The Kurume azaleas are in flower. Their small flowers are so massed that they make undulating rugs of colour in the garden with no foliage visible at all. These are evergreen azaleas and they hail from Kurume on the southern isle of Kyushu in Japan. Apparently, these are hybrids of two different Japanese species (obtusum and kiusianum) but for local gardeners, their significance is related more to the fact that they are hardier than the southern Indian evergreen azaleas and they are compact growers. Not that ours are compact and they impressed a visitor from Kyushu a couple of years ago. He spoke no English and we speak no Japanese but he managed to convey the message to us that these specimens were of astounding grandeur and they deserved more tender loving care than we were giving them. We felt suitably chastised. We limb up these azaleas to expose their wonderful trunks highlighted in white by lichens, creating another layer in the garden.
Azaleas are members of the rhododendron family but they are considerably easier to strike from cutting. Kurumes have tiny leaves to match their little flowers and can be a viable alternative for buxus hedging as they take clipping and will sprout from bare wood, although they are never as dense as buxus. They are also prized subjects for bonsai. The flowers come in shades of pink, red, white and mauve.