For some strange reason, whenever I turn my back, another great rhododendron is being removed from a garden or yard. Offered for free online almost every day of the week, the long line of them never seems to cease. If the owners aren't into back-breaking labor, they gleefully will let you dig the beasts up on your own. I have never accepted this kind of torture, but my husband and I did help a neighbor with one that he needed moved because it was huge and in a tiny bed. This seemed like a fun job though because it is amazing in bloom, but I would never ask a stranger to do that kind of work in exchange for a free shrub! Some folks just risk it and will simply leave them on a curb with a cardboard sign reading "free,"but the worst is when old specimens aren't even saved. Ripped apart limb by limb they too are left on the curb, but this time they are destined for a compost heap. Ah! The circle of life...
It saddens me to see a plant once so beloved by countless homeowners all over the NW as being painfully out of fashion with a new generation of homeowners. Sure, many of them are pink or rose, but what about those red azaleas? Did you happen to notice the yellow ones or maybe some of the deep purple? Does anyone care that they finally made one that is almost black? I really care about all of them and sometimes even the pink.
My feelings by now must be transparent. As a child, I was surrounded by many gardeners, of many different genders and generations, and they all loved rhodies and azaleas. Mom was fond of the red ones, and even today, she still has them all over her yard and they are amazing in bloom. In the beginning though, when I was quite small, and she had only just begun her rhododendron collection, she would stop and ask strangers about which ones they had in their yards if she saw something she liked. At my Catholic school each year we would fill (and cover) the alter on the Virgin Mary's feast day with a rainbow of trusses and I recall that colored carpet so vividly even today. On May Day I would also make paper baskets for our neighbors Essie and Clyde on May Day. I would fill them with rhododendron blooms, ring their doorbell, and run away. They never said anything to me, but of course they knew I had done it.
Now younger folks and transplants to Portland just don't seem to have the same sentimental attachment to these beauties that I obviously do. And I, the most non-romantic romantic I know, cannot get them out of my mind. Maybe tomorrow I'll order another, or maybe I will go rescue one that someone else no longer wants.