Silver Sword

'Silver Sword'
Kaempfer or Gerard's
Variegated Dwarf
Evergreen Azalea


"From the lofty peaks descends a fragrant wind from the south, & the northern wind steeped in the distant sea is cool. It was the beginning of the fourth moon when I arrived, & the azaleas were still blossoming."

-Matsuo Basho,
1644-1694

   

Rhododendron x kaempferi 'Silver Sword' (Meivogel) is sometimes mistakenly listed with its cultivar name turned into a single word, 'Silversword.' Additionally it is occasionally cataloged as 'Girard's Silver Sword,' because it is a sport of 'Girard Rose.'

Named for the variegated evergreen foliage, 'Silver Sword' has small elongated pointed leaves with white edges, gaining in red hues in winter, as shown in the third photo below, snapped in November. The autumn & winter leaf color is richest when 'Silver Sword' gets plenty of sun & experiences autumn frosts. But too much sun can scorch the leaves in summer.

Silver SwordIt is a low-growing dwarf azalea with rich bright rose-pink flowers that can be so numerous in April that sometimes the little shrubs vanish within blooms.

The ten-year height will be a scant two feet, wider than tall. A half-dozen 'Silver Swords' in a friend's garden I helped establish are all young plants, the biggest only about a foot tall & not yet two feet wide. Most of the pecimens are grouped together with a single 'Girard Crimson' which is very nearly the same blossom color & shrub size, & blooms simultaneously with 'Silver Sword.'

Silver SwordWhen I first began struggling to repair the gardens from the abuse of four to eight inches of mulching bark having been dumped on everything by what I have to guess was a charlaton landscaper, the smallest azaleas were in some cases half to entirely buried.

Many of them, rather than dying from having their rootcrowns smothered, had begun to re-root themselves halfway up the plants. In this regard, the hardy adaptability of 'Silver Sword" impressed me, but it was also a bit sad, & the worst-buried specimens had lost most of their leaves & no longer resembled evergreens.

The worst-treated 'Silver Swords' were very brittle, as variegated rhododendron species tend to be, but more so than I'd ever noticed, I presume due to the stress of having spent a year buried in mulch.

With the mulch cleared away from the crowns, they began to bounce back immediately, producing many new leaves in spring, & none of the buds set the year before were at all hampered in achieving April bloom, though overall floriferousness was reduced from having been under mulch for so long. The speed by which these wee shrubs bounced back to health was truly impressive.

The flower buds are swollen & bright red in early April, opening into full flower by mid-April, with two to eight trumpets per truss. The individual blooms are wavy-edged funnels, & when only partially opened they look rather like red flames with a twisted point, as shown in the first photo above.

This cultivar can be so floriferous the foliage vanishes for two or three weeks. 'Silver Sword' is additionally one of many azaleas that very occasionally pops a bud prematurely, so there'll be a flower here & there in winter.

   



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