Saturday, January 09, 2010

Just Hydrangeas

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Almost 4 PM here on the mountain with only tree silhouettes prominent against the edge of Hooker Mountain. Snow coated trees in the bright sunshine will only last for another twenty minutes but the glory of today's sun was pleasing despite a high of 8 degrees and a slow, constant, coat penetrating wind.

I had a shopping list ready by 6 this morning but one thing after another rearranged the day. By 1 o'clock I was heading for the truck and it crossed my mind that I hadn't checked the back roof for a couple weeks. That ideal memory of the inch of pouring rain that fell that memorable day erased the need to check the roof for snow build up.....but one look around the corner today ruined some good plans. The snow had collected to more than two feet in the roof valley and it needed some attention. An hour later I was wet and tired and a trip any place was forgotten.

Last winter I ordered some hydrangeas to see how they would perform in the heavy clay soil at the nursery. Gail had grown 4 varieties here at the house and although I never learned the names, I liked them as I have since being a kid growing up in Woodstock. Most farmers had two or three varieties and our old house came with a giant that rose to eight feet by perhaps 6 feet in diameter. The flowers were tennis ball sized and everyone liked it best when the flowers started.

My preference leans towards those that are green centered with open flowers around the outer edges. They remind me of the wild viburnum flowers I find in late April in the swamp towards the back of Peacham Pond close to the old Civilian Conservation Corps cabin. The unopened flowers in the center are most attractive and together they combine nicely with other garden flowers.

As the buds mature, the bloom size relates to the variety. As they ripen to pink and rose and begin to dry, they always remind me of plants from centuries past. Each fall Gail picks quantities of the dusty colored whites and hangs them upside down to dry. She waits until after Thanksgiving and then combines them with armfuls of cut fir balsams and stems of winterberries in old sap buckets along the walkway and on the steps leading to the house. The shrubs have such good production that Gail's snippings don't ever seem to be missed.

My plan is to add lots of different hydrangeas to the perimeter border at the nursery. The height and texture differences will allow Gail to interplant them with lots of perennials. Then we will have a nice display, a reason for visitors to walk over to the river bank and look down the Winooski, and a chance to see various other plant products that make nice bouquets.

Here at the house Gail mixed some with a number of Judith Freeman/The Lily Garden hybrid lilies. Many of these grew to 6-7-8 foot tall Orienpets,.... so tall they had to be tied to the nearby James Macfarlane lilacs and the hydrangeas themselves. Almost everyone who sees the combination stops for closer examination and to comment or ask questions. It really is quite a nice combination!
As with any new plant, there's lots to learn but we are set up learning them. I just bought Gail a copy of Michael A Dirr's Hydrangeas for American Gardens and I can already see I have my work cut out for me. Gail can look at a name and a flower and absorb it in an instant but for me this requires serious application and future recall require the engines to work harder.

As example of my shortcomings, I don't have a name committed to memory for any of these pictures. I am trying very hard to memorize those I just ordered and I know that with Dirr's book, I'll be on my way.
If you are interested in hydrangeas, stop by and see us this summer. Although I purchased 12"-18" liners, they will do well in the clay soil and I expect good sized plants by late summer. I bought Chanzam Chantilly, Compacta, Grandiflora, Kyushu, Paszam, Pink Diamond, Tardiva and White Moth. Mr Dirr produced a CD that includes pictures of 900 hydrangeas. I intend to purchase the CD to help in my learning and in our marketing endeavors but I never intend to get to more than a couple dozen different hydrangeas. That will be plenty for the gardens and customers in and about Vermont Flower Farm! My opinion!

Writing from the mountain where a light wind has already pushed the temperature down to zero and the animals of the woods are probably bunking into the snow--their version of thermal blankets-- for the night. I'm feeling like I spent too long on a ladder but dinner smells good and the woodstove is set.

Warm winter greetings,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm


Jeff Branch said...

Beautiful photos. I got Dirr's book last Christmas. It is fairly technical, but I like it.

George Africa said...

Hi Jeff;

I'm finding there are more and more hydrangea resources out there. Also a number of growers around the country. There is a great deal to learn but I am pleased how many do well here in Vermont.