Few delights herald the dawn of spring like swaths of blooming azaleas. They are a southern staple in gardens and cityscapes alike.
Extending the glory are reblooming varieties, none more recognized than the Encore Azalea. Since their debut in the late 1990s, some three dozen cultivars have been introduced. And just in time to get on the radar of hot plants to check out for 2021, the two latest Encores — Autumn Majesty and Autumn Starburst — are due in garden centers this spring, bringing the total to 33.
Autumn Majesty is appropriately named for its purple blooms, and Autumn Starburst produces coral and white blooms. Both are considered dwarfs, perfect for small-scale gardens and containers, having a projected height of about 3 feet. Like other Encores, they perform well in full sun to filtered shade. I had the pleasure of getting a few samples in advance a couple months ago, which were already in bloom, and have been allowing them to get settled before their spring show. So far, so fantastic.
Plant developer Robert “Buddy” Lee, the man behind Encores’ magnificence, was gracious enough to explain more about these two new azaleas, the process of plant trials, his journey as a breeder and his own preferences as a plantsman in Independence, Louisiana. Also, will there be a yellow-blooming Encore? Buddy spills the seeds.