Monday, February 22, 2010

Pretty, Little Azalea



Sitting in my kitchen, is the prettiest lipstick reddish-pink azalea (rhododendron) plant, in full bloom, standing no more than 10 inches tall, but boy, does it make a statement on these dreary February days. Given the fact that the azaleas/rhododendron (azaleas and rhododendrons are really one and the same genus) growing outside in my gardens will be extremely challenged to bloom at all this coming spring, makes this tiny tabletop bit of natural greenery (actually "pinky-redery" with a bit of greenery) all that much more pretty.

We still can't get a good look at the outdoor azaleas/rhododendron, or anything that stands under 3 feet tall in the garden beds for that matter, because they remain under deep drifts of snow and the few branches that are poking above the frozen white landscape have been broken or bitten off by the marauding devil deer that seem to take pleasure in destroying anything from holly and boxwood to even the creeping yew!...Yes, yew! For those of you who may not know, while their glossy, deep green needles make yews versatile shrubs in the garden, their berries, foliage and bark are poisonous. I've never known deer to even try munching on these, but this year, I'm sure the heavy snowfalls have brought new meaning to the word "hunger' into a deer's vocabulary. I can't even bring myself to look in the direction of the shrubs planted out in satellite borders of the yard since it's hard enough to keep the deer from eating these at any given time of the year, much less now.

Anyway, back to the azalea that I'm enjoying in my kitchen. I bought it at the local Giant Food Store at the end of January. I'm a sucker for their plants and this was on special, making it that much more appealing. The blooms were tight but some were about halfway open way back then and now, here it is February 22--still holding up beautifully and its colorful radiance makes me smile every time I enter the room. Of course, it helps that there are no devil deer around the table trying to make it their lunch...and we all know they would if they could!

Azaleas are among the most colorful of all of the flowering shrubs ranging from reds to yellows to purples and pinks. The azaleas/rhododendrons in our garden beds are mainly purple or white blooming to compliment all of the lavender bushes, of course! In the language of flowers, azaleas symbolize someone expressing "please take care of yourself" and to advise you to use temperance or caution in matters. Azaleas are also an expression of fragility. The Chinese use azaleas as a symbol for womanhood (hard to imagine given the hard life, it seems, that most women bear in China) yet, azaleas are frilly and feminine and beautifully shaped adding still an extra dimension of beauty in the fall garden with their often brilliantly hued foliage.

To further explore its meaning in flower language, the name, rhododendron, can symbolize danger which seems, to me, contrary to it's beautiful and delicate appearance, especially when in full bloom. However, a passage written in "The Complete Book of Old Wives Lore for Gardeners," by Bridget and Maureen Boland, England, 1976, warns superstitious readers to take precautions when venturing out beyond the safe and peaceful confines of their gardens by hanging "a root of rhododendron round your neck to preserve you from any savage dogs you may meet" (p. 104). I'm thinking not! Rather, I'll enjoy this pretty-little-frilly thing until it's done blooming and, later, find a place somewhere in one of the garden beds to be it's permanent home--perhaps where the deer won't think to look.

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