The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)
Rhododendrons and azaleas have a special place in John’s heart and with so much choice there’s a plant for every garden
rowing rhododendrons and azaleas got into my blood in the early years of training around Dundee’s parks and nurseries.
A large drift of rhododendron praecox, which is one of the earliest to flower, was planted in a bed of pure leaf mould in Dawson Park and seemed to thrive.
We also had a sunken garden planted with a range of the dwarf Japanese Kurume azaleas.
As a youngster this was brilliant work, as these grew very easy from cuttings. Other plants had to be grafted or sown from seed, which then took ages before they flowered.
As the years passed, I saw the varieties on display in Camperdown Park widen to cover flowering from spring till summer.
We were blessed with plenty of experienced gardeners so soon I was taught how to layer some of the large flowering hybrids.
I have never been without rhododendrons and azaleas since those early days and a trip to see the massive range growing naturally in the woodlands around Glendoick nursery is a must at this time of year.
The centre also stocks a huge range of all types for sale and since this is one of its specialities the quality is very high.
Rhododendrons and azaleas thrive in a well-drained but moisture-retaining, woodland acidic soil.
They do not tolerate lime in the soil and need to be moist at all times so they really thrive in the west of Scotland in areas of high rainfall where drainage is good.
They also enjoy dappled sunlight, as well as shade and sunny positions so long as the ground retains moisture.
To encourage growth and flowering, it is a good idea to add a light mulch of well-rotted leaf mould or ericaceous compost in late autumn or early winter.
However, they are not heavy feeders so do not be tempted to give them fertiliser as it may scorch the leaves.
Nor do they require any pruning, although it does help to remove old flower trusses before they start to produce seeds.
Most rhododendrons are evergreen but azaleas come as both evergreen and deciduous.
Height depends on the species and variety; some may grow into small trees, whereas other are ground-hugging dwarfs.
Plant hunters over the last 200 years have gathered thousands of different species from all over the world, especially China, Tibet, Burma and Japan.
Nurseries and plant breeders got to
They do not tolerate lime in the soil and need to be moist at all times so they thrive in areas of high rainfall where drainage is good
work on their finds and now we have any amount of different plants to choose from to suit every situation. Many deciduous azaleas have the added bonus of a wonderful scent.
Today, many large-flowered hybrids are grown as grafted plants but they can be propagated by layering once the bush is big enough with branches at ground level. Be warned though, it is a slow process so patience is needed.
The easiest forms to propagate are the dwarf evergreen azaleas, which can be layered or rooted from cuttings.
Short pieces can be inserted around a shallow pot with a mixture of ericaceous compost and grit for good drainage.
Place a large polythene bag over the pot to retain a moist atmosphere and rooting will occur after a few months.
When it comes to selection of the best to grow, consider whether you prefer large bold plants or ground cover. Scent, autumn colour (especially good with deciduous azaleas) and available space are also factors to bear in mind.
Everyone has their own favourites and as new varieties are coming out all the time the choice is virtually endless.
For me, the rhododendron praecox is a must, as it flowers very early. Elizabeth, a low growing bright red, was a winner for a long time but it suffers from mildew.