Lifetime achievements of Peter Cox

By Kenneth Cox, Glendoick

Peter Cox has a long and distinguished career in the rhododendron world.

In the fields of original authorship; development of new plants; innovative breeding, taxonomic studies; plant exploration and preserving of germ plasma through selection of species.

Peter Cox is widely acknowledged both in the UK and abroad, as perhaps the world’s leading expert on rhododendrons.

Over the last 60 years Peter Cox has made an outstanding contribution to his field, brought distinction to British and International horticulture, and enhanced the reputation of the country within the global botanical and horticultural community, through:

Searching for, studying and introducing plants from the wild into cultivation. Through leading or participating in over 25 major plant-hunting expeditions Peter Cox has introduced significant numbers of plants into cultivation for the first time. He is believed by his peers to have identified and studied more species of Rhododendron than anybody living or dead. He has discovered at least 4 new rhododendron species, one of which Rhododendron coxianum from India was named in honour of his father E.H.M. Cox. Several more Peter Cox collected new taxa are awaiting being described.  The thousands of seed numbers collected from four continents have been expertly curated and together with many plants grown from the seed have been distributed to botanic garden collections, private and public gardens in over 20 countries. Peter Cox’s own gardens, on the west and east coasts of Scotland, contain a unique collection of plant species, many from these expeditions, and have attracted the attention of horticulturists from around the world. Peter’s garden at Glendoick has been voted one of Europe’s top 50 gardens (The Independent on Sunday). He has also worked extensively with Indian and Chinese botanists in the field, helping them to identify their native plants.

Development of hybrids for the small garden.  Peter Cox is considered one of the world’s most successful and skilled hybridisers of Rhododendrons. Peter recognised the need for hybrids suitable for small gardens and his efforts over the last 50 years have produced a range of plants suitable for any size of garden. Peter invented the concept of ‘dwarf rhododendrons’ celebrated in his book of that title. Hitherto, rhododendrons had been considered suitable only for large gardens and estates. His first cross was made in 1959 and Peter continues breeding to this day. His hybrids, mostly named after birds, are now to be found in gardens throughout the UK, northern Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and North America. Many of his hybrids such as “Chikor”, “Curlew”, ‘”Ptarmigan” and “Panda” have become commercial standards in the UK and elsewhere, and are stocked in most garden centres. The hybrids have attracted a large number of prestigious plant awards from the Royal Horticultural Society including Award of Garden Merit, First Class Certificate and Award of Merit. His work continues with a focus on producing hybrids with coloured foliage.

Author: Inspiring and Informing. 

Peter Cox’s leading role in horticulture and his highly distinguished reputation for his unmatched knowledge of Rhododendrons (of which there are over 1000 species) is underpinned by his numerous books on the subject. Alone or in conjunction with his father Euan Cox or son Kenneth Cox he has published 13 books, all of which have been well received by critics and the global horticultural community. You would struggle to find a rhododendron fan anywhere in the world without some Peter Cox books on the shelf.

“The Larger Rhododendron Species shows the results of a lifetime’s work among rhododendrons and monumental scholarship”. Popular Gardening

1997 saw the publication of the definitive publication “The Encyclopedia of Rhododendron Species” (Peter Cox and Kenneth Cox, Glendoick Publishing 1997) Taking five years to write, with 400 pages and 1500 photographs illustrating virtually all temperate rhododendron species in cultivation.  This magnificent volume continues to receive accolades from all over the world:

“The Cox & Cox book…is comprehensive, covering all the species. It incorporates the latest research. It has at least one colour photograph of each species and , above all, it is readable. In my opinion it will set the standard for the next 25 years” Joe Harvey, Victoria Rhododendron Society Newsletter, Canada. 

Other books published include:

Modern Rhododendrons, Nelson 1956. Euan H.M. Cox and Peter A. Cox.

Modern Shrubs, Nelson 1958. Euan H.M. Cox and Peter A. Cox.

Modern Trees, Nelson 1961. Euan H.M. Cox and Peter A. Cox.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley Handbook Rhododendrons,  Peter Cox. A beginners guide. (5 editions-first published 1971.)

Dwarf Rhododendrons, Batsford, 1973, Peter A. Cox

The Larger Rhododendron Species Batsford 1979, 1990.

The Smaller Rhododendrons, Batsford 1985  Peter Cox- cultivation information and species and hybrid descriptions.

Encyclopaedia of Rhododendron Hybrids- 1988. Peter & Kenneth Cox. 1800 hybrids described. A critical guide to choosing from the multitude of hybrids on offer.

Cox’s Guide to Choosing Rhododendrons 1990. Peter & Kenneth Cox. A ‘which’ guide to making a rhododendron collection. An excellent  aid in choosing the best plants for different conditions.

The Cultivation of Rhododendrons P.A. Cox. Batsford  1993 . This well-illustrated book summarises the author’s lifetime’s experience in cultivating rhododendrons.

Seeds of Adventure Antique Collectors Club 2008 (with Sir Peter Hutchison). Lavishly Illustrated account of 20 plant hunting expeditions.

Winner of Garden Media Guild  Inspirational Book of the Year:

The judges commented: ‘Even someone who couldn’t care two hoots about rhododendrons would be gripped by the sheer bloody mindedness of these two as they suffered awkward locals, ticks the size of pennies, food poisoning, sodden tents and numerous travel headaches in their good-humoured quest. The anecdotes are delightful, the photographs of plants, people and views are breath-taking. What an inspiration to us all.’

Providing Horticultural Advice. 

Peter’s advice on rhododendrons is sought throughout the world; he has selflessly given up significant (unpaid) time to advise, counsel and inform amateur and professional horticulturalists and botanist on his subject in Europe, Asia and the USA. He has served on a variety of committees including:

National Trust for Scotland Gardens Advisory Committee

Advisory Board to Arduaine Gardens.

Gardens Advisor to Achamore Gigha, Scotland.

Board of Trustees Dundee Botanic Society.

President Scottish Rhododendron Society.


Victoria Medal of Honour, Royal Horticultural Society 1992
Gold Medal, American Rhododendron Society 1993
Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, Gold medal
Lifetime Achievement Award, Nurseryman & Garden Centre Awards 2000
Honorary Degree University of St Andrews in 2005.
Book Seeds of Adventure written with Sir Peter Hutcheson winner of Garden Media Guild Inspirational Book of the Year 2008.
MBE 2013 (Member of the British Empire), presented at Buckingham Palace