This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
In this fine genus we have a rare combination of some of those qualities which are most valued in outdoor flowering shrubs. The uniformly neat habit of growth, elegant foliage, and the singularly graceful beauty of the flowers of the various species, have long been appreciated, securing for them an important place in most collections of American plants.
Most of the species are thoroughly hardy in this country - forming dwarf bushes, densely clothed with leaves - with very few exceptions evergreen - and producing in early spring and summer their lovely wax-like blossoms with the greatest profusion, uninjured by the severest frosts.
As regards their culture and general management, little more need be said than that, along with a moderate allowance of peaty soil, they should have a larger amount of root moisture than most other American plants. They luxuriate in a marshy, swampy situation, in which Rhododendrons and Azaleas could not exist for any length of time; it is therefore important to keep this peculiarity in view when it is intended to plant them in beds or clumps by themselves - a mode of planting which, though not very generally adopted, is nevertheless very effective, from the great diversity in foliage, heights, and general appearance of the plants.
This preference for a damp situation need not, however, deter any one from associating them in mixed borders with the other peat-soil shrubs; they adapt themselves to such circumstances with the greatest facility, though their vigour will be promoted, and they will flower much more freely, if supplied with water when the situation is naturally dry, or in cases of long droughts, especially during the growing season.
All the known species being interesting and well worthy of cultivation, it is somewhat difficult to make a selection of what are usually termed the most desirable varieties; and while the following may be regarded as really fine and distinct, we would recommend those who intend planting, and who have the means and the necessary accommodation, to grow as many of the sorts as they can procure, fully assured that no more ornamental and pleasing hardy flowering-shrub can be introduced into a garden or pleasure-ground than an Andromeda, under whatever name it may be known: -
A native of the swamps of North Carolina, where it is found in great abundance. This is a fine deciduous species, with snowy-white bell-shaped flowers, produced in large racemes from the points of the branches. Blooms in May. Grows from 3 to 4 feet high.
A native of North America, from Canada to Virginia; in mountain bogs and swamps; found also in Siberia and other countries of northern Europe. Forms a neat round bush, from 2 to 3 feet high, producing its pretty white flowers freely in April and May. A fine variety named Latifolia is much admired, differing only from the species in its broader leaves, larger flowers, and more robust habit of growth. Both are evergreen.
Also from North America, and found distributed over a very wide range of country. Is a fine dwarf evergreen species, rarely exceeding 2 feet in height. Flowers white. Blooms in May and June.
From Georgia and other mountainous districts in North America. Is unquestionably the finest of the genus, and one of the most showy and beautiful hardy evergreens. Of dwarf compact habit, seldom exceeding 4 feet. The foliage handsome, and flowering year after year with the greatest certainty and with remarkable profusion, commencing to develop its snow-white waxy bells early in January, and continuing till April. Rarely affected, even in the slightest degree, by frosts. A bed of this superb plant, margined with the early-flowering Erica herbacea, or its darker-coloured variety Carnea, is a sight in the spring months not easily forgotten.
From Nepaul; is a superb hardy evergreen species, with bright green Myrtle-like leaves and beautiful bunches of white flowers; it forms a pretty dwarf shrub, very dense in its habit.
Found wild in several of the moorland districts of England and lowlands of Scotland, in various of the northern countries of Europe, and over a very extended area in North America; is a peculiarly interesting, very dwarf evergreen, seldom growing higher than a foot. The flowers, which are of a delicate rose-colour, are produced abundantly in May and June. This is one of the most effective plants for margins of American beds, and is easily cultivated. There are a number of varieties more or less distinct from the species, the most desirable of which are rubra, major, and minor, - their names indicating sufficiently their peculiarities.
From North America; a handsome deciduous species; grows about 3 feet high. Its flowers, which are produced in June and July, are large and showy, pure white; the leaves and stems are thickly covered with a fine white dust, giving the whole plant a novel appearance, and contrasting well with the dark green of the plants with which it is usually associated. The variety pulverulentissima partakes much of the character, yet is so distinct as to form an interesting companion to the species.
A native of Newfoundland and Labrador; - one of the prettiest of the species; a dwarf dense bush, rarely exceeding 1½ foot in height. The flowers, which are of a delicate pink colour, are in perfection early in June; the leaves are of a linear-lanceolate shape, slightly convex, and white beneath, having a fine effect in early summer. This, though a common species, is a perfect gem, and ought to be in every collection.
A native of Lapland, Siberia, and northern regions of Canada; is a small heath-like shrub of about 6 inches high; the leaves are densely imbricated in four rows, giving the plant a peculiar appearance; the flowers, which are of a pure white colour, are not very conspicuous. It is worth growing, however, and is interesting as an edging plant. Hugh Fraser.