Human Flower Project

Azalea Rorschach


Some plants are conjurors. Take a look and climb the crystal stairs or slip down a rabbit hole.


This is a Rorschach test:

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Do you smell mint juleps? Do you hear a put-down or the rustle of hoop skirts? Is this a giant butterfly about to land on a swastika? Can you find the imperial rabbit?

Cyndy Clark sent this photo along after a trip to the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., last weekend.

“Apparently there are 5 peak days in the year for the gardens and we hit one of those days,” C. writes. “See for yourself with the attached photos.  A must visit for any trip.”

Her son, Sean, retreats there at cherry blossom time, close to his home on the Hill and much less crowded than the Tidal Basin. Last weekend, there was a special sale of koi, but even so, C. reports, the arboretum wasn’t crowded. She was especially taken by the lace bark pine tree —“a must see” – and reveled in the lilacs, bonsai, and dogwoods, as well as “old columns taken from the Capitol, standing in the middle of a field like a Greek ruin!”

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Azaleas at the National Arboretum, Washington, D.C., April 2010

Photos: Cyndy Clark

So why are these photos a Rorschach test? We find here all sorts of echoes – childhood in Louisville; three springs in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; eleven years in Lexington, Kentucky, where we met Cyndy in a room with chairs bolted to the floor.

Also flooding in—whispering at the Master’s tournament, a gated community near Boone, NC, the drawl that hid a hundred sins. There’s nefarious power in azaleas. What’s your happy memory, free association or ugly truth?

If you would rather indulge than divulge, note that guided tours of the Arboretum’s huge “Azalea Collection” will begin this Friday. Registration required.

After more than a decade west of the Mississippi, these plants have lost their repugnance. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, they’re bizarre and strong – archetypal. And we head back to Kentucky to see some on Saturday.

Thank you, as always, C.


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