The Plant Geek Unleashed, Part II

Continuing on our Mother's Day nursery exploration, we arrived at Down's Rhododendrons for the final day of their spring sale. As you might have guessed from the name, this nursery specializes in rhododendrons and azaleas. As a fan of all things in the Ericaceae, this is one of my favorite nurseries. I'm such a cliche, a Pacific Northwest gardener who loves rhododendrons. Of course that means this post is loaded down with way too many pictures. 

This nursery has a wide selection of cultivars of the more classic types as well as the unusual and rare. Certainly you won't find this much variety in one place at any generalist nursery. 

This beauty was right in front of the car as we parked. I love these bi-colored hybrids, which are becoming more common. Unfortunately this one was in the middle of the bed and I didn't want to go walking into it to look at the label. 

There is a short path through part of the garden. I wish there were more pathways through the big rhodies along the road so I could have seen them up close, but their production area is back there, too, and I'm sure they need to protect their stock against theft.

I can't help it. I love the sight of rhododendrons under big conifers, like these two giant sequoias.

The owners live on-site in a beautiful log house, surrounded by large cedars, rhododendrons, azaleas, and a few other plants. 

This rhododendron had huge flowers.

 This one was trained up into a beautiful small tree with big, round trusses of pink flowers with a red blotch. I think the fact that this rhody isn't completely smothered in flowers makes it more attractive, allowing you to appreciate the individual trusses and the structure of the plant rather than appearing as a shapeless blob of color.

Rhododendrons with coral, yellow, orange or any combination of those colors in their flowers are some of my favorites.

And speckles are always a plus. This one was labelled 'Beste's Firelight', though it's registered as simply 'Firelight'.

Many of the rhododendrons were in full, glorious bloom, like this beautiful white cultivar with a pink tinge.

Another coral and yellow cultivar. This one is 'Unique Marmalade'. It was even brighter in real life.

I didn't see a label on this spectacular flower. The red blotch in the center gives it an extra punch compared to other pink and yellow flowers. I also love the lush form of the flower, with more lobes than the five typical of more common rhododendrons.

So much color! Rhododendrons may be pervasive in the PNW, but with good reason. Their spring display is hard to beat.

This large, fragrant-flowered cultivar was labelled 'Loadness'. An internet search didn't reveal anything and I didn't see it for sale. It was a small plant that may be a new one to Down's collection. I hope they offer it for sale.

Besides the coral/orange/yellow flowers, I also love the dramatic dark violets.

Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the red cultivar in this photo, but the flowers were very large and intense.

Most of the sales area spreads out under a wooden frame, so that shade cloth can cover the plants in summer. It also creates a pleasant atmosphere for viewing the plants. Most of their stock is sold either in 2-3 gallon containers or with bare root balls sunk into the fine wood chips in this area. One gallon rhododendrons and azaleas, and some larger dug plants are also available.

Not all rhododendrons are one-hit wonders. Many have beautiful foliage, too, especially the new growth. Meet 'Gartendirektor Glocker'. The flowers are nice enough, pink bells, but what I really love about this plant is the smoky red new growth and neat foliage.

 Here's another with cool new growth. The long young stems have light-catching hairs and colorful bracts.

Rhododendron 'Medusa' is one of my new favorites. It reminds me of a species, R. cinnabarinum, with dangling flowers in orange and yellow. Surprisingly that species didn't play any role in creating this hybrid.

Another lush flower with more lobes than the typical five. This luscious flower belongs to 'Red Gold'.

The flowers of 'Smokey' (sold as 'Smokey #9') are a difficult color to capture. They are actually several shades darker than this photo, and very nearly black before they open. It's hard to judge settings properly through the glare on the LCD screen of my camera.

 The flowers of 'Horizon Monarch' are a soft, buttery yellow and nearly 5 inches across. I've come to appreciate colors like this for their ability to glow against the dark Douglas firs that surround our property.

The bright red bracts on the new growth are equally as showy as the flowers.

 Another view towards the house, with large rhododendrons and azaleas creating a wall of privacy.

 Down's is where I really lost control. I broke my new "rule" of trying to only buy things that I knew exactly where to put. But I shouldn't have too much trouble finding places for them in my great blank slate of a yard. And plants can always be moved, right? My haul from Down's includes 'Smokey' (the tall gangly one in the back), 'Medusa', 'Kimberly', 'Gartendirektor Glocker', roxieanum var. oreonastes, and 'Carmen's Cross' in the front (another that I couldn't find an exact match name-wise which is probably a hybrid of 'Carmen' that wasn't actually registered).

'Smokey' (or 'Smokey #9') has gorgeous dark buds. As I said, I love these dramatic, dark colors.

Even the year-old stems are a dark, smokey purple. The leaves are also an attractive dark green. Though the plant looks rather awkward in it's youth, I have no doubt that it will become a magnificent rhododendron "tree" with shapely trunk and branches.

'Kimberly' attracted me purely by it's bright green new leaves with purple petioles attached to their cordate bases. The label said that the flowers are also slightly fragrant, which clinched the deal as I'm working on acquiring more fragrant rhododendrons.

Of course 'Medusa' came home with us. I have a thing for plants with melodramatic or mythological names, and the speckled, coral/yellow, pendant flowers and attractively veined foliage make this a must-have.

Here you can see how the flowers hang down. A well-layered plant will have tiers of dangling orange trumpets in it's midst.

I was thrilled to find Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes, which I've been intrigued by since reading about it from Alternative Eden. The speckled, white flowers are nice, but the foliage is the real attraction of this shrub. Narrow, glossy blue-green with woolly indumentum aging from white to light brown has a faint but unmistakable sweet, refreshing scent. It reminds me of the scent of western red cedar after it rains, or the resin on Sitka alders warmed by the sun. Probably similar to the smell produced by resin-bearing Cistus, though I'm only guessing from what I've read. Mine doesn't seem to be as fragrant as what Mark and Gaz describe, but it's small yet. I'd like to put it somewhere to take advantage of the scent, but there isn't a place near the house with adequate shade.

The smokey red new growth of 'Gartendirektor Glocker' was another I couldn't resist.

 Ok, so only six plants, but with the three plants from The Barn and one nursery to go, not to mention their size ('Smokey' is nearly 5 feet tall and wide) the car was getting a little full. For my family, this is a plant shopping spree.

Our final stop of the day was at Lael's Moon Garden. This was my first time visiting this nursery and I was very excited.


  1. Ah Lael's Moon Garden is a nursery, I'm excited to see your tour.

    When I saw that shot with all the plants I thought "wow they must have a big car." I think it's great you're a PNW'er who loves the plants we're known for. So many gardeners reject the familiar, or wait, maybe that's just me...

    1. We took my mother's Toyota Highlander. That and my proficiency in plant Tetras meant there was plenty of room. I love ALL the plants, the familiar and the unusual.

  2. When I came to live in the PNW about 30 years ago, I was overwhelmed by Rhododendron blooms. I'm not as overwhelmed now, but still appreciate their beauty and occasionally I visit the Rhododendron botanical garden in Federal Way. The picture of the pink Rhodi between the two Sequoias really sums up the northwest for me (maybe with a little sword fern on the side?).

    1. I think you're right, a sword fern or two would really complete the picture!

  3. Replies
    1. Just remember all the plants you can grow that I can't, like phormiums, citrus, kangaroo paws, grevilleas...need I go on?

  4. Yowza! You got some beauties! I also love rhododendrons for their gorgeous spring show. I have a few but mostly appreciate them in other gardens. They are spectacular beneath towering conifers, something I also wish I had space for in my tiny urban garden.

    1. You can always buy ones that catch your eye and send them to me! One thing I'm not lacking in is space.

  5. The setting and planting of this nursery and garden looks spectacular Evan! When I saw the photo of the log cabin type house, surrounded by flowering rhododendrons and azaleas in a woodland garden my heart skipped a beat! Great haul and I hope they all do well for you. Foliage wise the roxieanum var. oreonastes stood out for me and then I saw your reference to our post about it :)

    1. I would love to live in that house. This nursery really has a beautiful setting.

      I'm so happy I found Roxie!


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