Picture Ohio! – The Rhododendron Discovery Garden at The Holden Arboretum

 

Rhododendron Discovery Garden, The Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, Ohio
Rhododendron Discovery Garden, The Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, Ohio

The Holden Arboretum is one of my favorite places in Ohio. I’ve been a member there for more than 30 years and have spent hundreds of hours exploring and photographing the 4,000 acres of woodlands, rivers and streams, lakes, meadows and display gardens at Holden, one of the largest and most diverse arboretums in North America. Last week I visited Holden to see and photograph its newest garden, the 4.5-acre Eliot and Linda Paine Rhododendron Discovery Garden, located next to the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden near Corning Lake in the core section of the Arboretum. The Rhododendron Discovery Garden is named for C.W. Eliot Paine and his wife, Linda,  and the adjacent Norweb Tree Allee is named for R. Henry Norweb Jr., Holden’s first Executive Director. Eliot Paine served as Holden’s second Executive Director, from 1983 to 1995.

Pergola, Rhododendron Discovery Garden, The Holden Arboretum
Pergola, Rhododendron Discovery Garden

The Rhododendron Discovery Garden provides Holden’s visitors the opportunity to learn more about the Ericaceae (heath) family, which includes rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels, huckleberries and blueberries. The garden was designed by MTR Landscape Architects, LLC and constructed by Vizmeg, Inc. of Stow, Ohio. The structural centerpiece is an elegant pergola, featuring wooden beams supported by stone pillars, situated on an overlook that provides a panoramic view of the garden.

View from the Pergola in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden
View from the Pergola in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden

From the pergola, paths fan out into the three major areas of the garden. The first section, near the pergola, showcases the many shrubs that make up the heath family, which has more than 4000 species worldwide. The second area of the garden is devoted to the selection and hybridization of rhododendrons, azaleas, and other heaths, and the third section of the garden provides information on how to grow and care for these beautiful shrubs in your own garden. Interpretive panels, like the one shown below, are located throughout the garden.

Interpretive Panel in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden
Interpretive Panel in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden

At this stage, most of the rhododendrons and azaleas planted in the new garden are fairly small, and it will take several years for the shrubs to grow and expand to fill the garden. However, near the edge of the woods on the far side of the garden from the pergola, nestled in a grove of pine trees, is a collection of larger rhododendron shrubs that was putting on a spectacular show of blossoms when I visited on May 20. This section of the garden is devoted to rhododendron hybrids developed by Dr. David G. Leach at the Leach Research Station in Madison, which has been part of The Holden Arboretum since 1986. Dr. Stephen Krebs, the director of the David Leach Research Station, carries on the research and development of rhododendron hybrids begun by David Leach in the 1950s.

Leach Rhododendron Hybrids, Rhododendron Discovery Garden
Leach Rhododendron Hybrids, Rhododendron Discovery Garden
Rhododendron 'Bali', Rhodo Discovery Garden
Leach Hybrid ‘Bali’, Rhododendron Discovery Garden

Holden Arboretum has one of the finest collections of rhododendrons and azaleas in North America, and I have spent hundreds of hours photographing these spectacular shrubs for book projects, magazine articles, calendars, color prints and other purposes over the past three decades. These shrubs love cool, moist conditions, but wilt rapidly in hot, dry weather. My favorite time to photograph rhododendrons and azaleas is when they are displaying a mixture of flowers that are fully open together with other flowers that are partially open, or still closed. This flowering period provides compositional variety, brilliant color variation, and the minimum of damage to flowers and foliage, as shown in the photograph above of the Leach hybrid ‘Bali’.

Diffuse lighting is critical for photographing these shrubs. A cloudy or partly cloudy day is ideal. Avoid bright sunny weather, which creates inky black shadows and washed out highlights, especially in flowers that are white or light yellow. On sunny days, try to photograph rhododendrons early in the morning or late in the evening, when the sun is hidden by trees or low in the sky so that shadows are eliminated. Bright sunny weather is SKOD – the Sunny Kiss of Death – for most garden photography! If you must photograph rhododendrons or azaleas in sunny weather, try to shade the flowers with a diffusion screen or get a friend to throw their shadow on the blooms. To help you to identify the species or cultivar in each of your pictures, photograph the shrub’s label, then the shrub itself.

'Purpureum Elegans' in the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden
‘Purpureum Elegans’ in the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden

The rhododendrons and azaleas in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden will be in bloom for the next couple of weeks, followed by mountain laurel later in June. When you visit, be sure to walk through the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden, which is adjacent to the new Rhododendron Discovery Garden and provides beautiful vistas of mature rhododendrons and azaleas beneath a canopy of tall trees.

For directions and more information about The Holden Arboretum, visit Holden’s website at: www.holdenarb.org or call (440)-946-4400.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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