Rhododendron centenary celebrated at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

This year, Millais Nurseries' display celebrates the centenary of the Rhododendron Society, now known as the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group (RCMG) which held its first AGM at Chelsea Flower Show in May 1916.

Rhododendron 'Sun Star'
Rhododendron 'Sun Star'

David Millais, owner of Millais Nurseries, is the chairman of the RCMG and the great nephew of JG Millais, one of the three founder members of the Rhododendron Society.

Rupert Eley and Charles Williams (Burncoose/Caerhays) are the descendents of Charles Eley (Place for Plants/East Bergholt) and JC and PD Williams respectively and will join David Millais at a press call at Chelsea to celebrate the centenary.

JG Millais wrote the books ‘Rhododendron’ Series 1 (1917) and Series 2 (1924) cataloguing the best rhododendrons at that time.  It is the main point of reference for those restoring or recreating historic gardens today, and some of his recommendations are still popular and have stood the test of time.

Johnny Millais' career took him into the Royal Navy at the outbreak of WW1 where he joined the secret service and was involved in counter-espionage.  He was a very accomplished artist, ornithologist and travel writer.  But his passion was Rhododendrons. This passion has continued through the family and now David Millais is one of the leading experts on Rhododendrons in the world. 

The Millais Nurseries exhibit features taller rhododendrons that might have been popular 100 years ago on one side of a meandering woodland path, with dwarf and compact plants that are more suitable for today’s smaller gardens on the other side.  Some of the RCMG Top 100 Rhododendrons are also on the exhibit – in particular R. yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada’, voted No. 1 by RCMG members.  The Millais team have successfully demonstrated how versatile and interesting rhododendrons and azaleas can be in today’s modern gardens, with the use of great form, colour and scent.  They are hoping to secure their fifth consecutive RHS gold medal.  

They are proactive with their breeding programme and are constantly searching for the choicest new varieties as well as conserving and propagating older varieties.     

There are 1,445 rhododendrons listed on the Plant Heritage ‘critical’ list, in danger of being lost forever.  Millais Nurseries, in partnership with the RCMG, play a significant role in helping to find and propagate old varieties and save them from extinction.    
Rhododendrons and Azaleas are "certainly back in vogue", says Millais, and Millais Nurseries have launched the following new varieties at the show:   

Rhododendron ‘Orakel’ – nominated for Plant of the Year. This plant has dark purple flowers with a distinctive blackberry blotch flowering in late May/early June. It is a tough, tall growing variety with clean foliage and good winter hardiness, to -24°C. Bred by Holger Hachmann in Germany and introduced by Millais Nurseries for the first time.   

Rhododendron ‘Prinses Maxima’ – nominated for Plant of the Year. A plant with double cream flowers with prominent red spotting in mid May.  A strong upright habit growing to 1.5m in 10 years with a distinctive and very unusual flower. Good winter hardiness, to -20°C. Named after the Dutch princess, who is married to the Crown prince of the Netherlands. Bred by Tijs Huisman in Holland and introduced to the UK by Millais Nurseries.  

Rhododendron ‘Sun Star’ – nominated for Plant of the Year. A deciduous azalea with double fragrant flowers. Dark salmon pink in bud, opening to yellow and fading to soft orange. A  hardy plant that tolerates -20°C. Flowering in May this is a new plant with pinky red autumn foliage. Another plant bred by Tijs Huisman in Holland from his breeding programme, and introduced to the UK by Millais Nurseries.    

Rhododendron ‘Snow Fire’. Pure white flowers with a red orange flare in the centre. Dense and compact, flowering in late May and ideal for smaller gardens or containers, growing to 75-90cm in 10 years. It has dark green leaves on a tough plant that will tolerate -20°C.  Bred by Heinz Bohlken in Germany. [Registered name is Bohlken’s Snow Fire].   

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