Blooms for Winter's End
"Every flower holds the whole mystery."
'Milestone' is an unregistered Mezzitt Small-Leaf Rhododendron developed by the same family that gave the world the famed PJM Rhodies. It was hybridized from R. minus var. minus pollinated by R. dauricum var. sempervirens. From the first it gets its heat tolerance, from the second its cold tolerance.
Our Milestone has a sunny location for autumn & winter when the hawthorn tree & huge old choke cherry are shed of leaves, but it gets morning sun then afternoon shade when the trees it lives near are in full leaf for spring & summer. When in 2000 Granny Artemis chose this unusual rhody, neither one of us had researched it, we just liked its limb structure & we bought it for a shady location. But as it turned out, like most Small-Leaf varieties, it prefers more sun, so we found this alternate position which better suits it.
Autumn leaf color can be quite brilliantly red, though not inevitably so, this seems to depend on if it experiences a cold enough early autumn. It is a semi-deciduous rhododendron. We got some great leaf portraits in November 2003 after a cold-snap turned them a most striking bright red. A couple of these pictures can be viewed along the Autumn Rhododendrons & Azaleas Garden Walk's Milestone Page.
In years when it doesn't turn quite so bright an autumn color, it will at least turns a lovely shade of burgandy in winter. It is semi-deciduous. Most years, only a few branch-end leaves will still be clinging to the twiggy stems by winter's end, but if winter is as mild as it was in 2002/3, it is loosely leafed throughout
It blooms before new leaves appear, so except for whatever winter's end leaves survive, it will be blooming on very thinly leafed or even completely leafless branches. Buds are bright pink showing some of their color at the cracks as early as the second week in February & continues to generate blossoms until early April. It is near the end of this long blossoming period that new leaf production begins, so it doesn't fully releaf until after the blossoms are spent.
It's one of the earliest bloomers. The portraits on this page were taken mid-March 2002, when the buds are opening into flowers of deepest pink. We had a couple days of light snow, & it was really something to see this luminescent blossom against such a wintry backdrop of leafless trees & snowfall.
Come April, the slowly opening & long-lasting blooms are larger & turn to a deeper raspberry-red. Some of the other early-blooming rhodies & azaleas just don't have the blooms for this long, but the Milestone doesn't drop it's flowers to the ground until the second week of April. The flowers do not cling to the branches once they're done, either, so there is no need to hand-remove dead blooms, which is a little added "plus" for this variety. In April 2003 after an unusually mild winter, it was in full bloom the first week in March, & as a semi-evergreen had lost far fewer of its leaves than the year before, though it still dropped a lot more leaves than it kept.
They grow to a mere three feet tall in ten years, so are one of the slowest growers, hence ours is fairly mature, being already three feet. The slow rate of growth means it is not commonly offered in the nursery trade & can be pricy when it is offered. We got an unexpected bargain on ours because it had lost its price tag & the nurseryman said he didn't want to look it up & just tossed off a cheap price for us. When I was looking it up in catalogs later, I was startled that it lists for four times what we paid. Well, we spend a lot in that nursery, we deserved the occasional break.
Milestones can sometimes appear leggy, but if well chosen for the twigs' shape & form, they can be awfully pretty even in winter, & can look like slender bonsais. The third picture on this page, taken a week later than the other two, shows this specimen's somewhat "miniature tree-like" form, against the lower trunk of a hawthorn tree, & the edge of some Spanish lavender visible to its left, though that lavender began to get enormous & had later to be transplanted to a dryer sun-garden.
For more photographs of this shrub, go to the:
'Milestone' Page of the Rhododendron Gallery
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