“This is the only rhody that I would ever buy” says a friend of mine. An argument ensues. ”One day when you’re old, tell me then that you’ve never bought another type of rhododendron”, I quickly respond. ” A cool new variety might come out, that you must have! When you’re putting in your Northwest native plant garden you might want a R. macrophyllum.” There are over 10,000 named varieties of rhododendrons and she only wants one, PJM. How could this be? Let’s see….It all starts here in the Seattle area where rhodies are around every corner, under every Doug Fir and in front of every window. It is hard to want another one of these plants. Is there a more common shrub in our local landscaping? Expected, suggested and ubiquitous, many are large and overgrown. Like a monster from the deep, some seem poised to take over our yards, swallowing up all around them in their woodsy, green shade.
Here lies the attraction to PJM, which brings order to the universe. Neat and trim, dense and compact, with colors that harmonize and are pleasing to the eyes. PJM has a light lavender colored flower, one of spring’s earliest. Today, at the end of March, they are beginning to bloom, calling spring out and telling everyone to wake up! Winter was dark, but color is here and can’t be stopped. Nature doesn’t care about dates, it’s the time of fragrant star magnolia and laughing daffodils. The beauty of PJM lies in the bright flowers which are good companions to the small purplish/green leaf. More sun exposure gives this plant more winter foliage color. This mahogany leaf gives an extra depth to the garden that contrasts nicely in the winter with all of our green. (People always come to the nursery in winter begging for a plant that’s not green! We are spoiled here in the NW, green is good!) This adaptable and easy to grow rhododendron likes acid soil that is fast draining yet moist. This is one reason rhodies are often planted in raised beds with plenty of organic matter or compost. PJM is exceptionally cold hardy in zones 4-8, able to withstand temperatures to -25 degrees F. This evergreen shrub grows 4-6 feet tall and is actually not a single cultivar, but a group of hybrids from a cross between R. carolinianum and R. dauricum var. sempervirens.
PJM is named after Peter J. Mezitt, a Latvian immigrant who settled in Massachusetts. He and his family began producing plants bred for New England’s rugged weather and soil. His son Ed tells about the beginning of PJM: “We had all but forgotten this hybrid…until one Sunday in early May in 1945. We were just developing our nursery in Hopkinton, and we were visiting it that morning, having been tied up during the busy season in Weston most of the week. My heart still skips a beat when I recall the reaction of our entire family when we saw that ribbon of brilliant pink running across the hill. My Dad was so enthusiastic about these little dwarf plants – only six to eight inches tall – in full bloom, that he immediately made the remark that this was the most spectacular rhododendron of our time. We named it ‘P.J.M.’ right on the spot and those of us who knew him can see the vigor, excitement and showmanship he possessed perfectly reflected in this plant.” Now, 65 years later, this compact rhododendron still makes an impact, and, according to one plant lover, she would never buy anything else!