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1 Apr 2019

Inverewe’s rainbow rhododendron is world first

The rhododenron is a riot of pastel shades
The rhododenron is a riot of pastel shades
Inverewe staff are astonished at the blooming of what they believe to be a world first: a dazzling, multi-coloured rhododendron.

Rare species thrive in the heritage garden at Inverewe near Poolewe in Wester Ross thanks to the effects of the Gulf Stream. Staff there have been surprised at the blooming of a dazzling, multi-coloured rhododendron, which they think is a world first.

As gardeners prepared for the annual rhododendron festival, which runs from today until the end of May, they were amazed to find something that they had never seen before in amongst their national heritage collection of over 400 different varieties.

In the early 1900s, Osgood Mackenzie started planting rhododendrons at Inverewe. His daughter continued the tradition before passing the property to the National Trust for Scotland in 1952 and the conservation charity’s gardeners have built on their work since then.

Over the years the rhododendrons have been generating hybrids, and a peculiar combination of conditions appears to have been responsible for this season’s unique kaleidoscopic inflorescence.

Typically, the Rhododendron macabeanum produces single coloured ‘trusses’ but this new hybrid, being called Flora Pi Lo, is a riot of pastel shades, from dusky pink to saffron yellow and ivory white. Osgood’s vision was to ‘grow as many exotic plants as possible’ but nothing has ever been seen as unusual as the new flower that’s growing at the property.

Head gardener at Inverewe, Kevin Ball is astounded at the appearance of the flower. ‘I’ve been a professional horticulturalist all my working life and this Flora Pi Lo – as we’re calling it – is quite the most unusual flower I’ve ever seen,’ he says.

‘Osgood Mackenzie prided himself in creating a garden that was nothing like anywhere else on earth and I’m sure he’d have been thrilled to see these plants.’

“We’re not entirely sure what has caused this unique hybrid but we’ve got our theories. It might sound bizarre but it could be down to rainbows.”
Kevin Ball, Head Gardener at Inverewe

Kevin continues: ‘The weather has been particularly changeable this growing season with more sun and rain than usual, and we’ve had an unusually high amount of rainbows.’

‘We did notice that, when we were taking cuttings for this plant, there was a rarely seen triple rainbow above the gardens. A rainbow is just the way that light is reflected as it enters a raindrop, so could it have been that the spectrum just kept bouncing around and the colours transferred to this extraordinary plant?’

Inverewe is well-known for its impressive rhododendron collection and is taking part in Scotland’s Rhododendron Festival runs from 1 April–31 May. Branklyn Garden is taking part too.

(*Please note this story was written and published on 1 April.)

Kevin Ball, Head Gardener and Kevin Frediani, Operations Manager with the bright blooms.
Kevin Ball, Head Gardener and Kevin Frediani, Operations Manager with the bright blooms.