Our front garden – I like to think of it as our Welcoming Garden (check out Gorden Hayward’s book The Welcoming Garden) – is surely feeling proud of itself. This gardener is certainly smiling. All but two of our new azaleas have been planted and they look right at home.
With the exception of a few Encores, we opted for one-gallon plants. Azaleas don’t require deep holes. In fact, it's recommended that the root ball be an inch or two above the soil. But it would have been excruciating to dig holes big enough for larger shrubs. Even with the one gallons, the prep and planting weren’t easy. The little plants were terribly rootbound. I had to slash and fluff most of the forty root balls. It was harder than I expected and, feeling rather sorry for the plants, I grimaced most of the time I was working on them. I’m glad to report that so far none seem to have been damaged by the experience.
Then we had the oak tree roots to contend with. My husband brought out his reciprocating saw for some of the more stubborn ones. And the soil was very compacted in places.
Azaleas require or, at the very least, prefer light, acidic soil. The soil type most common in our area is gumbo, which is a heavy clay loam. The soil in our front yard is an unfriendly mix of builder’s sand, builder’s junk – including, to my shock, chunks of concrete – and gumbo.
In areas where there were less roots, I cleared out concrete, bottle caps, and other oddities, and broke up some clay. I’d purchased some good compost and one bag of topsoil mixed with peat moss to amend the sorry mess. I always feel a little guilty buying peat moss and don't do it often, but that’s another subject altogether. Anyway, one by one, the little plants were set in their new homes and watered thoroughly. Since then, I’ve been adding coffee grounds to each bush in turn, just to be on the safe side.
We do have the right light requirements. Azaleas like dappled shade and with the four oak trees in such a small area, that’s a done deal.
According to the Azalea Society of America, azaleas have been hybridized for hundreds of years and there are over 10,000 cultivars. Those are just the named ones. That’s a bit – just a tiny bit – too wide a scope for this little blog. It took quite a lot of reading just for me to untangle a drop of the vast amount of information available.
Most evergreen azaleas are native to Japan, while our native North American species are all deciduous. I’m certainly pro-native, but considering the reason I wanted the azaleas – to cover the bare patches – of course I wanted evergreens. Moreover, the more the plants bloom, the better. With any luck, the varieties I chose, out of the selection immediately available to me, should bloom spring and fall. And yes, they absolutely had to be immediately available due to the rampage situation.
I’ll share a little more, and more specifically, of my newfound knowledge in another post. For now, following is the link for the Azalea Society of America. It’s a large and fabulous website: www.azaleas.org/
I plot and I plan. I work under dangerous conditions. I am frequently under assault. At times, I might drop everything and run for cover. I strive to work towards the greater good.
Gardening in southeast Texas can be brutal. Heat, humidity, and potentially disease-carrying mosquitoes are problems for more than half the year and a dangerous combination in summer. That’s to say nothing of fire ants and other biting, stinging insects. Snakes, too, although they only make a rare appearance in my little garden. Poison ivy and oak are common and birds sow both generously.
Despite some uncomfortable conditions, I feel very protective of the wild in my garden. It’s important to know friend from foe, for example, venomous from nonvenomous snakes. Even then, it’s often not necessary to engage.
As for the bugs, it is not fine with us to hurt the good with the bad. Pesticides are banned. So are herbicides. Our beds, whether food or ornamental, are organic. And while our garden isn’t entirely native, we do have plenty of native plants that please the local wildlife as well as ourselves.
While every garden is different, they all offer challenges, pleasures, time with nature. Much like people, they have their good days and bad days, high seasons and low; and they can all be fun and beautiful if you love them enough.