Tuesday, January 2, 2007

An Ode to the humble Hydrangea.

The Hydrangea, like the Agapanthus is a much maligned plant of yesteryear. 
Like the Agapanthus, the Hydrangea is making a comeback today due to new varieties and colours. 

Though much maligned the Humble Hydrangea has many outstanding qualities that recommend it to many gardens, particularly large ones. Some of the newer varieties are dwarfs and suited to pots or small gardens but the original varieties are larger plants and like a bit of room.

The plants themselves can grow in many difficult conditions that many other plants can’t, making them suitable for lazy gardeners and difficult gardens.

While they do not spread or reproduce like the Agapanthus, they are long living. The hydrangea, unlike the agapanthuses is not as prolific in spreading. The hydrangea reproduces itself by suckers from the original plant on the outside and as the inside ones die the outside ones replace it in an ever perpetuating motion so that although the plant is always reproducing itself it never spreads from its original spot by that method.

The only way the Hydrangea can spread in the wild so to speak, is if an animal or something breaks of a piece at the right time of the year which then falls to the ground wherever it lands or is dropped and takes root and grows.

Today the Hydrangea plant is mass produced by cuttings at the right time of year. Done right it is easy to do. I have done it. Unfortunately when I did it, I put about 20 cuttings in a row in the ground in the vegetable garden of my parents home, but somehow never got around to moving most of them and the majority are still there flowering year after year some 35 years later. In truth there are still some of the original plants at my parents home that were there before I was thought of.

During our time in South Africa we even came across a couple of Hydrangea plants at a former Mission Station that is now used as a Medical Clinic and where the garden has been open to cows, sheep, goats and horses for some 25 years. Yet these two plants still struggle on, through good times and bad. And believe me, they are mostly bad!

It is the Hydrangeas ability to cope with dry conditions that has endeared it to many in the past. In my mother’s garden of my youth, water was scarce and not wasted on plants. Only very special plants got any water during the long hot summer months and even then it was only the bath water that they got. But as stated above the Humble Hydrangea survived many, many long hot summers. It has the amazing ability to draw the moisture out of the atmosphere when it can’t get it through the roots.

Many a time I have seen the plant shrivelled up like it was dieing during the day, only to draw moisture over night, and to be thriving again the next morning.

The Hydrangea comes in many shades of blue and pinks and even white ones. The hydrangea also grows almost anywhere but prefers a semi shady position with morning sun. When grown in full sun it suffers a little from sun-burn in hot conditions and this look sometimes turns people against them. Another problem that some people have with hydrangeas is that they buy one colour and plant it in the garden and the next flowering season it is another colour.

This is not the plants fault but the fault of the soil in your garden. If you want Blue Hydrangeas, you must make sure there is plenty of Iron in the soil. You can do this with various fertilizers or even Special Blueing Hydrangea mixes. If you want pinks, then you need to avoid acidic soils and add lots and lots of Lime & or special Pinking agent.

The more iron in the soil the bluer the flowers will be. The more Lime in the soil the pinker the Flowers. That is why if you want blue flowers you plant Hydrangeas where other acidic soil loving plants, like Azaleas, camellias and Rhododendrons thrive. You most definitely do not plant them next to brick houses or cement paths or any other place where lime is/was present.

Also unlike the Agapanthus which maintains a standard shape year after year and flowers abundantly whether looked after or not, the hydrangea needs a little selective pruning each year, especially after flowering.

Basic pruning, shaping and removal of dead wood from the plant can (and should) be done in the dormant stage of the growth cycle in winter. However immediately the flowers start dieing and looking yucky, they should be pruned off back, not to the next bud but to the second next bud, which is the next year’s flower head in embryo.

That’s enough about the humble hydrangea, what about you and me? Can we not only hang on but survive and even thrive in difficult conditions, which often seem to be most of the time, doesn’t it?

Are we reproducing new plants (Christians) either from within the family or as cuttings (converts) spreading elsewhere?

Or are we in need of pruning, even if it may mean letting go of a part of us that has been a part of us for a long, often too long, a time. Do we need a change of nutrients, so that our colour and shape will change and become more attractive, or are we afraid of change and rather than let people see the different shades and colours that we can become hide, behind our standard blueness.

If so what are you going to do about it? Are you in need of a change of colour or even a change of location?

Or are you just surviving and desperately in need of a change of environment or even simpler, just a good dose of decent fertilizer?

In other words are you happy with your present situation; or are you going to seek a change, whether minor or major?

If so what are you going to do about it?

Is this truly going to be a NEW year for you, or what? Walter

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