Choose azaleas for your garden – the flower that never disappoints
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Choose azaleas for your garden – the flower that never disappoints

A SHELF of gardening books is like a forgotten trunk in a dusty attic: a repository full of junk, memories, and forgotten stories.

I wanted to look up plants named after people in my limited library but could not find a single tome or reference.

My search was prompted by the parcel arrival of an early azalea sold as ‘The Canon’s Double’.

I had a specimen years ago but lost it through my most abundant commodity: neglect.

Azaleas arrive with muted pastel shades and a powerful scent.

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Indeed, I have never met a gardener, male, or female, who was disappointed with azaleas.

Of course, if you love them and have the right kind of lime-free soil, the scope is joyous. Even if your soil is alkaline you can still grow them in suitable tubs and containers or in specially dug and prepared planting holes (separated from the surrounding soil by a vertical lining to the sides of the hole with polythene) in any half-shaded spot.

Fill this hole with a lime-free medium; leaf-mould, pine-needles, garden compost or used potting compost.

Some readers may be unsure as to whether their soil is alkaline or acidic, but the problem is easily determined by checking the pH.

You can easily check soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe.

Then, to raise the pH (make it more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone.

To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Aluminum sulphate, or chelated iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch will also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions. Pine needles are particularly good if you can source them.

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Finally, azaleas like the ‘Canon’s Double’ are deciduous and will lose their leaves in late autumn.

They are also tougher and arguably easier to grow than the evergreen forms.

They dislike shade, which inhibits their flowering potential, and grow best in full sun.

They will readily tolerate hot, dry, stony locations and thrive even in arid sandy locations.

Deciduous azaleas such as the long-established Ghent, Knapp Hill, and Exbury forms are still available and have stood the test of time, but many newer varieties have appeared in recent years.

The Canon’s Double is one of the better forms.

A few deciduous azaleas have an exquisite perfume.

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The best known is the highly scented, yellow Azalea pontica (or Rhododendron luteum as it is properly known), which has remained desirable down the decades by connoisseur growers.

You might like to join this grouping so ask at your local outlet for details of what is available.