The Great Azalea Blowout of 2019

A Big Welcome to a Banner Spring!

This sounds like a car dealer’s come-on. But I can’t help it. We’ve gone from soaky  sloshy  soggy to splashy spectacular in just a couple of months.

George Lindley Tabor southern indica azalea, a favorite of ours, grown from cuttings, heavily planted in our garden. This type of azalea does well here but is too tender for northern climates. Deer usually leave it alone

How wet was it? It was so wet even the earthworms hugged the surface, apparently preferring the odds of becoming a robin’s dinner to certain drowning in subterranean ooze. How do we know all this? We spotted worms immediately when we dug holes that flooded immediately.

Big preparations for digging in and moving plants. Photo by Susan

(Reflections on digging. Yes, we know there are rules about not digging when soil is wet because its structure can be destroyed, though, frankly, it’s difficult to imagine any structure in muck. Trouble is, by May the muck has dried to concrete, which leaves little time for our traditional spring transplanting ritual.)

That’s when we move plants around the garden in a botanical rendition of those grand Monopoly and Sorry games, sans dice. Kind of like playing Musical Plants with us as maestros.

Susan visited during the middle of April to help with musical planting. She was a good sport about digging in clay soil that clogs cultivators, sucks in shovels, and mucks up trowels.

Strategies for improving drainage: creating raised beds within a raised bed by boxing up lengths of  pressure-treated timber; adding sand and compost to wet soil. Photo by Susan

(Further reflections on digging. After thirty years of adding tons of chipper-shredded yard waste, store-bought mulch, sand, piles of dead leaves, ground-up tree trimmings, sheep manure, chicken manure, scientifically composted horse manure, composted cotton dirt, peanut hulls, Ranger truckloads from a local soil processing plant (moved out of town, alas), and, finally, “black dirt” (with weeds) delivered in a truck that “don’t dump too good,” the basic character of our soil has not changed.

Despite amendments, the clay keeps asserting itself. During heavy rains clay lenses float to the surface and the slabs must be re-integrated. With patience and time, it all blends to become rich, lumpy, heavy soil that gives countless gifts and can be forgiven for its persistence in mucking up shovels.)

Reliable Rutherford pink once rebelled against our poor drainage, finally adapted after we added heavy doses of amendments

These are the plants we move during spring musical plants rituals:

Impulse buys off sad-sack racks that I will surely rehabilitate.
Volunteers that are just too good to toss, not sure how many Stoke’s asters I really need.
Plants in pots that lost their places during previous spring games.
Plants that were labeled 4×4 but somehow became 8×8.
Plants I can donate to local plant sales (See Volunteers above).
Plants that have struggled for years but surely would thrive if I could only find the right spot.

Axiom: There are always more plants than empty spaces.

A variety I coveted twenty years ago when I spotted it in Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile, Alabama. Serendipitously I found them for sale for $3 a piece  in our local supermarket. They were never part of the Musical Plants games

So, there we were slogging with shovels during light drizzles while the miracles of spring were calling us to play hooky.

How do plants do it? Afloat in winter, parched in summer, year after year. We’ve finally figured out that the truism is true: dreary winter showers are Mother Nature’s prescription for lavish spring flowers.

George Tabor paired with variegated Solomon Seal the length of our side garden. Purple blossoms emerge whimsically from one branch

Occasionally Susan took breaks from muck-wrestling to record these budding miracles. During the second week in April she caught the garden as it was beginning to re-awaken after daffodils retired in glory. Quince, redbud and viburnum and the first azaleas are in bloom. The sky was bright cloudy and the garden green and glowing from drizzles.

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My pictures were taken a week or two later, at the height of azalea bloom. By then, clematis and weigela, dogwood and deutzia gracilis, deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’, and double reeves spirea had joined the celebration.

Also in bloom, but stubbornly non-photogenic at times, was a beautiful North Carolina hybrid with a big name:  sinocalycalycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine.’ It’s a relative of passalong plant Sweet Betsy (or Carolina allspice) hybridized by the first director of the J.C. Raulston arboretum in Raleigh.

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It was a spring to remember, but it didn’t last long. Old man sun lasered the azaleas with 90 degree rays, and that signaled the end of the show.

Summer is here.

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2 Responses to The Great Azalea Blowout of 2019

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Yes, that does sound like something a car dealer would say.
    I so miss our Open House. Since we just grew rhododendrons, but did not operate a retail establishment, were had not been open to the public prior to opening up for the Open House. It was so gratifying to see others enjoying what we take for granted, but had never been able to share.

  2. Linda says:

    All your wonderful pictures! I felt like I was walking through your gardens. If I saw you in a chiffon skirt, satin slippers and posies in your hair I would be sure I was at the wrong gardens. 😅….but what a lovely picture that would be in your next post. 😊

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