Robert (Bob) Zimmermann fell in love with rhododendrons over forty years ago. He began cultivating them on his kitchen stove and now grows species rhododendrons in the greenhouses of Chimacum Woods on the Olympic Peninsula. Although hybrids offer beautiful flowers, the rhododendron species are Bob’s primary interest. Some 300 species populate the collection in his garden, providing a reliable source of seed and cuttings. He has paid particular attention to collecting plants true to the species description.

A “species” rhododendron is a non-hybridized plant, which en mass form a stable population in the wild without human intervention.

Rhododendron habitats in the wild, particularly in China, are under constant threat from humans. Some are chopped down for firewood. Others fall under the road-builder’s heavy equipment or the farmers’ need to clear land for crop production. Except for a handful of dedicated botanists few seem to care about their future.

Bob has traveled with botanists, five times to China, once to Tibet, sometimes braving adverse weather, leeches, and the very rugged hiking and mountain climbing conditions to study the plants he loves so much.

Given the constant threat to rhododendron habitats in Asia, it may well be that we in the West will be able one day to return offspring of these plants to China and other countries in future generations, when there is greater appreciation for the diversity of Mother Nature. Raising species rhodies is an investment in the future.

You can be part of preserving the gene pool of these magnificent plants while you enjoy their natural and enduring beauty in your garden. Keep them watered, but not soaked, and remember them sparingly with fertilizer on Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day.

Careful, you may fall in love with them too!