rhodoI’ve never liked Rhododendron.

There, I’ve said it.  I’ve opened myself up to the maelstrom of indignant rhodo-lovers who up until this moment thought I was a dedicated advocate for all things green.

Nope.  I’ve got likes and dislikes just like everyone else.

Some of them are irrational.  For instance, how can I love the bright, effusive, wildly invasive orange ditch daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, and yet feel ambivalence toward her well-behaved siblings?

Some are indefensible. (Bearded iris Marianne? Really? Bet you hate puppies too.)  Some are just plain critical and overly judgmental. (Quite possibly my entry in Who’s Who.)

But it’s okay – they’re mine, I’m sure you have yours.  At least I hope you do.

Why? Because there is nothing better for the soul than having one’s horticultural prejudices turned upon their heads. The more it happens to me, the more I am anxious for it to happen again. Fellow gardeners who have known me a while might be surprised to see dicentra, lycoris and nandina all occupying precious real estate in my current garden – plants for which I have previously held no love.  What can change the mind of this opinionated gardener?

'Soft Caress' Mahonia eurybracteata. Photo courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection.

Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress.’ Photo courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection.

Well, in some cases, it is the introduction to a new species or cultivar.  For instance, I’m not a fan of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape), finding them coarse and unattractive, often wind burnt, and prickly to boot.  However, the Southern Living Plants selection ‘Soft Caress’ (M. eurybracteata) which as its name suggests is texturally show stopping, has quite literally softened my opinion.  (It’s marginally hardy in Zone 7, but that won’t stop me and other Mid-Atlantic zone-pushers from trying it.)

But very often, it all comes down to location, location, location.  And to illustrate, let’s go back to my feelings about rhododendron.

Cons: Leggy. Ubiquitous. Brash. Very rarely very happy. Colorful to a point of vulgarity. Loved by Bambi. Loved by developers. Loved by an ex-boyfriend. One of those genera where you know there is so much more, but the average gardener is presented with so much less.

Pros: Evergreen. (But seriously, are we talking true, supple green or a dusty approximation?) Tough to completely kill (Is that necessarily a good thing?) Shallowly rooted. (All the easier to dig them.) Happy in Portland. (Who isn’t? Have you ever been to Powell’s Books?)

Result: Meh.

With all this in mind, I have been staring at the three in my front garden. They are as old as our time here (which is to say, three years), having been planted by the former owner in an attempt to enliven an otherwise blank slate with three shades of “screaming.”  Can I continue to plant around them? Ignore them? Hope that they will contract a deadly virus and take the matter out of my hands?

They are happy.  Well, as far as any rhodo can be happy this far from Powell’s. That of course makes the decision harder. They have bested winters sent to us by Lucifer himself. But I am not happy each and every time I look at them. They just don’t thrill me.

And that is not the purpose of a garden.  One should view one’s kingdom in alternate states of euphoria or pure despair.  Never should a plant elicit a wrinkled nose or an ambivalent expression from the resident gardener.


The decision to finally rid myself of these troublesome plants came unexpectedly after a garden tour.  The stark contrast between that garden and my own was more than I could bear upon my return home, and I put the blame squarely on the rhodos.  Grasping fork and spade, I did the deed before I could think any more upon it….and the relief was instant and gratifying.

But whether motivated by my pocketbook or a gardener’s heart, I do not part with shrubs lightly.  I did not destroy them or give them away, but instead moved them to the edge of my woods, where this morning, they are blooming.

And looking at them now, coffee in hand, I’m happy. Deep forest greens frame intense, unabashed color and I am momentarily transported to my time in the Pacific Northwest last spring. No more wrinkled nose, no more averted eyes. They just needed the right setting.

Well, don’t we all.  One more prejudice dumped resoundingly on the compost pile.  Fantastic.