Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Bad Year for Cape Cod Hydrangeas #Gardening

I'm very lucky to live year-round on beautiful Cape Cod, a place to which vacationers flock each summer. When people picture the Cape, the images tend to be coastal and quaint: beaches and lakes, inlets dotted with tidal pools, crimson cranberry bogs, shingled houses with window boxes, and yards filled with colorful hydrangeas.  While some types of hydrangeas can be grown anywhere in Massachusetts, the familiar bright blue ball-shaped blooms only grow in certain areas; they require the climate associated with USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 or 7, which includes the coast, Cape Cod, and the Islands.  These are the bigleaf hydrangeas: Hydrangea macrophylla.  The mophead hydrangeas (the large, lush balls of flowers) and the lacecap hydrangeas (the looser clusters of flat flowers) belong to this group.

Mophead Hydrangea macrophylla

The soil's pH level
determines the flower color
I'm an enthusiastic gardener, although not a great one.  However, Hydrangea macrophylla grow easily on Cape Cod, due to its acidic, sandy soil.  So over the years, we've added almost a dozen to the yard.  The shrubs need minimal care, and we're rewarded with huge spheres of vibrant blue and purple flowers all summer long.  Until this summer.

The Cape is mourning its hydrangeas this year.  One of the reasons Hydrangea macrophylla can flourish here is our warmer winters.  People envision Massachusetts as a cold Northern state, but Cape Cod sticks out into the ocean, surrounded by water in every direction.  The temperature of the ocean water helps keep our air warmer during the winter months.  But this past winter was brutal (see: Good Riddance, February).

The summer blooms come from the "old wood", the stalks that are exposed to the cold and frost all winter long.  Generally in the spring, leaves and buds begin to grow from the old wood, as new growth emerges from the soil to fill out the plant.  But apparently the winter this year here was so cold, the freezing temps actually killed the old wood.  While new growth came in as expected, the buds on the old wood never appeared. 

Love my sis
Here's a picture of me and my sister in 2011, in front of one of our hydrangea bushes.  It was newly planted earlier that year, and still, it produced a lot of flowers.  Below is the picture from this year--already August, and only two lonely blooms.

Two pale blooms on the left shrub, just one on the right

Only one bloom - far left - between these two shrubs
This is hardly a tragedy, but the beauty of nature is one of those things that makes us take a moment to pause and appreciate our surroundings.  And gardening, like writing, is one of those endeavors that requires hope and patience to see a payoff.  So it's hard to watch the gorgeous shrubs fail to flower this year.  But each fall, I usually clip a few of the giant blooms, hang them to dry, set them in small vases, and appreciate them all winter.  I'll just have to dust off the ones from last fall and enjoy them for one more year.

If you need a taste of Cape Cod as the summer winds down, try my ghost story/romance GULL HARBOR.  I set this one near the National Seashore, by one of the Cape's many kettle ponds.  Claire's a medium, in town to rid an old house of its aggressive poltergeist.  She's expecting a challenge as she investigates the haunting--but she never expects to encounter Max Baron, the man who promised to love her forever, then abandoned her without a hint of an explanation after college graduation.  Is Gull Harbor big enough for both of them?

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