Encores to the Rescue—How Encore® Azaleas are helping my garden grow from disaster

By Mary-Kate Mackey

This is your invitation to follow me on a gardening journey – but first, the backstory.

Twenty-five years ago, I moved to Eugene, Ore. As a newcomer, I read an article from the Better Business Bureau about how delightfully boring the weather was. Four mild seasons – summers not too hot; winters not too cold; long idyllic springs; and colorful autumns.

My experience? Not boring. The BBB’s article overlooked Eugene’s weather history that included a 3-foot snowfall and a devastating Columbus Day windstorm. Every time some weather issue occurred – wild thunderstorms or single-digit temperatures – people would assure me that this was an anomaly – far from normal.

Normal never happened.

Over the years, I created a garden around my country home just south of town with the idea of preparing for the unexpected. We had a plague of deer. I got a money windfall so I deer-fenced 5 acres, including an 8-foot-tall gate across the driveway. I learned to buy plants that grew in at least two USDA Zones colder than Willamette Valley’s Zone 8. I amended our heavy clay with small sharp rocks to bring air to plants’ roots permanently. After I noticed the inadequate roots of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)—they have no tap root – I ordered every tree that might fall on the house to be cut down. I tried to think of it as gardening on a gigantic scale, but the process was massive and painful to me—twelve loads of logs trundled up the driveway.

My very first gardening act had been to plant whips of tough, but unusual trees. From those tiny single branches, the deciduous magnolia with scented white flowers—tag long gone—the Persian ironwood (Parrotia persicaria), the monkey puzzle tree (Auracaria auracana), the golden striped Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichinana ‘Zebrina’) all grew into 30-foot-tall specimens. A collection of shade-loving shrubs and perennials flourished at their feet.

But, as they say, Mother Nature bats last.

Last year in April, a wind of mighty proportions barreled through the property. All night long, Douglas firs, already stressed by two previous summers of drought, dropped with deep booming crashes that resonated through the floorboards of the house.

One behemoth fell on the driveway gate. That was bad because I was left with a deer portal, through which several enterprising animals wandered. Even worse, a 100-year-old Doug fir came crashing out of the forest. It slammed into every tree I had planted 25 years ago. The trunk extended well into the garden, its own hefty branches knocking down the trees’ leaders, crushing and killing outright what it didn’t deform. If I were anthropomorphically inclined, I might say it was Doug-fir revenge for all that logging – but I won’t go there.

I had to start over.

So, when the opportunity came to grow Encore® Azaleas, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to plant shrubs for easy care. And these handsome repeat-blooming broadleaf evergreens can take advantage of the light created by all that devastation.

I’m inviting you to go on this journey of discovery and recovery with me. In future posts, I’ll let you know how these azaleas respond to my Pacific Northwest conditions. I’ll talk to experts about Encores’ cultural needs. I’ll go on the hunt for other growing companions. Short of another Doug-fir incursion, Encore® Azaleas will be the foundation of my new garden.

New game – my turn to bat.