Enjoy andromedas in deer country

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2001

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) -- It might not be love at first sight, but andromeda grows on you. And thanks to its deer resistance, this love is here to stay.

A friend of mine said she thought andromeda, whose botanical name is pieris, was an unattractive bush until she saw that deer left it alone. Since then, she has come to appreciate the ornamental qualities of this versatile evergreen plant that ranges in size from dwarf to statuesque and blooms in spring with cascades of tiny white or pink flowers. Some varieties make ideal bonsai or rock garden plants.

Many gardeners plagued by deer have become fond of andromeda, and the plant sells briskly on the market. One provider, Roslyn Nursery of Dix Hills, N.Y., Tel. 631-643-9347, www.roslynnursery.com, offers 21 varieties, four of which are described as new in its 2001 catalog.

How the plant got named ''andromeda'' stumped botany researchers I consulted. They couldn't find a link to Greek mythology, where Andromeda was rescued by Perseus from a sea monster. So why not make your own link and imagine that Perseus is still out there rescuing -- the monster nowadays being deer.

In the past 20 years, deer have become an ever-worsening scourge to gardeners in the Northeast and some other parts of the country. Some gardeners have built expensive electrified steel fences to protect beautiful ornamentals like rhododendrons and azaleas. And they have also looked for shrubs that don't need protection.

Some barberries, hollies and junipers meet the test, but they are mostly low growing plants. Andromedas come in many sizes. They're prized in woodland settings, foundation plantings and shrub borders.

In 2000, an andromeda named Pieris x, Brouwer's Beauty, won the Cary award given in New England to plants regarded as outstanding for that region. The prize is named for Ed Cary, a Massachusetts plantsman. Brouwer's Beauty will grow up to 6 feet tall, with a spread of six feet. In early April, the plant bears white flowers. In winter, its buds are purplish red for a unique contrast with its lustrous green foliage.

Brouwer's Beauty is a hybrid of the two main kinds of andromeda, mountain and Japanese.

The mountain variety, also called floribunda, doesn't grow as tall as the Japanese (japonica) but is more tolerant of cold and heat and isn't as bothered by insects. It also can tolerate more alkaline soil than the acid-loving japonica. It does well in either full or part sun.

The japonica can reach heights of 12 feet with a spread of six to eight feet. After flowering, its new leaves become red, pink or bronze and then mature into green. Lace bugs may cause considerable damage.

Most andromedas available at nurseries are japonicas. New ones offered this year by Roslyn are ''Compacta,'' described as forming a perfect 4- to 5-foot mound, with white pendulous flowers; ''Prelude,'' a hardy introduction from Holland, is a low-growing shrub whose white cascading flowers bloom later than others; ''Shojo,'' has very dark red buds opening to dark pink flowers; and ''Sweetwater,'' developed on New York's Long Island, is described as ''extremely valuable'' for white flowers which are sterile, thus eliminating deadheading and dieback of branches.

The offerings range in price from $15.95 to $29.95.


EDITOR'S NOTE: George Bria retired from the AP in 1981 after 40 years that included coverage of World War II from Italy.

End advance for Thursday, June 28, and thereafter

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