Neat, compact evergreen shrubs have a place in every garden as foreground planting in beds, or beside pathways and walks. In small gardens they allow you to have a wider variety of plants in a small space, and they are also ideal for container gardening. Mountain laurel may not be the first plant you think of when choosing an evergreen shrub, but it is a beautiful evergreen, and the Tiddlywinks Mountain Laurel is a superb dwarf form, with perfectly-proportioned smaller leaves on a small bush, and with full-sized clusters of beautiful flowers in late spring – bright pink flowers that are so beautiful you simply won’t believe they are real.
The Tiddlywinks Mountain Laurel forms a small shrub that grows just 2½ feet tall, spreading no more than 3 feet across. The leaves are between 2 and 3 inches long, and less than an inch wide, with a smooth oval shape. They are leathery and glossy, and rich green all year round. They cluster densely around the stem, giving the plant a neat, solid look. This plant is as attractive as any evergreen foliage shrub – with the great advantage of stunning blooms as well. The flowers begin as red branching stems among the leaves at the ends of the branches, first appearing in winter. They develop into domes of dark pink buds, each one shaped like a 5-sided cone, and they make a colorful display while we wait for the blooms to open. By late May or into June, depending on your region, the flowers begin to open, and they stay looking beautiful for several weeks. Each bloom is almost one inch across, and it is shaped like a 5-sided cup, with prominent stamens in a star pattern in the center. The bloom is soft pink, lighter than the buds, and the combination of buds and open flowers is very, very beautiful indeed. If you are not familiar with the flowers of the mountain laurel, then you are in for a big garden treat.
Use the Tiddlywinks Mountain Laurel in the front of your beds, around your home or out in the garden. Use it as a single plant in small spaces, or plant in groups of 3 or 5, spaced 2 feet apart in each direction, in larger spaces. With its low height it is an excellent edging shrub too, needing no trimming to look neat and perfect all year long. Use it at the corners of small beds, or beside a path. Plant it in woodland areas, and in the dappled shade beneath trees. It is also an excellent choice for planter boxes and pots, and if you don’t have suitable garden conditions for it, growing in pots is the best way to enjoy this lovely plant in your garden.
Plant the Tiddlywinks Mountain Laurel in partial shade, with morning sun and afternoon shade, or in light full shade, such as on the north side of a building or wall, or in the shade of deciduous trees. The deep shade beneath evergreens is too dark for it to do well. The soil should be moist but well-drained, and sandy soil is preferable, as this plant does not grow well in clay soils. Raised beds, and planting on slopes is a good way to grow it if you have heavier types of soil. Good drainage is fundamental to success with this plant. The soil should be acidic, with a pH no higher than 6.0, and ideally between 5.5 and 4.5. Add plenty of lime-free organic material, such as rotted leaves or peat moss, and use the same material to mulch over the roots. In containers use soil blended for acid-loving plants, and the same kind of liquid fertilizer. Keep well-watered but not constantly wet, and make sure your pot or planter has plenty of drainage holes. This plant is generally free of pests or diseases, if the growing conditions are good. Do not prune or trim, as the flowers are formed at the ends of new shoots. Remove the spent flower heads as they fade, as preventing seeding encourages more blooms for the next year. Remove only the flower stems, not the tip of the branch.
The mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, is found in most of the eastern part of the USA, from southern Maine to northern Florida. Wild plants grow between 5 and 15 feet tall, beneath trees in mountain forests, and on slopes. The wild plant usually has large leaves, up to 5 inches long, and the flowers are pale pink in bud, fading to white once they have opened. There is a lot of variation in form in the wild, and plants with smaller leaves and more compact form are called ‘variety’ or ‘forma’, myrtifolia (‘with leaves like myrtle’). Beginning with plants like that, the plant breeder and geneticist Richard A. Jaynes made many crosses, and raised many seedlings, looking for attractive and colorful dwarf plants for gardens. When he was working at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, he made crosses in 1978, and one of the resulting seedlings was so attractive he named it ‘Tiddlywinks’ and released it to nursery growers in 1985. This plant is widely held to be the best of the smaller mountain laurel plants, and it is always a popular plant. This means that our limited stock of premium plants will soon be gone, so don’t hesitate, order now, and enjoy this lovely plant in your own garden.