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.

Bloomin’ Update 49: Color My World Brown


Lacecap Hydrangea.

Lacecap Hydrangea.

“You spend an awful lot of time agonizing over leaves,” Joe, my partner, said to me the other day as we drove around the neighborhood.  His statement was in response to my noticing that some homeowners had bagged their leaves in plastic bags while others had bagged them in recyclable brown paper bags, which the township now requires.

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Bloomin’ Update 47: Last Call


Every garden should have hydrangeas for no-matter-the-season interest.

Every garden should have hydrangeas for no-matter-the-season interest.

I admit I have a hard time letting go of summer.

Even with leaves changing and falling and blooms fading and browning, I’m still reluctant to clean the beds and put them to rest.  Even the weather is having a difficult time falling into a seasonal rhythm.  There are days that are windy and evenings that are slightly frosty, and then there are the times when it feels mild and balmy.

So, with camera in hand, it’s last call in the garden, one last chance for flowers to bask in the spotlight before a hard frost takes them away.

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Scenes From A Sunday Afternoon


Grackles

It’s been a week since a flock of grackles descended in the trees around my home and unleashed a hailstorm of acorns.  I have since learned that acorns are one of the species’ culinary favorites, especially as the iridescent birds begin their migration south.

That being said, they aren’t very neat or efficient eaters.  In fact, I don’t think the ’80s band A Flock of Seagulls could have caused this much of a mess in their hotel room, not even during the height of their popularity.

Seven days since their arrival — that’s seven days filled with more grackles, squirrels, and wind — the driveway and path looked as if they were the end-result of some slapstick comedy routine — you know, the one where an innocent passerby (me, for example) slips on some casually placed marbles (or acorns, as the case may be), so that the prankster (or grackle) can have a few laughs.

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Summertime Sadness & Wonder


The hydrangea blooms are fading away.

Hydrangea blooms fading away.

I stepped outside this morning and I could see my breath.  Clearly, summer left the building — or at the very least, it left the garden.  Almost immediately, I began singing Lana Del Rey’s smash, “Summertime Sadness” — or, rather, just the chorus: “I’ve got that summertime, summertime sadness, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

I’ve actually been a little melancholy over the past few days.  Maybe it was the 9/11 anniversary.  Maybe it’s the start of another school year.  And maybe it does have to do with the change in weather.  While the cooler weather signals the time to clean and store terra cotta pots, elephant ears, and canna — as well as myself — for the winter months, there is something else on my mind.

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Bloomin’ Update 43: Zinnias With Zing!


Zinnia

The Great Heat of 2013 has come and gone, and there is joy and gladness throughout the land — and when I say land, I mean my garden.  In fact, I think I can actually hear a collective sigh of relief coming from the plants (and maybe some of you) as more reasonable, seasonable summer temps return.

And when I look around the garden, it’s clear that some plants are still sporting nasty sunburns. Some of the hydrangea heads, for example, are tipped with brown.

Hydrangea

But it’s the zinnias that garner all of my praise.  I planted various kinds of zinnias this year — more than usual — because I knew that I would be unable to start my usual annuals from seed in the potting shed.  I needed an easy seed — one that could be directly sown — and zinnias were the obvious choice.

And I’m so glad I did.  As the temperatures rose, they stood tall and proud, empty of fear and full of color.  I like to think they were the cheerleaders of the garden, encouraging the other plants to hold on.  I’ll let their photos do the talking.

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Which plants in your garden would you cheer for?

Bloomin’ Update 42: The Green Smile


Hydrangea.

Hydrangea.

Green is the color of comfort, at least it is for me.  It’s the color — whether it’s during a mid-winter trip to Florida or those early days of spring or those boiling days of summer — that holds me and comforts me, cradles me and soothes me.  It’s as if green pulls me close and says, “I’m here.  I’ve returned.  I didn’t abandon you.  Just breathe. . .”

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