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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – January 10

Some in my area are tracking the nor’easter that’s headed our way, but since December I’ve been more focused on minimum temperatures. With our woodstove stoked our house is cozy no matter how cold the night gets, but I’m not following the cold because of personal comfort. I’m on Hydrangea Watch.

This shrub is Cape Cod’s favorite plant…our signature shrub I’d say. Residents and visitors alike love the big mop-head flowers, and in general, the bluer the better. Pink or white blooming varieties and lacecaps have their followers too, but in general, the large blue macrophylla types are the favorites.

The problem is, of course, that these varieties form flower buds during the previous summer and these buds get zapped if the temperatures fall to zero or below in the winter. Even the new-and-old-growth bloomers such as Penny Mac, Forever & Ever, and Endless Summer form flowers on new and old stems, so if it gets too cold they’ll have fewer flowers.

Temperatures that fall to zero in the winter mean that from June through September I’ll be taking “Why aren’t my hydrangeas blooming?” calls on GardenLine. My email inboxes will be filled with “What’s up with my hydrangeas?” subject lines, and friends on facebook will be posting such queries on my wall.

Two years ago it got to two degrees below zero on two nights, and many had few or no hydrangea flowers. Big disappointment. Last year it only got down to twelve degrees, and the hydrangeas were spectacular last summer. Much rejoicing.

So far this winter the low has been sixteen degrees fahrenreight. If this holds, the summer of 2011 will be filled with Hydrangea blooms on Cape Cod.

Is there a larger message here, other than a local plant obsession? If so, it is that by fully focusing on the present we not only live more fully with the one thing we truly have, the now, but we can also can learn something useful for the future.

Last year the hydrangeas, including this Forever & Ever Peppermint, were spectacular...and we owed it all not to our skills as gardeners, but to the low of 12 degrees the previous winter.

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