Give Deciduous Azaleas A Try
A couple of years ago on one of our bus tours to visit local Rhododendron gardens, I got talking to the man sitting next to me, about, guess what - Rhododendrons. He was considered one of our local "rhodie" gurus and was quite a character. As our conversation progressed, I told him how much I liked deciduous azaleas, and tongue in cheek, he said that nice Rhododendron people didn't do azaleas. Well, I guess I'm not a nice Rhododendron person, because I just love them. This spring, my azaleas were late because blooming didn't start until the very end of May, but they put on a wonderful show throughout June. This fall, I'll get a second show from them when their leaves turn red before dropping.
With deciduous azaleas, there are flower colors to meet everyone's tastes, from intense, "in-your face" oranges to soft pastels. As an added bonus, most varieties are fragrant. Among my plants, I've got pure white 'Oxydol'; a gorgeous strawberry pink of unknown variety, as it was here when I moved in; 'Western Lights' which has pink flowers; a few yellows, including 'Northern Hi-Lights', 'Old Gold' and 'Apricot Surprise', and deep orange 'Mandarin Lights'. And then, there's gorgeous 'Irene Koster', which is a fragrant R. occidentale hybrid whose flowers open soft pink then fade to white, and 'Daviesi' which has fragrant, cream colored flowers. These last two plants are in a semi-shaded location and while happy enough, would benefit from having a bit more sun.
My plants are scattered throughout my garden, with most growing in sites that get full sun, and in the summer, these sites are hot and dry. One of the reasons I'm so fond of deciduous azaleas is that they are tough, low maintenance plants. I water them about once a week, but that's all the care they get. They also seem to tolerate heavy soils better than many plants. Deciduous azaleas are winter hardy, and for anyone living in cold areas, look for varieties that were developed by the University of Minnesota, as some of their hybrids are hardy to -40 degrees (and that's -40 in both the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales) - look for names that include the word "Lights", as in 'Northern Hi-Lights', 'UMinn's Lilac Lights', 'Lemon Lights', 'Golden Lights', etc. Most of these will be from the U. of Minnesota breeding program.
So, if you don't have any yet, consider adding some deciduous azaleas to your garden: they're adaptable, hardy, have fall color and gorgeous, fragrant flowers. Not a bad choice even for those of us who aren't nice.