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Information Panels : Rhododendrons in Pruhonice

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 Author: Ing. Uljana Blažková


Rhododendrons in Pruhonice

Rhododendrons have always been popular in Pruhonice which is evident in the park, where have been many of them. The oldest ones were planted at the end of 19th century. They were botanicals and hybrid forms (e.g. R. calendulaceum, R. catawbiense, R. ponticum) but also cultivars mostly, but not only, from German breeder T.J.R. Seidl (e.g. ´Alfred´, ´Darius´, ´Delila´, ´Eidam´). Horticulture research in Pruhonice increased in later years together with more intense and systematic growing and breeding of rhododendrons.

In Vienna in 1908 Society for the dissemination of Dendrology and garden art in Austria-Hungary was founded. Its president Count Arnost Emanuel Silva-Tarouca was an owner of Pruhonice and builder of local park and his registrar Camillo Schneider belonged to the best German garden designers and dendrologists. The park was under construction on a wide scale at that time and because the Society needed an associational garden, Count has offered Pruhonice. In 1909 the garden was established to serve Society members and also to propagate material for park development. It became a center of introduction of woody plants, perennials and alpine plants from worldwide.

After disaggregation of Austria-Hungary, the Society’s activities transferred to Dendrological Association of Czechoslovakia founded in 1922 and the associational garden continued until 1955. Here also a lot of rhododendron seeds have been sown like precious material from natural habitats. Early history of the park is connected to expeditions of Camillo Schneider to Caucasus and China, as well as collections of E.H. Wilson, G. Forest, Kingston Ward and Rock in China or I. Ambrozy in America.

Other plants have been propagated from seeds gathered from foreign garden companies (e.g. Regel a Kesselring in Saint Petersburg, Vilmorin in Paris or Seidl in Grüngräbchen, Saxony). Other botanic gardens and arboretums (like Kew, Edinburg, Vienna, Montpellier, Arnold Arboretum) has helped with expanding rhododendron collection, too. They shared seeds collected on expeditions and donated or exchanged seedlings from there. But also young plants from commercial growers have been collected here. Many species, cultivars or hybrid material from this source have been placed in the park. Tradition in growing rhododendrons continued in Pruhonice later on. In 1927 Count A.E. Silva-Tarouca sold his properties to the state and Agricultural Research Institutes took over the park. This institute has been later transformed into Research Institute of Ornamental Gardening. In interwar period a rhododendron show was hold in here. It gathered and evaluated worldwide assortment of rhododendrons of that time. The plant material was later used as enrichment to the park but also to develop growing of rhododendrons in Czechoslovakia. In all cases, it was a good quality base for systematic breeding business.

First Cultivars from Pruhonice

A breeding process started A.E. Silva-Tarouca together with F. Zeman, who was an inspector of associational dendrology garden, but closer information about hybridization was lost. In 20.-30.ties of last century an intense breeding process was evolved mostly thanks to B. Kavka – a director of the state Institute. He practically hybridized rhododendrons himself. In 30.ties, he started with deciduous azaleas (cultivars like ´Vlasta´, ¨Dagmar´, Zdena´) and later he moved on to semi-deciduous and evergreen rhododendrons (´Don Juan´, ´Humoreska´, ´Ma Vlast´)

Jelinek Azaleas

These semi-deciduous to deciduous azaleas developed from crossing Japanese azaleas and semi-deciduous rhododendrons. It was done by professor J. Jelínek, seedlings were grown in Pruhonice and selected for local conditions. After his death, suitable seedlings were henceforth evaluated by his followers Doc. B. Kavka, Ing. M. Opatrna and J. Dvorak.

Grandiflora Evergreen Hybrids

This group was hybridized for frost tolerance by professor J. Scholz. He worked mostly with R. smirnowii which is in local conditions fully hardy. There are many of his hybrids in the park, selected and named later as ´Aurora´, ´Luník´, ´Lajka´ a ´Sputnik´. Many others focused on breeding of evergreen grandifloras (Ing. M. Opatrna, J. Dvorák, J. Kyndl, Ing. A. Dostalkova) and e.g. rootstocks propagated by seed for grafting of evergreen rhododendrons have been developed.

Indoor Azaleas

Also many cultivars of “greenhouse azaleas” have its origins in Pruhonice, thanks to Ing. J. Matous.