Saturday, June 20, 2020

Once upon a rhododendron

I nearly gave the rhododendron away.

And I was a bad friend. And a bad wife.

Will you adopt it? I asked my friend Hannah earlier in early May. She has a beautiful and semi-shady garden in nearby Park Slope, with room for plants to spread. Yes! she said. We started talking about drop-off dates.

The rhododendron is substantial and lives in a huge pot, one of only three plastic pots on the terrace. That was supposed to be temporary, and only for our move from 1st Place to this apartment (October 2018); the huge, tall terra cotta pot (which had moved with us from Harlem!) that had been the rhodi 's home in that big backyard garden was too heavy - around 90 lbs - to haul up two flights of stairs. I wasn't going to do that to the Frenchman (I don't trust movers with plants).

But then it stayed in the plastic moving pot. Sitting there. Not really doing anything. Big and wide. On a tiny terrace. And too near the braai's heat to make sense.

So this year, thinking acquisitive citrus tree thoughts (I think I have a citrus habit), I asked Hannah if she might like it. And only then told the Frenchman that it would be leaving.

But I love the rhododendron! he said.

This was news to me. Why? I asked, reasonably.

Because it's the only plant I never have to worry about when you go away!

He takes over watering duty and it stresses him. He worries they will die.

The rhododendron never stressed him.

But now he was stressed.

So I had to tell Hannah. She took it with grace I did not deserve. 

I shifted things around on the terrace, moving the rhodi far away from the braai's occasional but radiant heat. Taking photos of the terrace from above, I noticed suddenly how the solid shape of the rhododendron (lower left) anchored things. It looked rich and green. It had life in the thin seasons.

As a reward I hauled it from its pot and gave it a foundation of fresh potting soil (Black Gold). It was still in very shallow soil, from the move, and had survived two winters like this. Not dropping a single leaf.

And then it bloomed.

That only happened once before, when I impulse-bought it from the Gowanus Nursery. 

And it put out a foot of new growth all round.

So now it lives happily with its friends the Thai basil, the fern, and the begonia, shading the water dish for the birds (atop a log we foraged from the side of the road in the Catskills last spring).



  1. Sounds like just what my balcony, on my senior living apt, i.e, oh my back somedays and nobody but me to care for plants. How much space dues it need, girth, and can it deal with mostly shade, but bits of sun are Florida sun? Thank you so much. PS Planned pot is clay, painted/glazed white with flowers painted on it. Spain, about 2 foot high, 8-12" diameter at bottom, 20"-24" diameter at top.

    1. I'm afraid I don't know enough about how rhododendrons would handle Florida's heat and humidity. Your pot is a good size for a very substantial shrub. Lots of other things you could grow, though...Hmmm, citrus!

  2. Thanks very much.

    PS. Name is because I used to live in Madagascar.

    1. I wondered about Madagascar. What an interesting country.

  3. So incredibly jealous of your rhodie! Have planted and lost at least a dozen at two homes - and they are supposed to do well here. That's not true ... I SEE them doing well all over the place - just not wherever I have planted them. Think I'll just enjoy photos of yours! Tell the Frenchman, "thanks" for me, too.


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