Sizzling hot azaleas can set your garden aflame
There are few garden flowers that sizzle in hot colours like azaleas. Part of the spectacular rhododendron family, these plants differ in that they lose their leaves in winter and are generally known as deciduous azaleas.
There are several species, some from China and Japan and some from North America, and these have been hybridised to give a range of colours. The hybrids are vividly colourful, mostly in shades of red, orange and yellow -- blazing hot red, candy pink, yellow, flame orange, marmalade, peach, apricot and salmon.
The colours blend well with each other, each heightening the effect of the others, and many varieties have two tones, yellow flushed orange or two shades of red together. Orange and red kinds set off yellow shades, while yellow tones down red and makes it less brash. These azaleas flower during bluebell time, and a touch of water-blue as a contrast to azalea sizzle is superb.
The new leaves emerge at the same time as the flowers and expand fully just afterwards. The fresh foliage has lovely shades of bronze, copper and apple green, each varying with the colour of the flowers -- coppery tones for those with red flowers, bronze for orange kinds and light-green for yellow. The deciduous azaleas lose their leaves in a great show of colour in autumn, tints of yellow, red and purple. Plants with dark flower colours also have dark autumn colour.
Deciduous azaleas are easily raised from seeds and there are hundreds of named azalea cultivars, but many are just unnamed seedlings, sold simply as 'azalea mollis'. The named varieties are more reliable. 'Balzac' is a strong red; 'Christopher Wren' is orange-yellow. 'Golden Flare', a lovely deep yellow colour; 'Homebush', rose red; 'Strawberry Ice', a pretty pale red; 'Klondyke', golden-yellow and 'Gibraltar' is orange-red.
Buy in flower to get the colour you like and plant at any time from pots, or ideally in the dormant season. Azaleas can be grown as single plants, or as a group of plants spaced about two metres apart. If you only have space for one plant, choose a prominent position -- it will be stunning both in May and October.
Azaleas need acidic soil, well-drained but capable of holding moisture in summer and well supplied with humus. Mulch with leaf-mould every couple of years. They like reasonably good shelter and they flower best in sunshine. They do not like to have big tree roots underneath. They are hardy, and some are scented.