Rhododendrons and the ROG
by Alec McCarter

In a recent issue of the Globe and Mail, an article about a prominent Canadian TV personality included the tid-bit that he shares his life with a lady who was identified as his 'companion'.

'Companion' is an innocuous, neutral word containing little information. It doesn't tell us whether the lady is a casual friend or an intimate one - uncommitted or not.

But when it comes to plants, the term 'companion', referring to all those plants in the garden that go well with rhododendrons, acquires a meaning that is not neutral.

The dictionary gives several meanings for 'companion' as: (1.) 'travelling companion, one who is employed to accompany another'; (2.) 'a partner or associate', or (3.) 'mate'. It also means (4.) the lowest level of an honour as in 'Companion of an Order".

My take is that the reference to the lady as a 'companion' is in the sense that she is a partner or mate. Fair enough.

But what about rhodos and 'companion plants'? Rhodos don't travel with companions, nor do they partner or mate except with other rhododendrons, so that leaves 'associate' and "the lowest level of an honour".

I suspect that the person who first used the term 'companion' did so to honour the rhododendron as a distinct group but in the process assigned lesser importance to the Rest-of-the Garden (ROG).

Where have we heard "distinct" and "special status" before?

But, back to rhodos and the ROG. No one can doubt that rhodos are distinct. It is the idea of their being superior to the ROG, enjoying special status that might be challenged.

First to come to mind as 'companion plants' are lilies - perhaps a bad choice for this exercise - let's say roses instead. Rosarians would not see roses ( or lilies ) playing a role in the garden inferior to that of rhodos!

Unlike some of us sensitive human beings, plants don't know or care about what is thought about them, or about anything else for that matter. They don't strive for status. If it is a problem, then it is a human one and it is up to us to think of a better term - 'associate', 'association' ?But, on the political side, that one has already been tried. Ah! Politics! - even in the garden.