Sunday, May 16, 2010

PURPLE MASSES MAGISTIES

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.
———————

19 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Stunning photographs of your pride and joy. Sometimes the bittersweet pleasures are the best.

Always thought you might be a 'rhodie'. Perhaps ladylove was a 'groupie'? ;-D

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Meant to add that I enjoyed the play on words in your title. Well done! :-)

Tom said...

Ahh yes- We do have both native Rhododendrons and azaleas in Ohio- but they are confined to the acidic glaciated and unglaciated allegheny plateaus, but the just don't fare very well on the till plains as you have experienced.

Tom

Tramp said...

The best show of rhododendrons I've seen was in Ireland, just outside Killarney. They covered the whole of a hillside, the local conditions were obviously just right.
...Tramp

Von said...

Poor old Rhodies!At last you got it right, congratulations they look great.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Well, I like my chocolate dark and bittersweet—but most bittersweet pleasures usually mean I've messed up in some way or another, and am finding out late in the game what I should have been doing.

Hey, at one time or another I played piano or guitar "on the road" in various bands and musical groups. We were all our own roadies then. And later on, when I was heavily freelancing and doing lots of assignments, I averaged 150, 000 miles annually in a pickup truck, on some of the most remote, bumpiest, and absolutely lovely backroads on the continent…a different sort of roadie.

Myladylove did hear some of my musical work—and she has long been jealous of my gypsy travels…but I'd like to think she's my personal groupie because of my rugged, manly visage, knight-in-almost-shining-armor character, and astonishing literary mastery. (Okay, mostly, I think she likes me because I'm a good cook. The gal does have her priorities in order!)

P.S. You scored extra points in noting the wordplay. :-)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tom…

Yup, the southeastern hill country does have a few native rhododendrons and azaleas. Of course nothing like the Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina highlands, where they often nearly cover certain hillsides. But here in southwestern Ohio is definitely not the best place to grow either unless you're willing to prepare your site and meet their specific needs. I think I now understand what I need to do…but it's really going to take several years before I'm willing to say I can truly grow and keep them happy.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tramp…

I've seen them like that in the Smokies and Snowbird Mountains, where I used to spend lots of time annually—and also in West Virginia and easter Kentucky. They are really spectacular.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Von…

I THINK I may have gotten it right—or close enough to be rewarded with a bunch of blooms. Don't want to get too cocky about my rhoadies just yet, though—not with my track record. They're sure pretty, though!

Vagabonde said...

What a beautiful picture and a beautiful flower too. We have great azalea bushes but I do not think I would try rhododendrons now that I read about them. We have so many tall pine trees that it is hard to find some sun and the soil is orange, hard clay. I love the shade of your flower.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Vagabonde…

If you're doing well with azaleas, you ought to have few problems growing rhododendrons. Lack of much sun is not nearly the problem of too heavy a soil (easily fixed before you plant), too alkaline a soil (also easily maintained with pine bark mulch), poor drainage(can be fixed with planting prep, the right soil, even a raised bed), overwatering (don't water unless they begin to look/feel dry). The big problem is, oddly, too much direct sun, too much drying out (the main cause of loss) and planting too deep. So most of the problems can be headed off before you put a plant in the ground—and the others are not all that difficult, just different.

Rhododendrons produce stunning blooms—and you can get them in a many colors. Being partial to purples/violets/lilacs I like this one best.

Kelly said...

...I've never had luck growing them in our clay and rock soil either. They look great for the first season (but annual rhodies are not economical!) Glad you figured them out. They are so beautiful!

George said...

Beautiful photos, Grizz, and, more important, beautiful rhododendrons. Among the great benefits of gardening are the daily lessons in humility. At this moment, however, you are certainly entitled to great deal of pride. Not many people can produce such lovely flowers.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

That was exactly my experience the first times I tried growing rhoadies—they looked good the first year, then went quickly downhill thereafter. The real key is preparing their bed beforehand, and site location, with the north side of a building being first choice, giving wind protection and protection from winter sun, both of which lead to excessive drying out, planting shallow and here in this part of Ohio, above grade in a raised bed (for drainage) and in loose, acidic soil/organic material.

You can't afford to buy rhododendrons as annuals. But you can grow them here in Ohio by starting off right. If you ever decided to give it another round—and I think you should, honest—practically all you need to know to be successful is in two bulletins from the OSYU extension service:

Growing Rhododendrons and Azaleas in Ohio

[http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1078.html]

Maintaining Healthy Rhododendrons and Azaleas in the Landscape

[http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/3000/3043.html]

Don't give up. We may be Buckeyes…but we CAN grow rhododendrons!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

I'm not so much filled with pride at my rhododendrons, as with gratitude and relief.

BTW, I'm going to try and pick up a copy of Stanley Kunitz's "The Wild Braid" Knew some of his poetry, but didn't know he'd done the garden book. I'm so glad you wrote about him on your blog. (And please forgive me for not commenting. I've read every post and enjoyed them very much—but I can be awful about commenting.)

Kathiesbirds said...

I, too, love rhodies and Azaleas as well as Mountain laurel! These flowers were in bloom in June when I got married 34 years ago in CT! They must have some sort of magic for I am still married to the same guy!

BTW, so glad you learned your lesson!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kathiesbirds…

To me, they're always the iconic plants of the Southern mountains…the green walls along the highlands trout streams and the head ends of the hardwood coves where the biggest trees grow. Perhaps they did impart their magic upon your relationship.

I'm glad I've learned my lesson, too. Sometimes, for me, the only way is the hard way.…

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Flowers, like birds, have such amazing colors that if you saw an artificial one that hue, you would say it wasn't real! Stunning photos!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

That is absolutely the case! I've ben out all day running around on errands and such, and one of the places I spent a couple of hours was at the showroom and grounds of a nearby mail-order nursery—a huge complex that's been in business for decades. Every spring and fall, they open up their leftover seasonal catalog stuff to deeply discounted retail sales. Roses that went for $10 for 99¢ for example. Coneflowers, peonies, bee balm, grasses, etc.—a couple hundred different plants—for the same price or perhaps 50¢ more. It's a great place to pick up bunches of plants of all sorts cheaply. What always gets me, though, is all the flowers, their shapes and colors—many, as you say, unbelievable if copied as an artificial.