Dave Goheen, Portland, Oregon
Reprinted from Portland Chapter Rhodo News
With modern tastes and designs for small gardens, more and more landscapers look for tidy, slower growing plants that can remain beauty spots for years without turning into huge affairs that require constant attention to keep them under control. One often overlooked rhododendron species that fits the requirements for a place in one of these gardens is the eastern azalea, R. canadense, commonly called the Rhodora. Its white form is especially pleasing, but the rose-purple color of most of the forms is attractive also.
This plant rarely exceeds three feet in height and is a precocious bloomer often setting buds in three years from seed. Another fine quality is that it produces many blooms, sometimes covering the plant so that the twigs can scarcely be seen. An especially fine attribute is that it is very hardy and I have never seen it injured by any northwest winter no matter how severe. It is found growing in the wild further north in North America than any other species in the Azalea Series.
Perhaps its rarest fame is that it is the only rhododendron that I know of that is the subject of a poem. One of America's best loved essayists and poets, Ralph Waldo Emerson, composed a poem that he calls "The Rhodora" after he had chanced on a colony of these lovely plants growing in a woody opening. The poem begins with the lines; "In May when the sea winds pierced o'er solitudes, I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods..." It ends with the memorable lines; "Rhodora, dear, if the sages ask thee why thy beauty is wasted on earth and sky, tell them, dear, if eyes are made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being."
This poem has always been one of my favorites and perhaps is one reason I always have an azalea canadense or two around the place. I recommend that this plant be in every rhododendron enthusiast's garden. I also recommend that the poem be read and kept in mind. If anyone asks us why we are so wound up in growing rhododendrons, we can always have a ready answer; "Beauty is its own excuse for being."