racemosum x spiciferum 'Twinkles'
"Their feet strike the moon path beside me,
as they have always done. Together we run,
our flanks brushing dew from midnight mist,
sleek & silent, rain on rhododendron."
The first time I saw this introduction from the US National Arboretum, I mistook it for Rhododendron racemosum but wondered why it was budding all along the branches instead of just at the tips as did the specimen already growing in our home garden.
It was sold as hardly more than a "start" of just a few well-rooted twigs, with a tag that just said 'Twinkles' & didn't say what species it might be. But even being uncertain what it was, it was odd enough that I grabbed it immediately to plant at a friend's estate where I'd been doing some landscaping & extending the gardens.
Before deciding its best location, I looked up its ideal needs & other specifics, discovering it was indeed R. racemosum but hybridized with R. scabrifolium var spiciferum.
The tiny evergreen leaves are dark green on top, grey beneath. Its ten-year size is four feet high & wide. It has a floppy habit inherited from R. spiciferum, & could be regarded as semi-trailing. It can be trained via post-bloom pruning to be more compact & upright. It could also be trained to a small trellis or espalier.
Despite that limbs can get long & a little rangy, they actually look very interesting because the leaves are close all along the lanky branches & as noted it blooms along the branches, too, though the main clusters of flowers are at terminals. It is overall rather un-rhody-like in appearance.
Even as a small start for a shrub that will be more impactful in two years, it has already proven itself very floriferous. The flower buds, as shown in the first photo in early March, are colorfully pink & white long before opening. By mid-month, as seen in the second photo, the bicolor buds have opened into pure pale pink pompoms.
Also in the first photo, you can see that the limb I photographed is tied to the rail of a split rail fence; I used a short length of birch root for string, such roots having been used for first peoples to make rope. I don't know if the shrub will remain this floppy as it develops over time. I envision it becoming a spidery "twiggy heap" & I'm predicitng I won't need to prune it for compactness, though I will do so if it ever becomes rangy, which I'm counting on it not doing in its full-sun location.
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