Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Pencil-leaved Rhododendron

rhododendron-makinoi-640

 

Only eight inches tall but already ready for its close-up: Ladies and Gentlemen, the incredible pencil-leaved rhodie, Rhododendron makinoi.  I'm unashamed to let you know that I'd never seen let alone heard of this rhododendron species until two months ago, when I stumbled upon it at one of New England's great specalty nurseries, Avant Gardens

 

Silver fuzzy leaves (at least when they're kids):  I never met silver fuzzy leaves I didn't want to grow.  And I'd never seen any rhododendron with leaves so narrow they look like pencils or quills.  With this foliage, who cares if it ever blooms?

 

I've planted a row of three, each two feet apart, in hopes that they'll grow into a silver bolster of foliage that will juxtapose well with the galvanized stock tank—which holds pink water cannas in season—at the back.  "Maks" are silver but not speedy, so it will be years before the effect works.  So long, in fact, that I may even be on the replacement stock tank.  They're galvanized, and designed from the get-go to hold hundreds of gallons of water.  But they still rust out eventually. 

 

Here's how to grow this unique rhododendron:

 

Latin Name

Rhododendron makinoi

Common Name

Pencil-leaved Rhododendron

Family

Ericaceae, the Heather family.

What kind of plant is it?

Broadleaved evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 8

Habit

Dense, full to the ground.

Rate of Growth

Slow to medium.

Size in ten years

Five feet tall and wide.

Texture

Striking:  The leaves are in whorls, and each leaf is so narrow and long that, on both accounts, the bush will remind you more of the quill-like needles and growth habit of a dwarf Japanese umbrella pine, Sciatopytis verticillata, than of another rhododendron. 

Grown for

the unique foliage.  Lanceolate is the term for leaves this long and narrow.   Barely a fifth as wide as a regular rhody leaf, they are pencil-thin indeed.

 

Even better, when young, the leaves are fuzzy with silver hairs, which make the whorls of new leaves shine silver atop the solid-green of the mature leaves from previous years.  Tomentum is the name for the "fur" on the top of a leaf.  R. yakushimanum is also famous for heavy silver tomentum.  So are Southern magnolias, M. grandiflora, except that their fur is on the bottom of the leaves, and so is called indumentum instead.  It's very handy that the leaf-fur of rhodies is mostly on the top of the leaves, because tomented rhodies are generally low and mounding, so you don't have to squat down and lift up a leaf to see it.  Southern magnolias are true trees, though, tall enough that their bottom-of-the-leaf fur is a real convenience for mere human-sized humans who are craning their necks upward to see it.

 

Yes, R. makinoi does flower.  Clusters of pink blooms that you've seen on countless other rhodies.  This is a bush to grow for the foliage, which you'll never see anywhere else.  I also hear that "maks" can take their sweet time about getting old enough to flower.  Be patient—and enjoy the foliage.

 

Flowering season

Early Summer; my starter plants aren't nearly mature enough to flower.  You'll be the second to know when they do. 

Culture

The rhodie regimen:  Rich acid soil that's fluffy with partly-decomposed leaves, bark, and twigs.  Plenty of water, but also good drainage.  Grow rhodies in slightly-mounded beds of soil so loose and peaty that you can "dig" to plant companion plants bare-handed.

How to handle it

Although it isn't nearly as hardy as it's similarly tomented rhodie cousins, the "yaks," R. makinoi is also happy in full sun. 

 

If at all possible, site your "mak" with shelter from the wind.  The bush is small and dense enough that you could even create a snow-fence house for it, or spray the foliage with anti-dessicant.  Because the show of tomentum is on the really young foliage, any Winter damage on the mature foliage from previous years would detract.  And this is a really leafy bush, with too many (at least for my time, anyway) to go over the whole bush, leaf by leaf, picking off the dead ones and snipping off the tips of the Winter-burned ones.  

 

If your siting and handling are sufficient for the bush to get through the Winter unscathed—or, of course, if you just live in a gloriously benign climate, you lucky dog, you—R. makinoi doesn't need pruning at all.  Just let it burgeon.   On the other hand, yes, it would be great to dead-head the spent flower clusters.

Downsides

If only it were hardier.  And the flowers are pink without question, so unless you remove them prophylactically, this is a rhododendron only for a pink-friendly part of your garden.  (And, indeed, my trio of maks is at the center of one of my Pink Borders.)

Variants

None.

Availability

On-line and at specialty retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings, as well as seed.

Native habitat

Japan

 
 
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