I might as well say it: I am a failed hydrangea gardener. I have dug and watered and fertilized and believed and after at least 100,000 attempts, I finally, in 2012, threw in the trowel.
I am an obsessive hydrangea lover, that’s what makes it all so sad. And I can’t even tell you why except to say it most certainly is not a sentimental attachment. I grew up in Virginia, after all, with a mother who was committed to that more sophisticated bloomer, the (red only, please) Geranium. So year after year, summer after summer, I earned my ice cream money weeding beds that didn’t hold a single pink or blue blossom.
Then I became a South Carolinian and the colorful world of hydrangea opened up to me. Suddenly there were big mophead blossoms EVERYWHERE, multiplying with great nonchalance against abandoned barns, surrounding grandmothers’ porches, dotting friends’ back yards.
Easiest thing in the world to grow, and the cut flowers look great whether in a Waterford vase or an old mason jar, I heard more than one friend say. And so over the next 20 years, I planted hydrangea bushes in every yard of every house I owned.
Bryars Court: Fail.
Ashley Oaks: Fail.
Bickley’s Pond: Fail. Fail. Fail.
I was surprised how much flowers comforted me when my mother died in February of 2012. We had all gone home to Virginia for her funeral and we gathered to receive friends the first night we were there. I moved around the room in a state of hazed disbelief, first looking at my mother’s casket, then walking past the flower arrangements that lined every wall. They were massive and many, which was probably to be expected as Mom was so loved. Still, somehow it was a surprise to me. The groupings of roses and lilies and orchids shown brilliantly against the backdrop of that sad winter day.
Tucked quietly among them, over in the corner, was a pretty pink hydrangea. Well hi there it seemed to say, and I smiled and leaned down to touch its familiar green foliage. I see you little friend I said. When the services were over, I wrapped my arms around that chunky pot and loaded it in our car bring back to South Carolina.
I worked hard at keeping that plant alive. Finally Spring arrived and Tim and I got it safely in the ground. While I have to say I held out little hope the shrub would actually survive, I chose a shady spot just to the right of the garage doors where I would see it several times a day. All that summer we watched and waited and watered, and by Fall, we had seen no growth and exactly zero blooms.
Winter passed. Then another planting season approached. As we made our plans, I announced to my husband (with great conviction): I am done with hydrangea. It has broken my heart too many times.
He didn’t question it, believe you me.
Just last week, we had a violent summer storm here in Lexington, the kind with whipping winds and oppressive, torrential rain. When it finally passed and Little Bit and I ventured out to the side porch, I saw the surging water had dislodged a bird nest I’d watched all Spring. The birds had built it just above the gutter that lines the roof above our garage—a position that concerned me—and my heart sank to see the nest face-down on our driveway. I leaned down to carefully lift it from the concrete when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of an incredible deep fuchsia.
It was the hydrangea, Mom’s hydrangea, finally in bloom.
I must tell you now it is still a tiny plant and there is no indication other blooms are to come. But how can I not rejoice at this surprising turnaround, this one beautiful, dramatic love display?
Oh, hydrangea. How you have brought me joy. How you have restored my faith. How you have made me believe, once again, you never know what might happen.
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