Growing rhododendrons and azaleas got into my blood in the early years of training around Dundee’s parks and nurseries.
A large drift of Rhododendron praecox which is one of the earliest to flower was planted in a bed of pure leafmold in Dawson Park and seemed to thrive.
We also had a sunken garden planted with a range of the dwarf Japanese Kurume azaleas.
As a young kid on low wages this was brilliant as these grew very easy from cutting.
Other plants had to be grafted or sown from seed which then took ages before they flowered.
Then a few years later in Camperdown Park I saw the range widen to cover flowering from spring till summer.
We were blessed with plenty of experienced gardeners so soon I was taught how to layer some of the large flowering hybrids, but got moved to another park before my layers had a chance to root.
It was a hard life being an apprentice gardener but very rewarding.
I have never been without rhododendrons and azaleas ever since, and a trip to see the massive range growing naturally in the woodlands around Glendoick nursery is a must at this time of year.
They also stock a huge range of all types for sale and this being one of their specialism’s the quality is very high.
Rhododendrons and azaleas thrive in a well drained but moisture retaining woodland acidic soil.
They do not tolerate lime in the soil. They need to be moist at all times so really thrive in the west of Scotland in areas of high rainfall but provided drainage is good.
They also enjoy dappled sunlight as well as shade and sunny positions provided it retains moisture.
To encourage good growth and flowering, it is a good idea to add a light mulch of well rotted leafmold or ericaceous compost in late autumn or early winter.
However they are not heavy feeders so do not give them any fertiliser as it may scorch the leaves.
They do not require any pruning, but it does help to remove old flower trusses before they start to produce seeds.
Most rhododendrons are evergreen, but azaleas come as both evergreen and deciduous.
Height depends on species and varieties as some may grow into small trees whereas other are ground hugging dwarfs.
Plant hunters over the last two hundred years have gathered thousands of different species from all over the world especially China, Tibet, Burma and Japan.
Then nurseries and plant breeders got to work and now we have any amount of different plants to choose from to suit every situation. Many deciduous azaleas have a wonderful scent.
Today many large flowered hybrids are grown as grafted plants, but can be propagated by layering once the bush is big enough with branches at ground level, but it is a slow process so patience is needed.
The easiest forms to propagate are the dwarf evergreen azaleas, which can be layered or rooted from cuttings.
Short pieces can be inserted around a shallow pot with a mixture of ericaceous compost and grit for good drainage.
Place a large polythene bag over the pot to retain a moist atmosphere and rooting will occur after a few months.
When it comes to selection of the best to grow consider whether you prefer large bold plants, or ground cover, scent, autumn colour especially good with deciduous azaleas and how much space is available.
Everyone has their own favourites and as new varieties are coming out all the time the choice is endless.
Rhododendron praecox is a must for me as it is very early, but then Elizabeth a low growing bright red was favourite for a long time, but suffers from mildew.
Wee jobs to do this week
Pot up sweet corn seedlings into their final pots.
Grow on for a few more weeks to produce a strong plant for planting in early June.
Plant in square blocks as this helps with the wind pollination with spacing about 18 inches apart.
As planting occurs later than other crops I take the opportunity to sow the space with a clover green manure to improve fertility, but it needs digging in at least two weeks ahead of planting.