Azaleas are flowering shrubs from the genus Rhododendron and are part of the Ericaceae family. These stunning plants are native not only to Europe but to continents much further afield such as Asia and North America. Azaleas have been bred for centuries and there are thousands of different cultivars some of which have been derived from cuttings and others from seeds which have been germinated.

Being part of the Rhododendron family means the Azalea is toxic and should be used only for decoration they are a flower with strong symbolic meanings many depending on which continent they are grown on.

Some of the meanings are quite touching for example sending white Azaleas implies purity and restraint, red or dark pink indicates passion and a loving gesture, purple and pinks are sending a message of laughter and frivolity to the recipient whereby yellow flowers indicate strong family ties and friendship. A mixed bed of Azaleas can give a truly breathtaking display of colour in spring with the flowers lasting for several weeks the display is particularly impressive as the flowers cover the entire shrub.

Many larger homes and gardens have long beds of just Azaleas set in front of darker green trees and shrubs which set them off to best effect. They are a plant which prefers well drained soil preferably acidic but can cope with slightly damper conditions if the bed is raised or can be planted as single specimens in pots and containers providing exceptional spring colour on patios adding generous amount of ericaceous compost.

Deciduous azaleas are extremely hardy they are larger growing than the evergreen varieties slowly reaching approximately 5ft and their flowers are usually scented. Pruning after flowering will keep the plant tidy and encourage more flowers the following year the deciduous varieties can tolerate a heavy hand with the pruning.