Contest winner gets to name a flower at Meerkerk Gardens

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet Capulet said famously in Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy.

If the quote uttered by one of theater’s most beloved characters is to be believed, it stands to reason that a rhododendron, too, would be as lovely given any moniker.

Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in September will award one lucky person the opportunity to name a rhody of their own.

The criteria are simple: it must consist of a maximum of three words, it must contain the word Meerkerk and it must not contain anything inappropriate or profane.

Otherwise, submitters may choose whatever they please, whether serious or silly.

The to-be-named plant is a hybrid created at Meerkerk, sporting bright pink blossoms.

The non-profit organization will accept up to 500 name submissions from now until the day of the drawing Sept. 7.

Each submission costs $10, with proceeds benefiting the gardens.

Kathryn Hurtley, the organization’s executive director, said the requirement to include Meerkerk in the name is an effort to foster more recognition for the gardens.

There are currently three registered rhododendrons bearing the Meerkerk name: Meerkerk Wonder, Meerkerk Magic and Meerkerk White.

Hurtley said naming a rhododendron is similar to naming a breed of dog, in that the plant will forever be known by that name.

“This is a big deal,” she said.

Don Lee, president of the Meerkerk board of directors and long-time volunteer, said they don’t often hybridize plants and usually only do so if a particular plant is overwhelmingly favored by volunteers and the community. Even then, it’s not uncommon for a hybridization attempt to be less than ideal, in which case the plant is not duplicated or sold. Over the years, about half-a-dozen intentional hybridizations have been deemed a success. This does not include those hybridized by Anne Meerkerk before her passing, as Meerkerk staff does not have records of precisely how many the founder hybridized herself.

At times, unintentional hybridization can occur without human interference, as is the case with this particular plant.

World-renowned hybridizer and Whidbey resident Frank Fujioka usually dedicates 15-16 years or more to purposefully curating the perfect hybrid.

In addition to the initial plant, clones must be made to ensure the plant’s ability to survive and be successfully reproduced. The process of propagating any rhody, hybridized or not, takes four to five years.

Several criteria are evaluated when considering whether a hybrid is viable and worth propagating. These include the strength of the plant’s stems, as well as the color, shape and size of the plant’s leaves and indumentum (the underside of the leaves, which is often velvet-soft).

In nature, he said, there are about 1,000 varieties of rhododendrons. There are around 25-30,000 official hybrids deemed exceptional enough to be registered with the Royal Horticultural Society in England.

Registration is technically free, but requires the assistance of someone knowledgeable in the field to collect all relevant data and compile the necessary paperwork.

Fujioka has volunteered to assemble the paperwork and data for the newest registered Meerkerk rhody.

Once registered, the plant can be propagated and sold at nurseries. This plant will be sold at Meerkerk, and the winner will receive a free propagated plant of their own. The plant will also be listed in trade publications.