‘Rhododendron Lady’ grows colorful blooms


What started as tiny plants 45 years ago have grown into thick, 30-foot-long wall of colorful flowers that stretches more than 10 feet tall in places.

“It’s God’s beauty,” Helen Zadunajsky, 89, said of her rhododendrons.

She said she and her husband planted them at their Creaser Road home about 45 years ago. “They were little then. They were only a foot high or so,” she said.

By 1987, they had blossomed into an impressive line of flowers that were featured in the Tribune Chronicle. Thirty years later, the rhododendrons continue to grow bigger, fuller and more colorful.

Zadunajsky is happy to share what she did to accomplish such success: “Absolutely nothing. I just let them go.”

Actually, there are a few things a person needs to know.

Planting the young flowers takes care, she said. You can’t stomp the ground around them to pack them in.

“They have hair roots,” Zadunajsky said. “You just pat them with your hand.”

“They can’t have clay soil. That will kill them. They have to have soil in which the roots can spread out. Ours is sandy here.

“It can’t be plain sand. There has to be nutrition in the soil. They like acid-y soil. When I have apple peelings, I throw them out there. There has to be nutrition in the soil, like fruit.”

Flower colors can be clustered together or spread out.

“I have red, white, different shades of pink, lavender … My daughter gave me a real dark purple one last year but it didn’t bloom this year.”

Zadunajsky retired from Johnson Rubber Co. in Middlefield after 31 years. “I was what they call a cutter girl. When I retired, my superintendent said, ‘Helen, you are the best cutter girl we have had.’ But he didn’t tell me that when I was working!”

She tends 1.8 hilly acres, mostly herself, including the mowing. What’s not filled by flowers is adorned with trees, everything from maple to ash to a smoke tree. “It’s a lot of work in the fall when the leaves come down.”

It’s the flowers that add the bright colors.

“I have a beautiful, salmon-colored azalea,” she said.

“I have begonias, marigolds … I used to put impatiens along the road, over 200 flowers along the road, but I quit that. It’s too much work. I’m getting too old. I’ll be 90 in September.”

Another prize in her backyard is the yellow rose bush. Her mother planted the original more than 100 years ago at Zadunajsky’s childhood home on state Route 87 near state Route 11.

About 12 years ago, “the lady who bought the place gave me a starter from the bush.”

“I just love flowers. I’m called the Rhododendron Lady.”

Rhododendrons are in their full magnificence only about three weeks of the year, she said. This year, it was mid- to late May.

“They are real pretty when they’re out.”

The rest of the year, they are bushes that just grow larger and larger.

Is it worth it to maintain such bushes for such a brief full blooming?

“Yes,” Zadunajsky said. “The beauty is worth it.

“They are beautiful. It’s God beauty. Who can do that but God?”