Undoubtedly the most gorgeous flowering effect in the world is that of rhododendrons. (See plate 64.) True, roses and azaleas have a wider range of colours, while lilacs and hydrangeas have bigger trusses, but they do not have a magnificent background of evergreen foliage. The English spring strikes high C in June when the rhododendrons bloom, while our dramatic moment is in May, when the leaves come out and the fruit trees blossom. We already have some spring gardens more gorgeous than any I saw in England, but they are of a very different kind, as explained in the chapter on shrubs.
The English type of spring garden is a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, and I believe we can reproduce it with joyous results. The example we should follow is illustrated by the Rhododendron Dell at Kew (see plates 64 and 65), and the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society, or by the Vale of Cashmere in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N. Y. The first principle is to get a little ravine or valley, so that we may enjoy the rhododendrons both from above and below. Then let there be a path following the natural contours, so that every one may see the whole show without retracing steps or being plagued by a maze. By this method there will be a new picture every two or three steps. Next observe that all the shrubs which bloom before the leaves look best against an evergreen background; therefore put your azaleas chiefly in front and rhododendrons chiefly in the back. Finally, arrange the "magenta crowd" by themselves, and nine tenths of the colour discords will be avoided. By "magenta crowd" I mean all the colours derivable from purple, e. g., lavender, crimson-pink, mauve, light and dark purple, and crimson. These colours give exquisite effects in a bed by themselves. The other colours will usually take care of themselves. A collection of one hundred varieties arranged on such a plan would be a joy unspeakable.
Instead of such collections we seem to prefer mass effects. But too often we dump down car loads in a flat place near the entrance to an estate, wipe out all other vegetation, and jam the rhododendrons together in such a way that visitors think only of the cost. We ought rather to aim at great landscape pictures like the one at Deepdene, and any one may reproduce the spirit of that famous spectacle provided he owns a valley about a quarter of a mile long, with its banks crowned by tall trees.
But most Americans who plant rhododendrons on a great scale simply scatter them in their woods. A better idea is represented by the new art called "landscape forestry," which transforms monotonous woods into enchanting groves at small expense and in only four or five years. (See plate 66.) Some of the main ideas are saving the best trees and giving them a chance to develop, making trails or paths to all the most interesting features, and breaking here and there the fringe of shrubbery which generally surrounds American woods, barring all visions of the beauties within. Only by some such plan can we have the grandest wild garden effects with rhododendrons, and we ought to produce even more ravishing pictures than those of England, because our Catawbiense and maximum are so much better than the vile-coloured Ponticum that becomes a "weed" in English woodlands.