I am a firm believer in the notion that if something pops up on your personal radar more than once in a week, then it is time to take notice. Call me superstitious but I think there is probably a reason that someone or something is trying to get your attention. Case in point, just this last week I received an email from a colleague down south looking for Kalmia polifolia or bog laurel. I did not think that there was any reason to it and just tried to help him find the plant.
Thursday afternoon, we loaded up our Honda Pilot (ever watched a couple and four kids pile into an SUV with all of their gear and bikes – my wife, Carrie, should win an award for car packing…) and headed down to Pennsylvania for a family get together. Carrie’s family organizes a 3.5 mile running race every Father’s Day weekend. We do not miss the weekend as the race is named in honor of her late father, Irv (who competed in the Boston Marathon in the late 60’s and early 70’s when it was a much smaller race and running was an extreme sport). The race is always on Saturday and then the family gets together for a picnic and games on Saturday afternoon. Then on Sunday morning, I usually wake up before everybody else in the house and go for a run in the mountains with Irv’s old running club, Oregon East. The name of the running club comes from the University of Oregon which had an awesome program in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.
We met at a local quick-stop and then traveled as a group up into the mountains of central Pennsylvania. We ended up running a route through the Tioga State Forest which summits at the High Knob Overlook. I was a bit disappointed at the beginning of the run because all along the road I saw mostly Russian olive and Japanese barberry, both invasive plants. The vegetation began to change as we ascended the mountains. Right near the very top at the High Knob summit, the forest edges were beautiful because of the Kalmia latifolia in flower. I have not thought about mountain laurel much since moving to Maine so the notion that Kalmia would emerge twice in one week makes me want to take notice.
It has been my experience that most people shy away from growing mountain laurel because it has a reputation of being somewhat finicky. I think they are underused and the floral display is well worth the effort. We have a Rhododendron Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden that would be the perfect spot to add more mountain laurel. The garden has dappled sun, is on a well-drained slope, and the soil is extremely acidic. These are the conditions you need for both Kalmia and Rhododendron to thrive. Richard Jaynes is the founder of Broken Arrow Nursery in Connecticut and is renowned for his breeding work with Kalmia latifolia. I am going through their catalog now to see which plants we should add this fall.
Do you have mountain laurel in your garden? Have you had to go to great lengths to make it survive and thrive?
Photos: Rodney Eason, Larry Ryan, cthort.com, brokenarrownursery.com