Nakahara's 'Mount Seven Star'
"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."
Rhododendron nakaharae sometimes incorrectly given as R. nakahari, is hybridized from a wild dwarf evergreen groundcover azalea which grows in its native Taiwan from sea level up to 6,000 feet or higher, first introduced to gardening by Japanese collector G. Nakahara. I have not yet tracked down more about G. Nakahara, but by the Latin rules, if the collector was a man, the species should be spelled nakaharai, not the feminine nakaharae, so unless it was mispelled from the beginning (as does often happen), then G. Nakahara must be a woman.
This species likes sun or part shade with a preference for the sun; it may fail to set flower buds if planted in too deep a shade. It only rarely lifts its limbs more than a foot above the ground, yet has a three to four foot spread. The very small leaves are a darkly uneven green that give a feathery impression. It is generally rather "open" so that the limb structure is visible, but parts of the shrub can be quite densely leafed.
The variety we have is one of Polly Hill's "North Tisbury" cultivars, a line of dwarf evergreen azaleas developed in Massachusetts on the island of Martha's Vineyard at the sixty-acre Polly Hill Aboretum.
Polly Hill bought the first portion of her acreage from sheep farmers in 1926, but didn't start her famous gardens until 1958. Today the Aboretum's administrative offices are in the house built in the 1670s. The "Far Barn" nearby was built in the 1750s & is today used for horticultural classes & exhibitions.
Polly Hill had a fine eye for beauty & hardiness & was very generous providing examples of her labors to other growers, so that today North Tisbury cultivars are to be found at all points of the globe, though the plethora of offerings does mean none of the R. nakaharae cultivars per se are common nursery offerings. It is perhaps due to its "wildness" of appearance that it is less popular than the majority of gussier North Tisbury shrubs.
R. nakaharae varieties are among the latest blooming shrubs in the rhododendron genus. They flower late June to the middle of July. Ours has in most years produced bright buds in the middle of June, & in full flower most of July; but in 2004, it was in full bud in early in July, & in full flower for August & September, with one limb still flowering in October, to our great amazement. It's extra-late bloom may have been because of winter 2003/4 having been especially cold for our area. It is in either case the last of our azaleas or rhodies to flower. For more portraits of its late summer flowers, see the 'Mount Seven Star' page of the Azaleas & Rhodies blossoms gallery.
This shrub was provided to us without its specific cultivar designation, but I believe it is 'Mt. Seven Star.' At first, I thought it might be 'Mariko' because I saw a photo that matched the color of ours exactly, except 'Mariko,' developed in Scotland from Polly Hill Tisbury plants, blooms earlier than most in this group. Since ours blooms as late as the latest, I considered others, though from photographs it's always hard to judge. In order of possibility, I considered: the deep brick-red 'Mt. Seven Star,' shrimp-pink 'Late Love,' & dusty rose-pink 'Pink Pancake,' plus a few others that seemed to become decreasingly likely. Nearly all of these hybrids produce only one-inch trumpets, but ours are without exception two inches wide & deep, & that was what narrowed the possibilities down to 'Mt. Seven Star.'
Ours dwells at the foot of the deck staircase underneath a vine maple, where it gets strong morning sun only. Granny Artemis said the vine maple's trunk & bark were far too beautiful to be obscured by a taller shrub, so R. nakaharae was just the thing. To the shrub's rear & left is a miniature rockery which this azalea highlights without obscuring.
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