During the summer of 2005, I worked part-time at a local garden center. One of my first tasks in the spring was to go through last year's shrubs and trees to determine which ones would be sellable and which ones were not. I waded through the pots of shrubs, arranging the salvageable ones in a small circle, pitching the dead ones directly in the dumpster, and setting a handful of questionable plants aside for further review.
As the manager looked through the "maybes," he nixed a small mountain laurel, 'Olympic Fire' kalmia latifolia, that I had almost placed in the save area from the beginning. Sure its leaves were a bit desiccated by the winter winds, but the couple of branches I had lightly scratched with my thumbnail showed living green tissue underneath the thin bark.
I tried to bite my tongue--after all, this was only my first or second day of work--but I couldn't hold back for very long. "Um... you know that mountain laurel you said to pitch? There's a lot of green under the bark. If you don't mind, I would like to try and save it. We could put it back behind the fence there so customers don't see it until it's rehabbed..."
The manager, who I would come to know was a really great guy, looked at me, and then at the mountain laurel, and then back at me. "Well, we could do that," he said slowly, "but I think that it might get more TLC at your house. So if you want it, why don't you just take it home and see what you can do with it?"
And so the mountain laurel came to live at my house last spring. It didn't do much during the summer--didn't look a whole lot better than it did when I planted it, but didn't look any worse, either. I gave it the occasional deep watering to help it establish a good root system, and pruned off a couple of dead branches in the late winter.
This year, it didn't put on any noticeable growth but I did get two clusters of flowers. I pinched one cluster back immediately, but let the other cluster bloom for a couple of days before I punched that off as well. I watered it deeply once, during a midspring drought, but otherwise left it alone.
With all of the bed construction and plant moving that I have been doing this summer and fall, I mostly forgot about the mountain laurel until I was planting bulbs last week. As I took photographs to chronicle where the bulbs were planted, I noticed buds at the end of each and every branch of my mountain laurel and took a picture of them as well .
Will the buds sprout new leaves in the spring? Will they be clusters of flowers? I haven't had the plant long enough to know, but I am heartened by seeing these signs of new growth in the fall. As the temperatures drop, it's very nice to have a promise of interesting things to come.