JARS v63n4 - Designing with Low Growing Azaleas

Designing with Low Growing Azaleas
Connie LeClair
East Orleans, Massachusetts

In my Cape Cod garden, I have grown very fond of low growing azaleas. These often are called Rock Garden Azaleas, and are very useful in the garden. They work well planted under trees, on banks, for corner plantings and for layering between larger rhododendrons. Their finer texture contrasts with the coarser texture of the large rhododendrons.

R. 'Balsaminiflorum'
Photo by Connie LeClair

One of my favorites, Rhododendron 'Balsaminiflorum', is a hose in hose coral pink. I have it growing on a northeast bank under an oak tree. It never fails to bloom profusely every year and never has winter damage here on Cape Cod. I also grew it in Connecticut with no damage. It doesn't need pruning so is very low maintenance. It is difficult to find at garden centers but can be mail ordered. They bloom at the same time as the oriental poppies and match the salmon pink varieties in color. The coral color is difficult to use and should be repeated in the garden and paired with white. I have 'Balsaminiflorum' growing between R. kiusianum 'Album' on one side and R. 'Gumpo White' on the other. R. kiusianum is a little fussier than 'Gumpo White'. It did not do well for me with a western exposure but does well on the northeast. The Gumpo selections come in white or pink. I have used this azalea group in client gardens often as it is readily available. All three of these are happy, although any 'Gumpo' will suffer if it doesn't have enough water.

R. 'Gumpo's White' R. kiusianum 'Album'
'Gumpo's White'.
Photo by Connie LeClair
R. kiusianum 'Album'.
Photo by Connie LeClair

R. 'Hilda Niblett' has wonderful two-toned flowers of white and pink. In my garden it is planted as a focal point, a group of three, on a corner in my woodland. It is a late bloomer and a real showpiece in bloom. It hasn't needed pruning to stay low. R. 'Sir Robert' is similar.

R. 'Hilda Niblett'
'Hilda Niblett'.
Photo by Connie LeClair

R. 'Michael Hill' is one of Polly Hill's Tisbury azaleas. It is planted under a Cornus kousa . The pink color contrasts well with the cream C. kousa and blooms at the same time. It occasionally needs a little pruning. Many of the Tisbury azaleas are low growing. The rabbits love them so I put chicken wire around them when they are first planted until they gain some size.

R. 'Nancy of Robinhill' is a lovely pale pink with a blotch. I have several planted on the southwest corner of our house, originally under another C. kousa dogwood. The C. kousa has been removed and a small Acer palmatum planted to replace it. There is some shade from a nearby oak, but the additional sun has not affected them. I have also planted this azalea in front of R. 'Pleasant Bay Fragrance'* and they look well together. 'Nancy of Robinhill' needs occasional pruning.

R. 'Conversation Piece' is another two-toned pink that works as a corner planting. This azalea needs a little more pruning. It sends out some long shoots every year.

R. 'Wintergreen' is in our Orleans Display Garden and is planted at the top of a wall. It is a deep coral color and has performed well in a difficult site.

Another use for the low growing azaleas would be to combine them with the taller deciduous azaleas for that layered look. I like to mix my evergreen and deciduous plants for a better winter effect. I also like Helleborus foetidus growing under tall deciduous azaleas. The hellebores bloom in the winter while the azaleas are dormant. This has worked well in the Orleans Display Garden.

* = not a registered name.

Connie LeClair
Connie LeClair is a member of the Cape Cod ARS Chapter.