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Home improvements are expensive, and our new porch will carry a lofty price tag. The cost? Three large azaleas, a rose bush and a bed of irises. Plus some money.

The porch will go where the plants now grow. Next month, when construction starts, that garden will be gone. Move it or lose it, the blueprints say. The cement truck is coming. Where do I move the plants? How do I move the plants?

I'm getting a migraine to go with the porch. Progress sure plays havoc with gardeners.

I'm not alone. In a depressed economy, growing families are more apt to consider enlarging a home than to post a "For Sale" sign on the front lawn. A new room costs less than a new house. But that porch or playroom is a threat to the established shrubs and trees that stand in its way.

Some of these foundation plants may be as old as the house itself. Often, they are too large to transplant. So homeowners wind up destroying them.

I try not to think about that.

Not all of my plants are at risk. Irises are easy to transplant. In fact, my irises would welcome a change of scenery. They are overcrowded and unhappy; this year's plants produced few blooms. Irises reproduce like rabbits and should be divided every few years.

The rose bush would certainly enjoy new surroundings. We planted roses in an effort to camouflage the heating oil cap that protrudes from the side of the house. But the oil deliveryman manages to step on the rose bush when he comes to fill the tank. Yes, relocation will please the roses.

The azaleas are another matter. They are robust shrubs with vivid green foliage and huge red and white flowers in spring. The blossoms aren't pretty, they're drop-dead gorgeous.

The azaleas are 25 years old. They won't live to see 26. Too big to move, the shrubs are marked for death.

I try not to think about that.

See, I get terribly attached to plants, even tiny ones. Each spring, I feel guilty discarding the leftover tomato seedlings for which there is no room in the garden. I can't even stand to trash sick plants. They must be totally brown before I'll throw them out, lest I feel bad about it.

If I get that upset about dying plants and 3-inch seedlings, imagine my remorse at leveling a row of healthy 5-foot shrubs.

Besides, these azaleas are family. They're in all our Easter snapshots. For years, we've marked special occasions by gathering in front of the azaleas for photographs. The pictures mark the growth of plants as well as family.

Also, these shrubs have -- don't laugh -- personality. Azaleas bloom in spring, but mine always muster a few more flowers each fall. I can't explain this. Last year, one azalea branch blossomed at Christmas. Where will I find replacements with such character?

I try not to think about that.

Briefly, I considered saving the azaleas, until I learned it would take a backhoe to do it. The rule for transplanting established shrubs and trees is to dig a rootball 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep for every inch of the trunk's girth. My azaleas measure 5 inches at the base.

By my calculations, the rootball for each of these plants must weigh at least 800 pounds. Dirt is heavy, and my back is weak.

I could hire a nurseryman to move the azaleas, but then I couldn't afford to build the porch.

Time is running out for my beloved bushes. Virility is their only sin: They have flourished beyond our wildest dreams. They have grown too fast for their own good. Less robust plants could perhaps be moved.

Meanwhile, far from the porch site sit three small, sickly looking azaleas that are struggling to survive. These plants are practically asking for the ax.

The irony is almost too much to bear.

I'll hate to scuttle the healthy shrubs. I'm not sure I'm strong enough to handle it. I'm not talking about muscles, either.

I'd almost rather move.

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