Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Rambling Tale of Hydrangeas

Margot brought me the first hydrangea as a hostess gift; that was maybe ten years ago.  She didn't know that my nose twisted at the thought of such a fusty flower. Hydrangeas, blue ones, along with rose of sharon (which I disliked even more) were stalwarts of the garden that surrounded the house that David bought when we threw in the marital towel. (I since wed The Prince, with whom I have continued to live in harmonious discord for nearly three decades).

That house was quite the argument for staging. It had been on the market for many months without an offer, despite an excellent location in upper Northwest Washington, a pleasing front porch, large sunny rooms and an increasingly modest price tag--so victimized was it by its owner's deranged sense of style.

From the foyer you could see the kitchen straight ahead, the living room to the left, and glimpse the dining room beyond that. Each room was festooned in a violent clash of wallpaper and foul and greasy-looking synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting.  The most outstanding architectural elements were the radiators and exposed pipes running to the ceilings of each room.

So the hallway, with its red flocked wallpaper and matching carpet led into the living room with its blue and yellow floral paper and blue carpet, which opened to the gold carpeted dining room with another flocked pattern paper, this one in gold.

Most exquisitely tortured was that dining room, which was not used for dining, but was apparently considered the den. Center stage was a Tiffanyesque fixture dangling from a gold chain that hovered over a bulbous recliner upholstered in red and black plaid Herculon -- one of those dreadfully ugly miracle fibers of the 1960s that repelled mustard and beer stains--which was artfully arranged for viewing both the fake fireplace with its red brick--real brick, weighed a ton-- mantel and a television with a smallish screen encased in a gigantic wood chest.

All of the cabinets in the kitchen were harvest gold metal that made tinny shudders when opened. The wallpaper was of tea kettles and kittens.

Suffice it to say that the bedrooms upstairs were similarly styled.

Groups of opinionated friends traipsed through the place with David, who was understandably terrified.  It took a strong constitution to keep from running rabidly into the streets -- and a highly creative eye to envision some eventual state of calm, never-mind charm or dare we say elegance?

This I have, I say with modestly lowered lashes, as does his sister Ellie. And my thoughts, despite our dissolved state, were important because we'd spent seven years waffling along together, and had a stray notion that we might at some point resume, in which case it would be nice if I found the place tolerable. (I also had to approve of his new mattress, as the old one went with me and Bagel, our beagle).

Rose of Sharon above Margot's Hydrangea
But getting back to the point of this story, bordering the front porch were hydrangeas. Huge bushes heavy with mops of bluish flowers, the precise shade that little old ladies dye their white hair for some reason I have never understood.  This set up a dusty, Miss Havisham expectation before the threshold was crossed.

There were more hydrangeas in the backyard, along with a particularly ugly rose of sharon, whose color I have blocked, which would prove impossible to kill no matter how many times he hacked it to the ground.  The backyard also had a trellis of iron tubing over a cement walk that led to the garage -- but in a yang to its ying, was draped in truly gorgeous red roses that nearly obscured the humble yet ugly support for most of the summer.

And so, when Margot presented me with the blue hydrangea, I cringed. I suppose I could have put it out by the curb as a foundling and told her the thing died, but I was guilt addled and not only did I plant it in my tiny garden, I gave it a prominent position at the beginning of the river rock path that meanders through it.

And it didn't do anything for years, which I considered a good thing, if dull.

Then Phyllis brought me another hydrangea, this one white shading to pale pink -- what is it with hydrangeas as house gifts?  And I dutifully stuck it across from Margot's.  And it too proceeded to do nothing most boringly for years and years.

And then one spring, they both decided to bloom. And lo! I loved them.

This change in taste is more than a little unsettling, as it reminds me of how my father, a designer, devolved with age from a man of sleek and subtle taste -- shades of brown and cream, in leather and raw silk, dominated my childhood home -- to a man altogether Frenchified in too much powder blue, velvet animal prints, and gilded this and that. (He also began dousing everything my mother made with cognac, which he would fail to light quickly enough, thereby transforming the --say--stuffed breast of veal she'd labored over all afternoon into an inedible alcoholic slosh. But that's another story.) 

Am I too going through some gaudy getting on to late in life change?  One could say that other than my color poison being green, not blue, I too have come to be gradually smothered in gilding and animal prints. It is a little like Paris, oui?  Well I think so.  Is this a bad thing?

Hydrangea and Mock Orange Leaves
Oh, the hydrangeas -- how wonderfully French! Beyond the garden, they're lovely in the living room, dripping out of a vase behind the sofa, spilling from a bowl on the dining table, poking single-stemmed from a beaker of the kitchen sill.

Meanwhile, the rose of sharon, a cold tolerant plant that's related to the hibiscus and has nothing whatever to do with Paris,  has also grown on me. Baby and The Prince bought me one for Mother's Day many years ago, and (remembering David's) I gagged,  but I crossed my eyes and held my breath (I never said I was mature) and planted it near the back porch railing where it has grown to 20 or so feet. White with a red stripe, it's rather gay I now think., particularly as it tangles with an irritatingly scentless mock orange and the deep red petals of a Don Juan climbing rose (which this year has clambered nearly three stories to the railing outside the aviary/greenhouse).

It also puts out side shoots that jump up from the ground around it and do nothing if you let them be. However, I pulled one as an experiment and planted it in a main flower bed where it grows splendidly, tossing off clouds of purple flowers--beginning right now.

While I do not understand this color metamorphosis (it has something to do with the red and white one being a hybrid and this purple a reversion to its root stock, or some such)  I'm happy with it -- the purple enhances the tropical jungle feel I'm always attempting to achieve.

And the plant blooms all summer, which just about nothing else does.


  1. Laughed out loud AGAIN. Still wondering if The Prince knows he is called that.

  2. The Prince, who never reads this blog, because I would have to show it to him, because he refuses to use the computer, is charmingly mystified and grows a little puffed up when people call him that.

  3. I was going to say I take no credit for this rose of sharon business, because I don't remember ever picking out such a thing. But now that you like it, IT WAS ALL ME YUH HUH, YEP.

    Otherly, I liked this post very much.

    ALSO, in regard to your worries about your devolving taste, I will point to one single item in our house, but will only identify it thusly: it has man feet.


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