I live in rhododendron country, where this time of year the undergrowth is filled with the pink blossoms of the wild rhodies. The acid soil, mild temps, and plenty of rain are exactly what they thrive on. And in people’s yards, the hybrid rhodies abound with multiple colors. In acknowledgment of all things rhody, Florence has had the Rhododendron Festival nearly every year for the past 113 years. But this year, because of the Coronavirus, a couple of the activities were done virtually. The four days of actual events were cancelled. This is a real shame because each year the Rhody Festival kicks off tourist season by attracting 15,000 to 20,000 visitors. Tourism is the lifeblood of Florence.
Of course, when we moved here in 1985, I wanted a yard filled with rhodies. There were four small ones in the front that had yellowed leaves and looked pitiful. Then there was our ‘mini forest’ of 75 to 100 six- or seven-foot Douglas fir and cedar in a large part of the front yard on both sides of the house. On the east side slope alongside the house were several Scotch Broom plants. They are now considered a noxious, invasive plant that needs to be eradicated. And down below was our drain field surrounded by Himalaya blackberry bushes making the backyard nearly impenetrable.
I fertilized and watered my four pitiful rhodies and they finally came around. I took out the Scotch Broom and planted some rhodies on the east side. And with help from my husband and his chain saw, my dad and I schlepped blackberry prunings away again and again until they were all gone.
Then we started clearing the mini forest. The trees were short enough that I could grab the top and saw through the bottom and toss it and move on to another one. My husband and I were able to thin out the trees to a healthy number of about 20. As they grew, we were able to cut back the lower branches. Finally, the trees were tall enough that with the lower branches removed, we could stand under them. That’s when we planted a number of rhodies and azaleas under the trees on both sides of the house.
Today, there are only two azaleas remaining and they are the Hino crimson, and they are in direct sun. It appears that azaleas and most rhodies really like the sun. The four pitiful plants that I started with are absolutely spectacular and fill the area in front of the living room, where they receive good sun. I am so glad I didn’t just jerk them out. And all the rhodies on the east side are thriving.
The mini forest trees are now about 70 feet tall with lovely gray trunks. Some of the rhodies under the trees are getting too much shade and are producing no or reduced bloom. So I’ll be having a tree trimmer come in soon and trim up all the trees. It’s also for fire protection purposes. I had it done about nine years ago. The branches on these Douglas firs and cedars have grown longer and droop so much that it seems they were never trimmed.
This year, because of recuperating from knee surgery and not being able to drive long distances by car as well as not being able to travel by plane either due to the Coronavirus, I have not traveled to California to see family and friends like I usually do. Which means, I have been here to thoroughly enjoy my rhodies throughout April and May. I’d like to share some of my favorites.
Rhodies bloom once, and then it’s over until next year, but they are spectacular and bring such pleasure. Rhodies, glorius rhodies!
Note: All the photos are from my yard except the last one taken at the rhody garden near Reedsport. For more information on the garden, check out http://www.hinsdalegarden.com or see pp.48–51 in my book The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED, that which is odd, unusual or quirky!!!