Tag Archives: kurume azaleas

Evergreen azaleas – unsung garden heroes

You can have any colour you like, as long as it is pink, white, red, lilac or coral

You can have any colour you like, as long as it is pink, white, red, lilac or coral

Evergreen azaleas are a bit of an unsung garden hero, really. There can’t be many more obliging, hard working plants. Generally regarded as playing second fiddle to their more aristocratic rhododendron family members, they seem to have followed their slide down towards oblivion in recent times.  Yet they are such a forgiving plant, tolerant of a wide range of conditions from full sun to almost full shade – as long as it is high shade. They also grow well even where there is a lot of root competition. They can be featured in their own right or they can be a backdrop. And if you have enough different types, the flowering extends for much of the year, though the majority peak for us in September to early October. I tracked the blooms and found the latest varieties still with blooms near Christmas and the first ones showing colour in early March this year. That is a pretty impressive record.

046 (3)I am on the ‘Mission of 78 Azaleas’. Some years ago, Mark did a cuttings run from plants here and they had reached the point where they really, truly did need planting out. I found homes for about half of them last spring, but there are still 35 sitting out under the shade cloth, looking reproachfully at me and begging to be given permanent homes this winter.* I shall do it this very month. I swear I will.  From this, you may deduce that azaleas are one of our backbone plants in the garden, threaded through quite large areas.

The $2000 azalea bonsai, spotted in Foshan, China

The $2000 azalea bonsai, spotted in Foshan, China

Not only are azaleas forgiving, they are also remarkably versatile. This is a plant family that is particularly revered in their homelands of China and Japan and I could not help but marvel at the bonsai specimen we recently saw in Foshan with a price tag of RMB9800 – which equates to about $2000 in our money! I admired the clipped azalea hedge kept to about knee height that I saw in the garden at Wairere Nursery near Gordonton a few years ago. Last time I visited Hollard’s Garden near Kaponga, it appeared that every last azalea (and they must have a similar number to us) had been clipped to a tidy, tight mound after flowering. This is a style decision and may appeal to folk who prefer their plants to conform to a prescribed standard.

We have taken a different track with some of our larger plants. While slow growing, some can reach a couple of metres in height after a few decades and they can get a bit formless and scruffy. The usual approach is to cut them off close to the ground and let them ‘come again’. Do this sort of hard pruning in winter or very early spring if you want to go down that track. But we like to feature the shapes of our mature plants and to use them to create a middle layer in our garden – lower than the trees but well above ground level. We shape, lift and thin and this gives us an undulating carpet of colour just above head height.  It takes a bit of work. The plants keep shooting from the base so I try and get around each spring and rub off the new growth and I remove any dead wood at the same time.

007 (11)I like to tell the story of a knowledgeable Japanese garden visitor. He came from Kurume and we have a fair number of very small leafed, small flowered Kurume azaleas. He had no English and we have no Japanese, but he managed to convey to us that our Kurumes were simply astounding in their stature and shape but that we needed to take better care of them. He was pointing to the grey lichen infestation in the canopy of a patch growing in full sun. While it is often recommended that you spray for this – lime sulphur or copper is the usual treatment – it is no mean feat to spray above your head height and we are consciously trying to avoid spraying. So I am on a long term campaign – year three into what may be a five year project. In late spring, I manoeuvre my way around on the ladder to take out maybe 20% of the old growth which is most heavily infested, without losing the canopy effect. They do look better for it, but I am grateful that it is only one area that needs this attention.

Evergreen azaleas are much easier to propagate than rhododendrons and are worth a try after the new growth has hardened in summer. Alternatively you can raise seed, as Mark’s father did here to bulk up the plantings without having to buy them. They won’t grow true from seed, but we like the variation we have as a result and the mass of bloom we get is unsurpassed.

Pink Ice is simply lustrous in bloom, but turns to mush in heavy rain. The smaller flowered varieties are more weather hardy.

Pink Ice is simply lustrous in bloom, but turns to mush in heavy rain. The smaller flowered varieties are more weather hardy.

First published in the July issue of New Zealand Gardener and reproduced here with their agreement. 

* Progress is being made. I am down to 24 plants looking at me reproachfully in the nursery.

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Tikorangi Notes: June 11, 2015 From Nerine bowdenii to homeopathic gins

 

Nerine bowdenii on May 11

Nerine bowdenii on May 11

And a month later on June 11

And a month later on June 11

 

Without a camera, I may never have tracked the flowering time of Nerine bowdenii. It is a species and we have valued it for being the last of the season to flower without being too excited by it. But a MONTH at least in full bloom through autumnal storms and wind – that is an astoundingly long time for a bulb that only puts up one flower head, as opposed to successional flowering down the stem. We are now thinking we will use it more widely beneath deciduous trees where we had been relying on belladonnas. The latter flowers early in autumn when the leaves are still on the trees and the blooms don’t last anywhere near as long. Fortunately, N. bowdenii multiplies up extremely well and is probably the easiest of the nerines we grow.

The Kurume azaleas, underplanted with Cyclamen hederafolium

The Kurume azaleas, underplanted with Cyclamen hederafolium

I have been cleaning out the azaleas. Oh how easily those words trip off the tongue but I tell you, doing the first of two blocks is probably 20 or 30 hours work. It must be a sign of the leisured pace of my life at the moment that I can spend that amount of time on one task. Years ago, we limbed up these tiny leaved Kurumes to make the most of their interesting form and to enable us to look through them. Sculpting them, we call it. It is more common to clip and mound them, keeping them much lower to the ground. These ones are planted on the margins of our enormous rimu trees and they catch a fair amount of litter falling from above. They also shoot from the base and we try and rub off those new shoots before they get large. But once every five or ten years, a major clean out of the dead wood and the canopy makes a major difference. It just takes time. A lot of time. I am reminded of something we once heard Christopher Lloyd say (it must have been on the telly because I can’t find it in print): “People are always looking for low maintenance and easy care gardens. Personally I am of the view that if you love what you are doing, higher maintenance is more interesting.” 

I lack a photo of passionfruit at the purple stage  of ripening

I lack a photo of passionfruit at the purple stage of ripening

But at least I have red tamarillos on file

But at least I have red tamarillos on file

On the home harvest front, we are now experimenting with homemade juices. Not using the mechanised juicing machine that we inherited from our daughter when she left to live overseas. She assured us it made good carrot juice but we have not had a surplus of carrots yet. Mostly I use it for grape juice or melon juice. It takes a prodigious quantity of fruit for a pretty small liquid yield but then so do the fresh squeezed orange juices we often make – 5 or sometimes 6 fruit per glass. No, it was the surplus of passionfruit and upcoming tamarillos that were worrying me and I didn’t want a juicing system that ground up the seeds. Mark scooped a bucket of passionfruit out. The quantity immediately reduced to medium sized basin. I added some water and brought it to the boil with a little sweetener because the fruit was rather too tart. Do not laugh. It was only because I had agave nectar in the cupboard (bought when I was test cooking a recipe book sent for review) that I used it as a sugar substitute. I simmered the fruit for a short while before straining it off. The original bucket of fruit yielded just a litre of juice. Liquid gold. We will savour it, diluting it 50% with soda water in lieu of our weekday homeopathic gins.

What, you may ask, is a homeopathic gin? Here, it is lime and soda served in a nice glass which holds the memory of gin. When we decided, in a burst of wholesome living, to manage alcohol consumption by not drinking from Monday to Thursday, we realised that it was in part the ritual of sitting down together with a drink before dinner that we enjoyed. Hence the homeopathic gins. The logical extension of wholesome living seems to be the shunning of synthetic lime juice in plastic bottles, replacing it with our own fruit juices. Virtue expires on Friday evenings, I admit.

007

Blame the quail

Blame the quail

Mark has been busy in his vegetable gardens. He has now resorted to covering all the brassicas and leafy greens as well as all seedlings, in order to protect the crops from birds. He blames the cute resident quail for attacking the Brussel sprouts but there are plenty of candidates. It may just be that the quail, being predominantly ground birds, are the most visible. The strawberries are planted for spring and the garlic is already above ground.

 

Lovely in bloom, huge, but what is it?

Lovely in bloom, huge, but what is it?

Finally, if any reader can give us the name of this enormous perennial, we would be most appreciative. It is of similar stature to a tree dahlia – about 4m x 4m – so taking up a lot of space. Currently it is smothered in white daisies and has survived a frost but cold weather can cut it to ground. It is very late in the season for what is presumably an autumn flowering perennial. We will enjoy while we can, but we would like somebody to remind us of its name.

Postscript: That didn’t take long. A reader has identified this as Montanoa bipinnatifida which I see is commonly known as the Mexican tree daisy, a member of the asteraceae family. No wonder we were struggling to come up with a name – I don’t think either of us have ever heard it before. And it is not a perennial but a shrub. It must be that ours gets cut back so often by the winter chill that it resembles a huge perennial rather than a shrub.
 

Garden Lore

“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.”

Thomas Fuller Gnomologia (1732)

Tightly clipped azalea hedge

Tightly clipped azalea hedge

Azalea hedges
I finally came across a gardening idea I have read about, even suggested, but had yet to see in person – a tightly clipped azalea hedge. This is in the garden at Wairere Nursery in Gordonton and it is delightful. It is Azalea ‘Kirin’ and the flowers were just opening a few weeks ago. It will be a swathe of colour as the season progresses.

If the pretty candy pink flowers are not to your taste, ‘Kirin’ one of the Kurume azalea group – small leafed, small flowered azaleas from the Kurume area of Japan. There is a range of colours in the Kurumes – well, azalea colours so we are talking white, pinks, salmons, lilacs through to deepest pink almost red. The Kurumes tend to have much smaller leaves than the Gumpo hybrids which is why they clip better as a hedge. When not flowering, it will look similar to a clipped buxus hedge – from a distance at least.

The beauty of azaleas for hedging is that they only need clipping once, maybe twice, a year and sprout again from bare wood so can take a hard hack if needed. The more you clip, the denser the hedge will be but you need to time it right so that you are not cutting off the flower buds. The flowers are nature-friendly, unlike buxus which contributes next to nothing to insect and birdlife, and they will light up a dark winter’s day, even more so if you go for colour rather than restrained white. The problem will be finding enough plants of one variety if you plan a longer hedge – you may have to be patient but the wait will be worthwhile to get such a pretty and practical effect.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Kurume azaleas

Undulating rugs of colour from above - our layers of limbed up kurumes from below

Undulating rugs of colour from above - our layers of limbed up kurumes from below

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.