Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)
“Rarely, if ever before, have the Arboretum Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) been as full of flower buds as they are now. . . .The flowering of the Laurels is the last of the great Arboretum flower shows of the year, and none of those which precede it are more beautiful, for the Mountain Laurel is in the judgment of many flower-lovers the most beautiful of all North American shrubs or small trees.” Charles Sprague Sargent, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. June 1916.
“107 years later, I am watching the best mountain laurel bloom in my thirteen springs here.” William Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. June, 2023.
I join Director Sargent’s celebration of our native shrubs and agree with Director Friedman that 2023 has been an especially splendid flowering year – one of the best floral displays in the 30 years Mountain Laurels have graced my Southampton, N.Y. garden. Apart from the standard pink and white flowering plants that were here when we bought the property, I have added a number of Richard Jaynes colorful hybrid cultivars. Photos below. (Jaynes is the foremost Mountain Laurel breeder and the founder of Broken Arrow Nursery in Conn.)
Note: While Jaynes hybrids have beautiful flowers, many of the early cultivars are vulnerable to foliage disease. My favorite shrub, ‘Carol,’ is the exception: In addition to showy bloom, it possesses healthy, glossy, dark-green leaves. (See the first photo above.) Recent Richard Jaynes introductions may have improved disease-resistance.
Mountain Laurels thrive in well-drained, organically rich, acid soil, in shade. Gardeners report that they also do well in sun. The shrubs bloom on new growth. For maximum flowering, remove faded flowers that retard foliage growth and the formation of new buds. Without gardener intervention, wild laurels only bloom every other year.