April Favorites Round-up

April is another month that is difficult to choose favorites, because so much is happening in the garden. Or maybe it's hard because so many of my plants are still fairly new, and I'm a hopeless plant addict who couldn't pick an actual favorite if his life depended on it.

This month, though, one group of plants really stands out in my garden: the deciduous azaleas. After the fence was completed last spring, I stopped at Means Nursery in Scappoose, OR. With the newly established deer-free zone, the azaleas were simply irresistible. At our last house, we had this big, beautiful deciduous azalea with dark yellow, highly fragrant flowers. I don't know what its name was, but I loved it, so I had to add some to this garden. If I ever find one like that old plant for sale, I'll snap it up without a second thought.

But here's what is growing in this garden:

First up is Rhododendron 'Mount St. Helens', which we've had for several years. Last year (or was it the year before?) I lifted it out of the burned out stump it's growing in to improve the soil and raise the soil level. I added peat moss and native soil to the mix of mostly compost that was in there, which had broken down and sunk down too far. The peat moss acidifies the soil and improves moisture retention. The native soil is already acidic and, being clay loam, holds a lot of nutrients. It also won't break down like the organic matter does, so hopefully things won't sink as much, though the plan is to add compost annually to compensate for any settling. With 8 trusses, this is the best bloom display this azalea has had in years. It's not chlorotic, it wasn't too dry last summer, and the deer haven't been at it! The mountain is finally erupting again.

'Golden Lights' is one of the new azaleas I added last year, in one of the new shade beds I carved out of the lawn. 'Golden Lights is a mildew-resistant cultivar growing to 3-6 feet tall and wide, with fragrant, golden yellow flowers. Selected at the University of Minnesota, this cultivar is far hardier than I will ever need to test, -40 degrees Fahrenheit! I think it was much more yellow last year, but I rather like this more orange color. I think the flowers lighten to yellow as they age.

In the same bed is 'Mandarin Lights', another ridiculously hardy azalea. Not particularly fragrant, this cultivar does have darker orange flowers which I love. The leaves also seem to emerge a bit later than those of 'Golden Lights', which you can see in the photo above.

This one was labelled 'Mary Poppins', but it looks rather more yellow than the pictures I find online. I think it was darker last year, and more ruffled. I wonder if I got a couple tags switched around...

I have two more that haven't bloomed yet: 'Molalla Red' a ruffled, fiery red cultivar that I got at the same time as 'Mount St. Helens' that has been suffering from deer browsing and drought on top of a raised mound in full sun, and 'Fireball', another red that I picked up along with the Lights and 'Mary Poppins'. Poor 'Molalla Red has suffered so much in the past few years, it's barely clinging to life. It certainly won't be blooming this year. We moved the rhododendrons that were growing on that mound a few weeks ago. Time to move the azalea, too. I think 'Fireball' has flower buds. It's just a later bloomer.

There are lots of other great plants in the garden this month. Iris tenax is blooming all through the perimeter of the woods and where it has seeded into some of my garden beds. Last year I intentionally sowed some seeds in more beds, and the seedlings have been growing rapidly this spring.

I planted two Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' last year, after finding them looking like they were ready to be dumped at Tsugawa's Nursery in Woodland, WA. I've been admiring the flower buds since last summer. Now the flowers are finally open, creating a froth of white at the ends of the branches, with scattered constellations of white blooms throughout. The scent is of incredibly rich honey.

Here's a close-up of the tiny blooms. Though many heaths are really quite drought-tolerant, this Mediterranean tree heath is even more so, tolerating dry summers quite well. 'Estrella Gold' grows more slowly than the species, to 4 feet (6 feet under ideal conditions and great age). The species can grow to 8 feet. I'm not sure why, but some sources claim this heath is hardy only to zone 9 (8 with protection). Perhaps they watered it too much and it didn't harden off properly for winter. Anyway, it's really hardy to zone 7, and I've seen specimens of this cultivar and the species that certainly have survived temperatures of 10 degrees or slightly below. By the way, there is a small batch of this plant at Cistus Nursery, that will be available at some point.

 Rhododendron 'Nancy Evans' is one of my favorite cultivars. The foliage makes it attractive all year, but the peachy yellow blooms in spring really make it wonderful. It's not a common color in hardy, evergreen shrub.

Evening light filtering through the trees backlights the blooms and makes them glow.

Rhododendron 'Black Magic' has dark, blood red blooms, touched with black. For some reason, this plant hasn't bloomed well for several years. I'm really not sure why, though it does seem to suffer from chlorosis while the other rhododendrons in the same bed seem completely fine. Perhaps it needs an even more acid soil than most.

Whatever the problem, it seems solved (at least for this year). The plant is covered in buds, and I couldn't be happier. Dark red is one of my favorite flower colors.

Rounding out my favorite rhododendrons this month is 'Medusa'. This one got a little too dry last summer, and doesn't have as many flower buds as it did the year before, but I'm grateful for the flowers it does have. I need to loosen the soil in this whole bed and work out a better irrigation system.

I'm pretty sure Epimedium wushanense could be featured as a favorite every month of the year, but right now it's especially nice because of the new foliage and blooms. My clone is particularly mottled, keeping it's color throughout the year instead of fading to green. The first flush in spring is more green, but last year it produced a second flush of foliage and flowers with very heavy mottling (on the leaves, at least).

 The flowers aren't the easiest to appreciate, but I kind of love that about them. I have a fondness for flowers you have to look for, like many epimediums, asarums, and others that hide their blooms under their leaves.

 That doesn't mean I don't like more brazen blooms that lift themselves far above the foliage. I ordered three Primula veris 'Sunset Shades' from Annie's Annuals earlier this year, and I'm enjoying the resulting blooms greatly. They all turned out to be different colors, one yellow, one red, and one orange. The red and orange are by far my favorites. Interestingly, the darkest blooms are the most fragrant. Usually yellow or white blooms are more fragrant. The red is also the most floriferous (so far) with the largest blooms.

The orange is a pretty close match for the red in terms of number and size of blooms, though it's not quite as fragrant. All three are growing in the bed surrounding my Acer metcalfii, which stays somewhat moist even in summer. With all these blooms, I'll probably be able to collect seeds this year!

And that concludes my favorites for April. Well, that's all I'm going to show for now, at least. In reality, pretty much the whole garden is my favorite this month, except for the weeds popping up in the beds and the grass encroaching from the edges. I've been shifting from planting to maintenance, so hopefully I'll get ahead of those two issues by fall, when I switch back to planting.

Make sure to click over to The Danger Garden, where Loree, our host for the favorite plants of the month meme, has shared some excellent plants of her own, and other bloggers leave links to their favorites in the comments.


  1. You have some really beautiful favorites this month, but I love those Primula. I have a few of that strain as well, mostly reds and oranges. I'm really hoping they all interbreed and drop seed in the bed where they're planted.

    1. Thanks, Alison! I'm hoping for the same thing with my primulas, though I plan to help them along a bit by collecting some of the seed to scatter around.

  2. I only recently discovered that some of the deciduous azaleas are fragrant...gotta have em. I'm with you in loving dark red blooms.

    1. Really? A fragrant, yellow deciduous azalea was one of my favorite plants when I was little. We had to leave it behind when we moved.

  3. Oh that Rhododendron 'Black Magic'...swoon!

    Funny you mention Means as the source for your deciduous Azaleas as I remember standing in front of one there (orange, of course) seriously considering the purchase. So beautiful! I did not get it...

    1. Can't wait for it to come into full bloom! First time in years. Maybe that rhododendron fertilizer I tossed on it last year helped.

  4. Every month must bring renewed appreciation for that deer fence you installed last year. I adore Rhododendrons but, of course, they don't care much for SoCal. I've even given up on the evergreen Azaleas as they need more water than I can provide.

    1. Every week, every day, every time I look out at the garden and see things that normally would have been chewed or trampled or torn up by the deer.

      I would suggest vireyas, but they need excellent water quality and don't like to dry out completely. They are, in general, supposedly more drought tolerant than other rhododendrons, but still would tax your rain barrels during the dry season.

  5. After reading that 'Estrella Gold' is fragrant I will check my own heath. It never dawned on me they may be scented! I'm also enjoying the primrose pictures. I think I'll stop at the nursery today to see if they still have any Primula veris left. I purchased primrose vialii a couple of years ago, and I'm in love with their long-blooming little rocket-like flowers.

    1. Most heaths aren't fragrant, except for a slight, vaguely sweet scent. Erica arborea and its cultivars, like 'Estrella Gold' all have a wonderful honey scent.


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