“Pieris – a shrub with yearround interest,” says Graham
For a shrub with year-round interest, pick a pieris, says Graham Rice. Here are the ones to choose
LET’S get one thing out of the way first: namely that, like rhododendrons, pieris prefer acid soil. But if your soil is neutral or limy – don’t turn the page! Pieris are very accommodating shrubs.
First, they’re less particular than rhododendrons about the acidity of the soil; and, second, they’re among the finest of all shrubs for large containers. Previously called Andromeda (and sometimes still referred to as such), pieris are well-branched evergreens reaching up to 6½ft (2m) in 10 years. Some are more compact, while others will keep on growing – although they are easy to keep to size if that’s what you need.
The leaves are dark and glossy, carried in clusters or, alternately, up the stem. In some varieties the foliage is dramatically coloured red, pink or even a creamy-rose as it emerges in spring – a striking feature that brings a whole extra season of colour to the display.
The flower buds form in autumn and then sit there, happily braving the worst of the winter weather, waiting to expand and open in April and May. In some, the colour of these buds provides interest during the colder months.
The flowers strongly resemble those of lily-of-the-valley, but are firmer and tougher, far less fragile, and held in more repeatedly branched sprays. Like lily-ofthe-valley, too, many are pure-white,
although a few are pale-pink or even dark-red. And in some varieties they appear on pink or red stems.
Not surprisingly, pieris are often mentioned in the same breath as rhododendrons when considering shrubs for neutral or acid soil (I’ve just done it myself). However, in many ways I prefer them. They flower for longer, are much less hit-you-between-the-eyes in their colouring and – although the shade range is limited – pieris are more subtle.
It’s true that some rhododendrons have attractive foliage, but none has the shrimp-coloured young shoots of pieris. What’s more, very few rhodos are variegated, and none of those that are have the charm and elegance of a variegated pieris.
Don’t get me wrong, if you need vivid colour then rhododendrons are the plants for you. But if your soil is acid, pieris will give you more seasons of colourful appeal. And if it’s not? Then they are among the best shrubs for containers that you’ll find. And finally, if deer are a problem in your garden, they will always leave pieris alone.
With its dainty flowers and glossy (sometimes variegated) foliage, often emerging in shades of red, pieris has much to recommend it