Rhododendrons Every Imaginable Color

An unusually wet and chilly spring was great for rhododendrons, including these decades-old beauties in Wendy Serkin’s garden. Their annual bloom not only lasted longer than usual but produced a jaw-dropping display of brilliant colors. Ms. Serkin was pleased to show visitors around when they were at their peak.

Ten years ago, Wendy Serkin married a man who came complete with a one-acre East Hampton garden of rare rhododendrons. Although she has a background in painting and a particular interest in botanical drawing, Ms. Serkin was daunted by her first sight of so many splendid bushes, some of them as tall as a two-story house.

“This garden was overwhelming,” she said during a leisurely stroll along the paths on a late-May day when every newly opened flower demanded admiration. “I didn’t know what anything was. I was interested from a painting perspective; then I started learning about how to keep things safe and growing.”

Thanks to a wet and unusually chilly spring, an initial visit to the garden a week or two earlier had found only a few flowers open. This time it was a kaleidoscope of color: white, yellow, salmon, orange, red, purple, and every shade of pink imaginable, even including one of the ones that you see all over the place. This season’s sustained cool weather was actually good for rhodies, according to The Star’s garden columnist, Abby Jane Brody. Like other flowers, they may have opened late, she said, but made up for it by blooming longer, well into June, with more vivid color.

Ms. Serkin’s husband, Andy Goldstein, said the man who owned the property before he bought it in 1992 had “planted without end,” and that its original owner, back in the early ’60s, was a garden photographer. Both of them must have been rhododendron and azalea aficionados, because many of the plants he inherited are at least four or five decades old. (Back then, Ms. Brody said — “before the deer” — more nurseries specialized in rhodies, and “there were many fine plants that you don’t see today.”)

One showstopper in particular, with white flowers and a speckled throat of magenta and gold, drew prolonged rubbernecking. “I call it the ‘runway,’ ” Ms. Serkin said of the throat. “The flight path that takes in pollinating insects.”

In an email that evening, she wrote that she’d looked it up, and “the proper term for the ‘runway’ on a rhodie petal is ‘the blotch.’ ” Unfortunate label, isn’t it, for a feature so beautiful?