of those lamentable "adult temper tantrums" about it, as happened to me recently on another discussion forum.

Ironically, and, again, sorry to have to be the bearer of bad tidings, I think the sign you see as encouraging may not be. Remember, those kind of people - who leave the conventional life to become young organic farmers or whatnot - are often the very same people who have been indoctrinated into the politically correct view that non-native plants are in all cases somehow bad or suspect compared to natives. I've elsewhere posted a link to Stephen Jay Gould's excellent essay on the matter but see no need to do so here. Obviously you have not and will not succumb to such hysteria insofar as it would advocate only the cultivation of R. maximum or R. catawbiense.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2014 at 9:13AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Anyhow, as for Europe, it's never _so_ different from North America as many people imagine it to be. And so it's no surprise the same pressures are on rhododendron producers there. (though the mere fact there was a huge company in Germany with a highly professional hybridization effort over many decades underscores the difference I talked about earlier) Interestingly part of the reason I started gardening so young was an odd confluence of growing up in the inner suburbs of DC with several adults around me who somewhat seriously gardened. Three out of four of them were European. It's quite likely that for at least one of them, the chance to own land bigger than tiny 40' X 40' backyard plot was an incentive to immigrate to the US. Well, these days if you look at their many children or grandchildren, there's absolutely no indication any of them have continued a tradition of gardening. One granddaughter for example is back in Europe, married, but only interested in living in urban areas. (and probably only able to, given the cost of amount of land they had here being astronomical) The closest was actually the son of the American gardener, who owned & restored a B&B in Southern California some years ago that probably had nice gardens as part of the charm.

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Sun, Sep 28, 14 at 9:31

    Bookmark   September 28, 2014 at 9:28AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

I found this story in the Chinook Observer:

Posted: Sunday, June 8, 2014 by CHRISTIAN WIHTOL , The Register-Guard

A McMinnville-based developer and manager of senior-living complexes is proposing to build a 216-unit senior housing project on what is now the Greer Gardens nursery off Goodpasture Island Road in Eugene.

The $30 million-plus development would go on 13 acres that for the past half-century have served as a nursery specializing in rhododendrons and Japanese maples.

Greer Gardens owner Harold Greer said he will join as an equity partner on the development with The Springs Living. Greer said his equity contribution will be the land.

Greer and The Springs Living applied to the city for a zoning change and other land use permits for the project.

The Springs Living could start construction in spring 2015 for an early 2016 opening, said Fee Stubblefield, CEO of The Springs Living.

Greer said he and his wife, Nancy, have been looking for about five years to wind down the nursery business and develop the site. The property is valuable. The Lane County assessor's office estimates its market value at $1.09 million.
Greer said he talked with several senior-housing developers before settling on The Springs Living as a development partner about two years ago.

Both he and his wife have turned 69 recently, and running the nursery business has become difficult for them, he said.
"It's time to do something else," he said. It is "harder and harder to make money" in nurseries, especially in ones such as theirs that rely mainly on shipping to buyers. Shipping costs have risen, agricultural regulations have increased, and there is increased competition from big-box stores that sell plants and shrubs, he said.

The Springs Living at Greer Gardens would consist of an independent living facility with 75 apartments, an assisted care facility of 75 units, a memory care facility of 35 units, and 30 cottages. Once fully built, the facility would have 100 full-time-equivalent employees, Stubblefield said.
As required by city rules, Greer and The Living Springs already have held a neighborhood meeting to alert neighbors to the project. No neighbors have submitted written comments to the city, but four have called the city with questions about details of parking, landscaping, drainage and traffic, city staff said in a report.

Stubblefield said he will build the independent living, assisted care and memory care buildings all at the same time, plus a dozen cottages, for a total of more than 200,000 square feet. He would build the rest of the cottages later, he said.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2014 at 5:21PM
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rhodyman; Thanks for posting this update. This certainly seems like a worthwhile use of the Greer Gardens land. In another source I read online, a significant portion of the nursery land will remain as a garden. Another big plus.

Harold Greer's comments on the difficulties facing mail order nurseries today are right on the money. Shipping costs increase every year although Whitney Gardens seems to be having great success in using the much cheaper USPS instead of UPS or FedEx. I have received plants from Whitney via regular USPS parcel post in 7 days. The SOD problem on the West Coast is another factor. Most important ,in my opinion, is the big box store issue. We've been brain washed into believing that the cheapest is always the best. We have, as the expression goes, learned the price of everything and the value of nothing. Thus we go to the local Lowes, Walmart, Home Depot, etc. with little thought about how our purchasing decisions effect the many independently owned nurseries like Greer Gardens that have seved the horticulture community for many decades.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2014 at 5:14AM
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