Monday, May 14, 2012

The Hydrangea

Sunday was the epitome of perfection for Mother‘s Day with gentle breezes and mild temperatures. Friday and Saturday’s downpours were an added bonus; the rains and cloud cover this spring are truly a blessing! Someone noted the peonies usually provide a bouquet on Mother’s Day, however this year they bloomed weeks ago and the Hydrangea show is early as well. A staple in your grandmother’s garden, the hydrangea planted then may still exist as they have a celebrated long life. Hydrangeas are a most unusual species in that the color of the flowers may be dramatically changed by altering the acidity of the soil in early spring before they bloom. For blue blooms, add aluminum sulphate to the soil while for vivid pink blooms add lime. They prefer the coolness of shade which is why they appear to thrive on the north side of a home… and they like their feet damp. They are native to North and South America, and Japan, with the Japanese taking credit for their arrival in China. So popular is this species in Japan that it has a cult following that lauds the mystery of the flower color change with ‘nanahenge’, which means seven transformations. This feature has given the flower symbolic meaning and is said to represent a fickle and changing heart. It is because of this characteristic the hydrangea was shunned by the warrior class in the feudal period as changing colors represented shifting loyalties. Many Japanese make pilgrimages to temples where the shrub is still tenderly cultivated today. Historically in the Americas the root of this marvelous shrub has been used as a mild diuretic and to prevent and remove gallbladder and kidney stones. It is reputed to relieve rheumatism, backache, paralysis, and scurvy. The Cherokee Indians used it for urinary retention and bronchitis. The scraped bark was pounded and applied to wounds, burns, sore muscles, and chewed for stomach problems and heart trouble. And not only does the hydrangea bloom faithfully from May until frost, the flowers may be dried to create a bouquet for winter cheer. Pick when the blooms begin to fade naturally as the moisture will have begun to recede by then. Fussing is unnecessary; simply arrange in a vase and watch as they dry to interesting shades of blue with the pinks becoming a dusty burgundy. *Flowers appear on the woody growth from the previous year so do not cut back after flowering!