This week, my rhododendron bloomed!
Now this may not sound like a big deal to some of you, but to those of us who heretofore have been "rhodie" impaired, it is at least cause for minor celebration. And any gardener who has tried to grow this persnickety plant in those regions of Ohio which are totally unsuited to its rather specialized needs, is likely to understand firsthand my joy of success.
Rhododendrons, along with their slightly less finicky azaleas cousins, are elegant, often evergreen, plants with large, showy, clusters of blooms—in colors from red to magenta, violet to purple, pale pink or lilac, to white. Rhododendrons grow wild throughout most of the southern Appalachians, and anyone who's ever taken a mid-spring drive through these storied mountains cannot help but come away with a passion for their eye-stopping beauty.
Unfortunately, much of Ohio is simply not naturally suited rhododendron habitat. Rhododendrons need light, well-drained, acidic soil, ample moisture, shelter from wind and too much sun. Much of the Buckeye state—at least the corner I live in—contains heavy clay soil, lots of alkline limestone, and is not always well drained. As if this weren't bad enough going in, I planted my initial rhododendrons too deep, and in sites where they received little sun and wind protection. Afterwards, I overwatered them to beat the band.
In other words, in my stupidity I basically set my rhododendrons up for failure, and did all I could to help their fate along. Yet in my botanical ignorance, I remained puzzled as they languished, withering away branch by branch to an early demise. So I bought a few more and killed them, too.
I won't trouble you with further details. Except to say that I eventually did what I should have done before I ever brought that first rhodie home from the nursery—read up on the plants and their needs, instead of simply digging holes and sticking them in the ground. I'd like to claim it was merely a lack of education, but in truth it was mostly laziness and getting in a hurry, and possibly a dollop of ego in acting as if I knew something about which I had not the first clue. If this is so, however, I fooled only myself—not the poor rhododendrons.
So as welcome and beautiful as this week's blooms are, they come with a tinge of the bittersweet. I have learned my lesson the hard way.