Azaleas are among the most popular and best flowering shrubs in the world. They grow well in most areas of Australia, from Brisbane to Perth and south and are a feature of many spring gardens. There are thousands of varieties of azaleas most of them very beautiful and highly desirable.
But while most azaleas do well when grown in pots, when planted in the garden some azalea varieties are better than others. Some have been known to deteriorate, wind down and die after three or four years (or even less), but there are a number of excellent azaleas which keep on growing and flowering. The best tall growing varieties of azaleas with single flowers include: Alba Magna (white), Alphonse Anderson (pink edged white), Magnifica (purple), Schryderii (white with mauve throat) and Splendens (salmon pink).
In Don’s opinion two of the best small azaleas both for reliability, garden performance and appearance are ‘Kirin’ and ‘Red Wing’.
‘Kirin’is a Kurume azalea with tiny, musk pink flowers about the size of a dollar coin. The flowers appear to have two rows of petals, which is described as hose-in-hose. ‘Kirin’ is a hardy all rounder, which can be grown as a garden shrub, in a pot or as a bonsai. If grown in a pot it can be brought inside for temporary decoration. It will spot flower from autumn to spring with its main display in late winter to early spring.
Kirin has small flowers and leaves and a compact shape and is usually a smaller plant, a metre or so tall (around 3′), maintained with light pruning after flowering.
Kurume is the name given to a group of dense, small-flowered azaleas of which ‘Kirin’ is just one cultivar. Kurume is a town on the island of Kyushu in Japan and a major azalea growing region.
Close to the world’s best azalea ever, ‘Burke’s Backyard’ recommends ‘Red Wing’ because it is virtually unkillable and flowers well under any conditions, including full sun to part shade. It is a hardy, low growing azalea (up to one metre (3′) tall) with abundant large cherry red flowers with wavy petals. Like ‘Kirin’ it is a hose-in-hose form.
‘Red Wing’ is probably the best all round variety for growing in the ground or in a pot. As well, it will flower well from autumn to spring, with its main flush in late winter to early spring.
The cultivar was introduced in the 1930s. It is a cultivar of a group of azaleas known as Belgian Indian or Indica hybrids.
Azaleas are widely available at nurseries and in chain-stores, particularly in spring. All varieties should be named and carry identifying labels.
For more information on growing azaleas in Australia, consult Growing Azaleas by Allan Evans (Kangaroo Press, 1994, rrp $16.95).
For more information on pests that can affect azaleas see the article in the October 1998 edition of the Burke’s Backyard magazine on azalea lace bug, page 58.