“Rhodo Bob” immortalized with certified rhododendron of his own


By Ron Giofu


One of the things Bob Sutherland was known for was his love and knowledge of rhododendrons, so much so that he was dubbed “Rhodo Bob.”

Rhodo Bob plant2Now, there is a type of rhododendron named specifically for him.

The Robert Sutherland rhododendron has been officially registered by the Royal Horticultural Society in England, a process that originally began in 2000. Paul Morneau, president of the Amherstburg Rhododendron Committee, said it takes at least five years for a specific type of rhododendron to be certified but the process hit a bump in the road when the original plant failed to propagate. Given new plants to work with roughly five years ago, Morneau said the process started again and resulted in the new plant, which sees two now planted in Navy Yard Park near Sutherland’s memorial bench.

“It’s quite a process,” said Morneau. “The pedigree of the plant has to be just exact.”

Sutherland’s rhododendron is yellow with a flair and the registration with the Royal Horticultural Society means no other person or group can have the colour as it is the Robert Sutherland rhododendron.

Morneau said the original plan was to have the plant registered for Sutherland before he died but that plan didn’t work out. The Amherstburg Rhododendron Club pressed on anyway because of what Sutherland meant to them.

Sutherland died July 12, 2005.

“We wanted to make sure everything was right for the plant and right for Bob,” said Morneau. “Bob was a very important person to us. Bob was a great guy.”

Yellow was chosen for Sutherland’s plant because “of the aura around Bob,” Morneau added.

The process was also kept secret from Sutherland’s wife Norma in order to surprise her, he stated.

The club is also hopeful the rhododendrons in Navy Yard Park and Seagram Park are promoted further by the town, as Morneau stated he has met people from all over the world who have enjoyed the rhododendrons when in full bloom.

St. Clair College was also very helpful in developing the new Robert Sutherland rhododendron, said Morneau. Sandy MacDonald, horticulture professor at St. Clair College, said Norma Sutherland has been a “benefactor” to the program and that the college is in its second year working with the Amherstburg Rhododendron Committee.

One student works in the rhododendron beds in both Navy Yard Park and Seagram Park each summer, said MacDonald, and assist with breeding and propagating plants.

“They don’t have the facilities but we do,” said MacDonald.

Norma Sutherland said the honour was “huge for Bob” and said she was patient with the project when she found out, as she knew it was a long-term process to get to that point.

“It’s important for him and it’s important for me because it was for him,” she said. “It was one of those things I knew would take years. It took a lot of work and persistence on behalf of the committee. It didn’t happen overnight.”

Norma said she will come down and look at the plant any time she gets a chance. She added “it makes me feel good” knowing there is a rhododendron named in her late husband’s honour.

“It is a very pretty one too,” she said. “It’s his favorite colour.”


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