Stamps Versus Than Rhododendrons

by Dean Goard - October 1999

In August of 1975, we moved to Victoria from Kamloops. We had three days to find a house, my wife Ann was eight months pregnant and we had two pre-schoolers. We went in far over our heads at the time and bought the house we are still in. The previous owners had a strong attachment to the house and garden. In fact one of the clauses in the sale allowed them to take three special rhodos with them. With our three days just about up, who was I to argue about these three rather small plants with no flowers.

With the sale completed, I was asked "Do you like gardening?" to which I replied "Yes" - remembering that I just completed landscaping our previous home in Kamloops. I was then asked "But do you really like gardening?" Again, I confirmed that I really liked gardening.

I soon discovered that the ecologically sensitive hand mower that I used to cut the grass in Kamloops just wouldn't cut a third of an acre lot with oak tree droppings. So I bought a rotary gas mower. I learned that we had to remove foundation plants that blocked the light and eventually the drains. I added four rhodos planting them as foundation plants in the clay soil between the sidewalk and the house. I managed to kill two of the four but two are still alive in the spots I planted them. I learned that if a plant is under the eaves, it doesn't get any water no matter how hard it is raining. I reconsidered whether I really liked gardening, so I took up stamp collecting.

Stamp collecting or philately is a wonderful hobby and I am still active in it. There are similarities and differences with growing rhodos. Let me use the old faithful ‘compare and contrast’ approach to illustrate my hypothesis.

Stamp collectors are similar to rhodo growers in that they can be grouped into a number of categories. There are "acquirers" whose joy is to just acquire the next beautiful stamp or rhodo that comes along. It is feasible to do this with stamps. However, unless you have unlimited space in your garden or can kill them all off quickly, rhodo acquirers must develop a new strategy. Another group are those who focus their efforts as "collectors" of a certain type of stamp or rhodo. One can collect used stamps, mint stamps, cats on stamps, Canadian stamps, or even postal history. Similarly one can collect yellow rhodos, splotch rhodos, small rhodos, species rhodos or large leafed rhodos. Another group are the "exhibitors". Stamp exhibiting is highly structured from local to regional to national to international shows. Rhodo shows seem to have multiple levels as well. There are lots of classes for both stamp and rhodo exhibiting, rules as to how they should be exhibited, fierce competition, esteemed judges, lots of ribbons and awards, helpful volunteers and usually dealers who ply their trade. There is a difference however: the stamp exhibitor can build upon the exhibit over the years using the same stamps. Rhodo exhibitors are lucky to get their exhibit through the two days of the usual show without them totally wilting. The final group are those "students" of the hobby who get more deeply involved in the academic aspect of the hobby. There are those who do the research and write about their findings, or the history or geography related to stamps or rhodos.

While there are a limited number of very collectable stamps and special rhododendrons,
creating copies is not considered good form in philately but is rewarded in rhododendron growing.

When I rediscovered that I really liked gardening a few years ago, I was able to apply the skills I had learned from philately. The first thing is that if you want to learn about a hobby quickly - join a group. In 1996, I joined VRS. The second thing is that if the group is about the size of our society - join a smaller sub-set of the members. I joined the propagating group. My daughter, who was in university at the time, used to get the biggest laugh when she'd answer the phone and it was Ken Webb on the line about the next meeting of the group. She would say "Dad, it’s your propagating group" and she would immediately snicker at the thought of her "old" father still being able to propagate.

I am very much a neophyte when it comes to rhodos. But I've got a bunch of cuttings and seedlings growing in the back yard and I haven't killed them all off yet. I am now rather more selective in what rhodos I am acquiring, but when I see a beautiful rhodo in bloom, it is hard to put temptation behind me. Nothing beats spring days when your efforts are rewarded and the rhodos in your backyard are in full bloom. However, stamps do take up less space and they are beautiful to look at.