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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hydrangeas and Short Stories by Margaret S. Hamilton

What do hydrangeas and short stories have in common? I’m writing two stories this month, while I wait for my five hydrangea bushes to bloom. Will the plot, setting, and memorable characters of my stories lead to satisfying endings? Will the hydrangeas amaze and delight me when they bloom? 

I have three “Endless Summer” macrophylla, or mophead, hydrangeas planted in my garden that first produce vivid blue floral balls. In Cincinnati’s alkaline yellow clay soil, the distinctive periwinkle blue blooms fade to muted shades of pink and mauve, lasting well into fall. I plan to spike the soil with aluminum sulfate this year, curious if the blooms will retain their original blue color. Or should I not alter nature’s course, and be content with blooms of different colors? It’s exasperating, like writing a trick ending with a hitherto unsuspected killer.
 “Big Daddy” and “Lemon Daddy,” are two macrophylla hydrangeas that only bloom one year in three, their huge pink balloon-sized blossoms contrasting with vivid yellow-green foliage. I named a memorable short story character “Big Daddy”; he, too, was unpredictable and problematic, but deliciously diabolical.

I fell in love with blue hydrangeas during childhood visits to Cape Cod, their bright sapphire balls of tiny flowers contrasting with orange haploid daylilies against the gray-shingled houses, thriving in the salt air and acid soil. When we moved in Cincinnati, I mapped the sun patterns in the yard, seeking a suitable location for hydrangeas with morning sun and afternoon shade. The “Endless Summer” variety, introduced in 2004, was deemed hardy enough to survive harsh Midwestern winters and hot, humid, summers. I learned that hydrangea flowers and leaves can make a dog sick, if ingested. My standard poodles are more interested in snacking on coneflowers, basil, and tarragon.

The stories are progressing, with settings, characters, and inciting incidents determined. As I write, I discover motive and outcome. While in research mode for a historical story, I learned that Joseph Banks brought the first hydrangeas from China to England in 1790. Hydrangeas were introduced to the United States during the 1820’s. In the past ten years, a huge number of re-blooming varieties have become available--whites, pinks, and purples--in addition to the traditional blue.

My hydrangeas, carefully mulched with pine straw, survived the winter, with buds on both last year’s wood and this year’s, their leaves unfurling in the spring sunshine. I see evidence of blooms on the “Endless Summer” varieties, tiny pinpoints of light green, but alas, nothing on “Big Daddy” and his cousin “Lemon Daddy.”

Will my stories be successful, or doomed to live perpetually in a state of submission, or lie forgotten in a drawer?

As summer approaches, are you anxiously waiting to see what blooms in your garden?

Margaret S. Hamilton has published short stories in Kings River Life and the Darkhouse Destination: Mystery! anthology. When she isn’t tending her garden or walking her two standard poodles, she writes cozy stories and traditional amateur sleuth mysteries.


KM Rockwood said...

Right now, the peonies are in bloom (I hope it doesn't rain too hard and knock off all the petals!) and I'm waiting for the daylilies. Some years their blossoms are abundant and beautiful. Other years, the deer munch on the buds and I get vigorous plants with sturdy, but flowerless, stalks.

The daffodils and narcissus (narcissi?) were wonderful this year. We got a burdt of warm weather that coaxed them into a condensed flowering season, then it turned much cooler and the flowers lasted a long time.

Warren Bull said...

I moved from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon. The spring here lasted for months and the flowers were gorgeous.

carla said...

I love Hydrangeas too-- and they are in riotous color in SC right now!

Jim Jackson said...

Beautiful pictures. You are so right, Margaret that gardening and authoring are acts of faith. The seed can be perfect, but the soil may not be favorable. Bad weather can wreak plans. Etc.

Good luck on your stories and your hydrangeas.

Shari Randall said...

What gorgeous photos, Margaret! I hope all your plants - and stories - bloom.
We moved last year and it's been such fun to see what pops up around the yard. I've been blessed and cursed by the decisions of past gardeners. Spectacular, mature lilacs and wonderful lily of the valley coexist with unfortunately vigorous ivy that's eating the porch! Can't wait to see what the next few weeks bring.

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret, I love hydrangeas, too. My blue ones don't always bloom, but I have the larger hardy ones that bloom in early fall along the north side of my house. They have huge white clusters that start to turn a light pink. I use them in flower arrangements and let them dry out so they make nice dried arrangements with other dried plants. I have other hydrangeas, too, but can't think of their names now. Right now my roses and peonies are starting to bloom and some of my irises are still blooming, but most are done except for the Japanese Iris which are vividly blooming in a blue almost purple color.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Kathleen, I adore my daylilies, though our resident rabbit is devouring them. I located her nest but I'm leaving it alone. I have so many colors and varieties, some reblooming.

Warren, coastal climates with misty rain and filtered sunlight produce the most beautiful gardens. Enjoy.

Carla, mine will probably bloom in 2-3 weeks. I'm anxious to see if the blossoms stay blue.

Jim, writing is an adventure, as is gardening. No two stories are the same, and no two gardening seasons are. It's the thrill and frustration of the unexpected.

Shari, this will be your year for mapping the sun and finding out what perennials and blooming shrubs are in your garden. When we moved to Cincinnati, I left an odd bundle of hollow sticks in place in the bog garden under a river birch. One morning, I discovered a dinner-plate sized hibiscus flower! Each precious bloom lasts a day, then crumples like sodden tissue paper.

Gloria, I found oak leaf hydrangeas in the yard when we moved here. They are sturdy and reliable bloomers and do well in the Cincinnati climate.

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret, I have an oak leaf hydrangea, too, and hundreds of daylilies, and I'm not exaggerating. I got most of them from Gilbert H. Wild & Son. They have such an assortment and often have sales. Also, when they get large, I divide them giving me even more. The rabbits don't seem to bother my daylilies, but they do chew on my rosebushes in the winter.
Gilbert H. Wild & son sell other flowers, too, like peonies, Asiatic and Oriental lilies to name just a few of their large assortment.

KM Rockwood said...

Margaret, if you are in an area where you are sure children will not get hold of them & think they are candy, you can try spreading some moth balls around your daylilies.

They don't work against deer, but they do seem to work against ground critters.


Kait said...

What glorious photos! I planted plumbago (not to be confused with lumbago) in South Florida so I too would have blue blooms. Hydrangea do not do well here and they, like forsythia, lilacs, and peonies, three other plants that don't do well locally, were part of my childhood fantasy garden.

Writing and gardening have many similarities. It's a comforting thought!