A variegated Norway maple contrasts perfectly with 'Pink Walloper' and 'Lavender Queen' rhododendrons.
Consider color, texture, scent
COLORS. Choose rhododendrons as if you were assembling a wardrobe, thinking in terms of complementary and contrasting flower colors. If you buy plants in bloom, you'll be able to see how well a pink flower truss picks up the hue of a burgundy-leafed Japanese maple, for example. In mass plantings, group similar colors together (reds and pinks, for example), but keep clashing colors apart or grow white-flowered rhodies as buffers between them.
LEAF TEXTURES. Whether you're planting rhododendrons together or mixing them with other plants, contrast is the key. Play large leaves against small ones, round leaves against narrow ones. Or use the classic technique of playing broadleaf rhodies off a contrasting background of conifers, as shown above.
FRAGRANCE. Plant fragrant varieties of rhododendrons by entries and patios, where you can enjoy their scent up close. Some good ones include 'Dora Amateis', 'Fragrantissimum', R. fortunei, and R. luteum, a deciduous azalea.
For further reading
The best new book about designing with rhododendrons is Rhododendrons in the Landscape by Sonja Nelson (Timber Press, Portland, OR, 2000; $29.95; 800/327-5680 or www.timberpress.com). Fifty-two pages of color photographs provide convincing examples.