July 16, 2011

Fragrant Summer-Blooming Deciduous Azaleas


Rhododendron viscosum x 'Weston's Lemon Drop'. If only this was scratch n' sniff!


The mid-summer blooming azaleas are my favorite. Tall shrubs for foundation plantings or woodland, with white, pink or yellow- intensely spicy and richly creamy scented blossoms not unlike Oriental lilies. They are the perfect accompanist for hot, humid summer evenings while drifting amongst the June bugs, resting on screened windows. If you haven't grown any deciduous azaleas, do consider these summer blooming shrubs, they are more hardy, look fine year round, with excellent branching, vertical form and brilliant autumn foliage, and of course, for their fragrant blossoms in June and July.

I live in Massachusetts, which is where it all began for many of the finest crosses. I have a special affinity for our native Rhododendron  viscosum, which blooms along the trails of my local hiking mountain, Mount Wachusett near my home, but for the garden, there are many species, and crosses that are worth seeking out. The crosses I prefer by far, are any with made with R. viscosum as a parent, and thanks to the late Mr. Mezitt of Weston Nurseries here in Massachusetts, many of us in zones 4 and up and now grow these fragrant summer blooming shrubs, of course, if you can find them, for once again, these are not shrubs that you will find at a home center garden shop, you must search them out.
'LEMON DROP' CAN GROW QUITE TALL, AFTER TWELVE YEARS, OURS IS 9 FEET TALL, BUT WITH CAREFUL PRUNING, ONE CAN REDUCE IT'S HEIGHT TO 5 FEET ANNUALY. PLANTED UNDER A WINDOW, IT'S SPICY-SWEET SCENT CAN FILL A HOME WHILE IN BLOOM. IT'S LIKE NEW ENGLAND JASMINE.

The story of how these modern crossed came about began in the 1930's, here in Massachusetts what after a particularly harsh winter, Ed Mezitt of Weston Nurseries started breeding and selecting plants in search for a very cold-hardy form of deciduous azalea ( all azaleas are Rhododendron). One of the finest crosses from the Mezitt program is a fine yellow summer bloomer, 'Weston's Lemon Drop'. But other color form are now available, in pinks, reds, and whites.

Other pure species of deciduous azaleas worth finding now on line, to plant in the autumn would be R. viscosum 'Betty Commins'-Pink Swamp Azalea, which is a highly fragrant form of the pink swamp azalea. You can find them at a few on-line nurseries such as Fairweather Gardens and Greer Gardens. I recommend the June and July species and crosses more than the May and June blooming forms which seem too tropical and , well, 'hybrid'. These include the Exbury forms, they are just too showy for my tastes. I tend to prefer the wild or more natural looking forms.


1 comment :

  1. Azaleas and Rhododendrons are two of my favourite plants. Rhododendrons don't do very well here in Armadale Western Australia. I have tried but lost too many to keep trying but I have azalias and love them. Like you I found they add a touch of something special to my garden.

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