For rhododendron lovers, the first Sunday in May is the best time of the year to buy your first or hundredth rhodo at the annual North Island Rhododendron Society (NIRS) sale and truss show.
Held at the K’ómox Band Hall on Dyke (Comox) Road from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Sunday, visitors will have the opportunity to meet growers and to choose from a wide selection of popular, rare and unusual rhododendrons along with many companion plants.
While Washington may have beaten British Columbia to the draw by naming the rhodo their official state flower, local growers and gardeners know the flower flourishes here. As NIRS club president Paul Wurz says, “This is probably the best place in the world to grow rhodos.”
Ask growers why it’s a good idea to buy from a sale such as the annual NIRS sale and they’ll give you a string of reasons.
Bernie Guyader who specializes in dwarf rhodos (and alpine plants) says that the more unusual rhododendrons are found at plant sales and not in big box stores where only a limited number of varieties are available.
“People selling rhodos in the large chain stores are not usually very knowledgeable about plants and sometimes the plants are not cared for properly after they arrive.”
Since the plants all have their special needs if they are to flourish, buying directly from the grower is a rare opportunity to bone up on plant culture.
“The growers know more than simply how to plant, transplant and care for rhodos,” says NIRS member and grower Barb Staton.”They know the names, the individual traits, the preferred habitats, the history and origins of the plants they are selling and have nurtured for many years.”
Wurz agrees: “Many of the plants, especially the ones in one-gallon pots you often see in box stores don’t have fully developed roots. Studies show that many of these die in the first year because the buyer isn’t given the information on how to care for them and how they must be watered.”
One of the highlights of the NIRS sale is the annual truss display where a colourful exhibit of blooming rhodos gives the buyers a better idea as to what their plant will look like. Each of the trusses is clearly identified and if that particular rhodo isn’t available at the sale, the grower experts can advise on where it can be purchased.
Doors for the NIRS sale May 5 open at 10 a.m. with the sale running until 1 p.m. In addition to rhodos, NIRS members will sell a wide selection of companion plants and volunteers are available to assist buyers with their purchases. Admission and parking are free and visitors will also be given a free chance at a draw for a rhododendron.
— North Island Rhododendron Society