My love affair with azaleas began, oh, maybe 40 years ago (!!). During one of our annual pilgrimages to Florida from northern Indiana one spring, our car broke down in Valdosta, GA. We had some time to kill, and walking around that town I was gobsmacked by the number of, and beauty of certain bushes that were nothing but intense color. I'd never seen anything like it, but immediately fell in love.
I later learned that what I'd been seeing were azaleas. Valdosta even holds an annual azalea festival, so I guess we went to the right place to be introduced to azaleas!
Indiana soil is not conducive to azalea, mountain laurel or rhododendron growth; these beasts need acid soil, something that Indiana is lacking. Our attempts at growing these beauties always failed miserably. So, when my husband, sons and I moved from Indiana to Pennsylvania, I was delighted to learn that not only do rhododendrons and mountain laurel grow wild in these parts, azaleas thrive in the acid soil here! Bliss!!
Toodie, ever the poser, in front of a gorgeous azalea in full bloom in Keithan's Bluebird Garden, Sunbury, Pennslyvania
Now, some of my favorite gardens are Keithan's Bluebird Garden in Sunbury, just 6 short miles from my home, Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor, Maine (Mount Desert Island) and the nearby Asticou Terraces. These places are loaded with azaleas. Gardens like these must be close to what Heaven is like!
Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor, Maine, autumn 2007 No azaleas in this shot, but a gorgeous azalea garden to visit. Would love to see it in spring when they're blooming!
My goal is to transform our yard into an azalea/rhododendron/mountain laurel masterpiece. OK, well, it probably will never happen because I'm just one person with a job and family and other responsibilities, but when I can and can afford it, more azaleas, rhodies and mountain laurel get planted here, all over the place.
I'm a frugal person and a bargain hunter. At the end of the spring planting season, many stores and garden centers mark down their plant inventory just to get it out of the way. This is when I attack. Who cares if these plants aren't blooming now? They will be next year, in my yard and garden! A good friend of ours has a landscaping business, and anytime he has to remove a rhododendron or azalea, he brings them to me to transplant here in my Woodland Garden, or Secret Garden, or elsewhere on our property. Slowly but surely, the transformation is taking place....