A Mans Garden Is His Castle
Hadley Osborn, El Cerrito, California
Reprinted from California Chapter Newsletter
Unfortunately, much of the information dispensed by plant societies is proscriptive in nature; that is, we are repeatedly told what we should or shouldn't plant and how we should or shouldn't arrange it. But in a world where we must spend most of our time accommodating ourselves to the wishes of others, a garden surely can be a place where, as long as we meet standards of maintenance acceptable to our neighbors, we can do as we please. Why grow a plant you don't like just because someone else has recommended it? Even conservative gardeners are charmed by novelty, and experienced specialists always rate new or rare plants a little higher than common varieties that might be new to us and give us more pleasure. While it is always wise to utilize others' experience, the best judge of the plants you like is yourself.
Some of the finest gardens I've ever seen had tasteful arrangements of very common but reliable plants. On the other hand, if you prefer (as I do) to clutter and encumber a yard with a couple thousand rhododendron seedlings rather than simply to create and maintain a fashionable landscaped garden, I don't see why it should bother anybody. If you even prefer (as I find to my surprise that I do) trying to keep a difficult plant alive rather than replacing it with something healthier and with a more certain future, that is your business. Any part of a garden that resembles a critical ward of a hospital busily converting itself into a cemetery is of course not going to win general acclaim, but it turns out that personal associations and hopes can make a single leaf on a straggling stick more rewarding than a yard full of opulent beauty.
A specialist or collector is always supposed to apologize. Why? What is wrong with choosing to grow plants that may not always attract a casual eye but are rich with personal memories or future promise? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and the eye of a rhododendron specialist can be, like the genus itself, an astonishingly large and varied place.