Every spring when the plants start really rolling into the nursery, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with anticipation for warmer weather and spring color! It’s surprising how taken I am with vibrant colors of the azaleas and rhododendrons year after year – it never gets old. It takes me back to my special place, the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC. I know what you’re thinking – and no the Biltmore Estate is not just for middle aged women. Although, it does seem to attract them en masse, it does have a lot to offer that can be appealing to all ages regardless of gender. But I am not here to give you vacation advice (totally worth it) and have digressed….let’s focus on Spring; the season for new growth (literal and metaphorically 🙂
I was fortunate enough to visit The Biltmore Estate last year- it was my first Spring visit. I had been a horticultural intern a few years back (okay fine more like a decade ago), but it was during the summer months. And even having visited grandparents yearly, during my childhood who lived in the area, somehow never managed a spring visit. Visiting the Biltmore Estate in the spring is a big deal, because within the acres of this awesome historical landscape, there are two gardens that are relevant and aptly named: Spring and Azelea Gardens.
The Spring Garden is chalk full of spring blooming beauties. Here are some that also grow well in central Ohio: Beautybush, Forsythia, Deutzia, and Mock Orange.
The Azelea Garden is much larger and contains Chauncey Beatle’s azalea collection. In addition to being a devoted horticultural collector Chauncey Beatle also served as the estate’s long time superintendent. It was rumored that there are at least 50 different varieties of azaleas. I’m sure someone there has taken the time to count, I however, never did. I was too in awe of the enchanted happenings in the garden.
There secrets to this garden’s successes are in the soil. Azaleas, Rodos, Hydrangeas all thrive in acidic soil. Much less known and under used plants with a spring punch are Mountain Laurals, Peiris and Daphine that also thrive in acidic soils. Here in central Ohio we have dense clay alkaline soils. Nevertheless, we can still grow these beauties here with a little extra TLC. Another thing all these plants have in common is the need for part-shade. Ideally, a spot in your garden that has some morning light and afternoon shade. These plants are all naturally under-story plants and therefore need some protection from the sun. Dappled sunlight throughout the day under a shade tree would also work well. Even better yet – if you have some mature pines or spruces- filling in around the base with any number of these spring show-offs would really add some interest. And you can take advantage of the natural pine needle mulch!
After finding the perfect shady location, it’s important to remember to plant amending the soil with compost AND a fertilizer that will add acidity to your soil. I’ve always favored, Espoma’s Holly-tone. It’s an organic granular soil acidifier that you mix in the soil when planting and twice a year at the base of the plant (spring and fall). It’s not just for Hollies – it’s for all the acid loving plants – which there tend to be quite a lot of! Off the top of my head…..Azaleas, Rodos, Hydrangeas, Mountain Laurals, Peiris, Daphine, Hollies, Winterberry, Umbrella Pine – and this time of year, I even throw a little at the base of my Japanese Maples as well.
Have fun trying something new! Happy Gardening!