Committing Rhoda-cide

Add another death to the rap sheet



illustration by brad fitzpatrick

Last year, everyone on my road seemed to have these beautiful, pink flowering bushes in their yards. Kay, one of my neighbors, told me they were rhododendron shrubs.

Even though I have a long history of killing plants (sometimes just by looking at them), I became obsessed with buying a rhododendron for my front lawn.

“Do you have any of those Valerie Harper shrubs?” I asked the clerk in a department-store garden center a few days later.

He looked at me as if I’d just been beamed down from another planet.

“Oh, sorry!” I said, embarrassed. “I tend to use word association whenever I want to remember things — and Valerie Harper once had a show called, ‘Rhoda.’ So that’s how I remembered rhododendron.”

He led me to the store’s selection. There were white-flowered rhododendron shrubs and pink ones, which were nice. But then I spotted a bright red one that was about three feet tall and already in full bloom. Optimism suddenly overcame me, and I purchased it.

The minute I got home with my precious new shrub, however, I nearly suffered a panic attack. I just knew that I, a person who couldn’t even grow mold on month-old bread, was going to kill it. No matter how kind I was to it or how much I babied it, experience had taught me its days were numbered. Soon, it would be brown and shriveled, gasping for its last breath, all because it had been unlucky enough to be purchased by me, the Lizzie Borden of plant caretakers. I carefully set it in a bucket in the garage.

When I told Kay I’d bought a rhododendron, she said, “Great! When you’re ready to plant it, just let me know and I’ll help you. We’ll find a perfect spot for it — not too shady and not too sunny.”

I felt much better. Kay’s yard always looked as if it could grace the pages of a landscaping magazine, while mine looked like the “before” photo in a home-improvement ad. I knew that with her magic touch, my rhododendron just might receive a stay of execution.

In retrospect, I probably should have told Kay to come right over, but instead, I got busy and, I’m ashamed to admit, forgot all about the poor shrub. Even worse, the temperature outside shot up to nearly 100 degrees, which meant the temperature inside my locked-up garage was hot enough to roast a Thanksgiving turkey.

By the time I finally remembered the rhododendron, it was completely brown and dried up. I should have been arrested for plant abuse. Panicking, I called Kay, but there was no answer. So I called another friend who’s a plant enthusiast.

“Dig a hole, fill it with water and plant the shrub right away,” she told me. “You might be able to revive it if the roots are still good.”

I rushed out to the front yard and dug a hole, filled it with water and planted the shrub. Then I waited for it to show any signs of life.

That was a year ago. I’m still waiting. The shrub is so pathetic-looking even the squirrels point at it and laugh.

Still, I’m seriously thinking about buying another rhododendron this year and having Kay plant it for me … in her yard.

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