It’s been an endless summer of blue hydrangeas; I prefer white myself, although I’m not much of a hydrangea fan, I must admit. They’re a bit too ostentatious, conspicuous, fluffy, Victorian, much for me. They don’t have a particularly interesting history, they’re not very practical, and they don’t really belong in colonial gardens. They seem to be much more of a colonial revival plant than a colonial one. I have this silly rule in my head that hydrangeas, even blue hydrangeas, are fine for coastal shingle cottages (probably because I grew up in one) but that clapboard houses in old towns, large and small, must do without or at the very least have white hydrangeas.
Despite my disdain for the blue, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the blue hydrangeas at my parents’ house in York Harbor this summer; the bush below, which appears to be producing two varieties of blooms, is in fact (of course) two conjoined plants. As you can see, the more violet of the two blooms are HUGE.
Impressive, but still blue. Back in Massachusetts, I tried to capture some white hydrangea shrubs/trees that impressed me, many of them apparently quite old. I do like hydrangeas that spill over fences, like the first two photographs below, the first taken in Newburyport, the second in Salem.
I also like the older shrubs that have turned into little trees, as illustrated by photographs of a Concord house along route 2A and Lafayette Street in Salem.
Two century-old photographs for some historical context: the first is a Detroit Publishing Company postcard entitled California Hydrangea, the second, by the pioneering Canadian-American photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals, is a portrait of Kate Douglas Wiggin (author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and other children’s books) on the white hydrangea-bordered steps of her Maine house in the first decade of the twentieth century (Schlesinger Library, Harvard University).
August 21st, 2011 at 6:37 am
The statement that hydrangeas “don’t belong in Colonial gardens” is similar to a debate I have with myself over and over (and over) again when making decisions about restoring a period house. Colonial homes didn’t have kitchens or bathrooms so how can we make good decisions about what those rooms should like now? Unless we’re willing to cook in a fireplace or on a cast iron stove and wash our dishes in a dry sink, concessions must be made unless we’re is creating a museum. In that case, it would be okay to have an hydrangea in a colonial garden…just not a blue one!
August 21st, 2011 at 8:19 am
Steve, you’re so right—these are the things that period house owners have to think about. I strive for a certain ambiance but like modern things too. And you can have any hydrangeas you like: it’s my own silly rule/bias!
August 21st, 2011 at 10:01 am
Love the last two phots! hydrangeas are blue if the soil is acid side of neutral – most of US I suspect. If alkaline side of neutral then the same variety can be pink. Whites best, of course, – much classier!
August 21st, 2011 at 10:20 am
Wasn’t precisely sure of the chemistry, so I’m glad you commented, Julia.
August 21st, 2011 at 10:43 am
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August 25th, 2011 at 11:41 am
I love blue hydrangeas, but then again, I’m not much of a classicist. We don’t have any hydrangeas at all in our yard, blue, white or pink. Last summer my sister chose hydrangea blue and cream for her wedding colors and will forever equate the hellish selection of dresses with the flower. Though I still find them pretty!