The Great Hydrangea Experiment

I long for hydrangea days.

As much as I love living and gardening in South Florida, I can’t help but deeply miss the hydrangeas in my New York garden. I loved photographing them from their first green buds in spring to the fullness of color during their bloom time to the their faded glory in fall to winter’s dried-brown clusters.

They’re also very easy to propagate from cuttings.

I can honestly say that hydrangeas are a big reason I’m thankful I have this blog, so that I have a record of those photos, those plants. They’re also why I decided to put together my book, Seeing Green: Life Learned In The Potting Shed, so that I have a formal scrapbook of writings and photos, many of which are of hydrangeas.

Apparently, though, I’m not the only one with hydrangea envy. Nurseries down here are filled with them in the weeks leading up to Easter and finishing shortly after Mothers’ Day. When I worked in the gardening department of a local box store, I was in heaven when the potted hydrangeas arrived, all of them in full bloom. Shoppers would stock up on them, but they always had a question for me: Do hydrangeas grow in South Florida?

I was as honest as I could be. “I tend to think of them as unicorns,” I’d explain. “Everyone knows someone who’s seen one growing somewhere, but no one has actually ever seen one for themselves. I think the best way to grow them is as an annual, in a shady spot, and hope for the best.”

My feeling was that hydrangeas in South Florida were as likely to grow as mandevilla or croton would be able to survive the first frost up north. In other words, plants marketed to separate gardeners from their money.

The truth, though, was that I really didn’t know — and so, I thought, I should know. Shortly before permanently leaving my box store job in  May 2018, I purchased a potted hydrangea — with one last-remaining and quite pitiful flower cluster — from the clearance rack for $5, and The Great Hydrangea Experiment was born.

Once home, I repotted it into a larger pot with some good soil and removed the dead flower heads. My plan was to keep it well watered and out of the direct Florida sun and wait and watch.

Throughout that summer and fall, leaves burned and curled and fell off. Could filtered Florida sun even be too strong for the plant? Had the grower forced it into bloom and this “death” was merely the hydrangea regrouping and going through its natural cycle?

Still, I carried on — literally — as I carried the pot around the yard, from morning sun locations to afternoon shaded locations. In time, leaf buds appeared and I was rewarded with a fresh flush of green leaves for winter 2018.

As much as I anticipated flower buds, checking each day for them, there weren’t any. Did the plant need some winter cold so it could be properly dormant? I had already done that with hyacinth bulbs by storing them in the refrigerator, but I didn’t think the refrigerator could handle a potted hydrangea. Oh, and I really didn’t think Joe would go for the idea, either.

I was at a crossroads. Was The Great Hydrangea Experiment a failure? Did it prove that although hydrangeas can grow in South Florida, they couldn’t flower, that they truly were the unicorns of subtropical gardens? Should I toss out the plant or should I be content that this leafy hydrangea is just that — a leafy hydrangea?

All of my answers appeared on October 12, 2019 — a year and a half from my initial purchase.

A flower! One very small flower head, but, nevertheless, an actual hydrangea flower head!

My Great Hydrangea Experiment proved a few things. First, although I would have been happy with a leafy hydrangea, there’s nothing like the joy found in a hydrangea flower. I love watching the subtle changes, as the color deepens — and I’m afraid I can’t stop photographing it, just like I did with my NY hydrangeas.

It also proved that hydrangeas could, with lots of care, grow and bloom in South Florida — and I now have the pictures to prove it.

Repost: Nana’s Tree, 1966 – 2013

Today, October 14, 2019, would have been the 120th birthday of Joe’s remarkable grandmother. To many people, she was Marie — but to so many others, she was Nana. To celebrate and honor her, I thought it would be nice to share one of my favorite posts and I hope you enjoy it, too. Today, it’s all about Nana and the tree she planted . . .

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Love In The Time Of Plumeria

I’m not sure when my gardening mind turned to — for want of a better term — composted manure, but I’m pretty positive I know the exact moment I realized it. I was mowing the lawn, daydreaming while I worked, and an idea — one that was already well known to me, you, and everyone else, but seemed like a fresh discovery — popped into my head.

Trees can be grown from seeds.

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Gardening In The Cone Of Anxiety

This isn’t the post I had planned to write. That original post has to wait for another day because of Hurricane Dorian — and before I get into the meat of this post, please, understand that I am in no way making light of the situation in the Bahamas. That is tragic. That is devastating — and I’m not even sure those words are strong enough to fully capture what the people there have experienced and are continuing to face each day.

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Son Of Seed Mustache From Space

A long time ago— May, actually — in a galaxy far, far away— just outside of the front door — an alien-looking seed mustache from space appeared on the tip of a desert rose branch. That was the general gist of an earlier post — but after a couple of months, my sci-fi fantasy that is South Florida gardening has become, “Captain, the pod doors have opened.”

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Bloomin’ Update 62: The Glorious Gloriosa Lily

I’ve become a little bit obsessed with the Gloriosa Lily ever since I spotted it casually rambling over my friend Neil’s shrubs. The vining plant was so intertwined with the neighboring plants that it looked as if its exotic flowers were part of the shrubs. On top of that, the flowers last a very long time when cut and placed in a vase. Even the cut buds eventually open!

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