In Praise of the Glorious, Ordinary Azalea
Azaleas are fantastically useful plants that can solve all kinds of landscape problems. Yet, I often get the same negative response when I suggest them to gardeners, “oh I don’t want azaleas, they’re already all over the place.” I’m always baffled by this, because all kinds of things that are “regular“ are amazingly beautiful just the same. I could see a colorful sunrise every single day, yet I’m still moved by the spectacle. I’ve been to the beach a hundred times, but I’d never get sick of sitting on the shore with my feet in the sand while the waves play music as I nap. Azaleas deserve the same attention we give to ordinary, run-of-the-mill, beautiful things like sunrises and beach trips.
Everyone I help says they need something easy to grow. After all, no one comes in asking for the most finicky and difficult plant to add to their garden. You couldn’t ask for an easier plant than old-fashioned evergreen azaleas. They’re so strong that they often grow for decades after they were planted, even decades after they were last cared for. Lots of people in Tallahassee are under the impression that evergreen azaleas are wild and spread on their own because they find them in the woods, along abandoned roadsides, and in overgrown thickets. The truth is, evergreen azaleas don’t spread more than a few feet on their own in Tallahassee. If you see one, it’s because somebody planted it there even if it was many years ago.
Untold thousands of azaleas have been planted in Tallahassee landscapes over the years, and the entire city is richer thanks to the hard work of past gardeners. Azaleas ask almost nothing of us, yet they offer unparalleled beauty each spring. Old fashion azaleas are drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, and long-lived. They may bloom just once a year, but they sure do make it count!
*This article was written by Jonathan Burns (Tallahassee Nurseries Outdoor Manager, FNGLA Florida Certified Horticulture Professional) using years of personal observations growing in the Tallahassee area.