Wednesday Vignette – finding true color

So, I spend a few days a week working at Joy Creek Nursery – one of the premier sources of Hydrangeas in this part of the world. I can tell you from first hand experience that they are damn near impossible to tell apart when in a one gallon pot. The potting soil we use for our cuttings is more alkaline than your average Pacific Northwest soil which is solidly acidic. Therefore, all (except the white hydrangeas) present as pink when they bloom. It’s very hard to imagine what they actually will look like after their color stabilizes. Hydrangeas take about three years to find their true color. Once planted, they extract all available aluminum sulfate out of the soil, and over those three, or so, years, you’ll see it emerge a different color each year, before it finally settles down.

Luckily, there is a nice, big garden at Joy Creek, where all the stock plants grow. Ever so often, I walk a disbelieving customer down to “their” hydrangea to show them what they might reasonably expect once their new baby settles in. Over the years, I’ve discovered a few favorites. Of course, I have room for none of them in my home garden, but with the luxury of the Community Garden plot acquired this spring, I finally had space to indulge myself. I had this idea of making the garden primarily blue and yellow, so my choice fell on a lace cap variety called ‘Rotdrossel’. The name means ‘Redwing’ in German, although  in the gardens of Joy Creek, this plant turns the most stunning, electric blue.

Hydrangea 'Rotdrossel' grown in acidic soil.

This photo is from a couple of years ago. Can you even believe this blue??? Electrifying…

Actually, I do believe soils on the European mainland tends toward more alkaline. I bet in Switzerland, where it was first introduced, it sports a rich red. Anyway, I planted my ‘Rotdrossel in the Community Garden in May, and it just put out its first flower. Of course nowhere near the color of the one at Joy Creek, but knowing how they roll, I have hope.

Baby Hydrangea 'Rotdrossel' planted in acidic soil in May, 2020.

After just two months in acidic soil, it sports this vibrant reddish pink. Not really a spontaneous lover of pink, but this is bright enough for me to tolerate. For now.

Patience is of the essence with these things but still – I can’t wait for the day when it will  (hopefully) take on the electrifying hue of the one at Joy Creek! I checked on the Joy Creek specimen today. It hasn’t quite reached its total blue-ness  yet, but is well on its way. The edges of the sepals are currently a bright royal blue, while the centers are a most captivating dark purple. It’s stunning, but the best is yet to come. The blue photo was taken in late July a couple of years ago, when we had the most oppressively hot summer. I wonder if the excessive heat that year had anything to do with the marvelous color…? Or, will it continue changing as the summer progresses? Time will tell.

The moral of this story is that, like chameleons, newly planted Hydrangeas change color with their given circumstances, and it takes us years to see where they will finally land. I promised myself I would try to avoid my usual opinionated, political intimations when writing this post. Apologies ahead of time, but this one is so irresistibly easy. As I was thinking of how to describe the change in this particular hydrangea, it dawned on me what a perfect symbol this flower is for our current political events. Just like our changing demographics, it’s steadily moving toward blue. Just give it time. Once it’s there, the only way to render it red again, is to cheat, by pumping up the alkalinity in the soil.  And, we don’t want to do that, do we?

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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25 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – finding true color

  1. That is a fascinating explanation of hydrangea hues – the blue is indeed electrifying

  2. Pauline says:

    I experienced the colour change here when I planted out 2 hydrangeas that my mother had in pots for years, they had always been pink. I think it took longer then 3 years for the first one to change to a beautiful blue, not as dark as your beautiful one, but still beautiful. Strangely, I planted the other next to it, this must be at least 20 yrs ago now, and it is still pink! Why is that, I wonder?

    • annamadeit says:

      Some of them are pink even here – like Hörnli, Glowing Embers, and others. I’m honestly not sure how their genetic makeup is different in that regard. Which I guess is what makes them so interesting. About your mom’s blue one taking longer to stabilize, I’m guessing the “three years” is probably an average, depending on many factors. More research needed!

  3. Tina says:

    Oof, those colors are magnificent. That blue is swoon-worthy. I remember how much I loved the hydrangeas that I saw when we’d visit Portland and Eugene. I think some try to grow them here, but it’s just too hot and our soils tend more alkaline, so mostly, hydrangeas are sad little characters. But not where you live!! They’re gorgeous!

    Thanks for hosting; here’s my little WV for the day: https://mygardenersays.com/2020/07/08/a-surprise-basket/

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Tina! You’re right – it probably would be too hot and dry where you are. If I would try anyone down there, I’d try an oak leaf variety (H. quercifolia) or maybe a H. aspera..? Not sure either would be happy in that kind of (for them) harsh setting, but they might do better than the more common macrophyllas.

  4. I can unequivocally say I’ve never seen a hydrangea that blue, Anna. It’s red color is dramatic too but I’m tempted to grow it for that wonderful blue color, although in my dry climate with my alkaline soil growing any hydrangea is foolish at best. I appreciate your upbeat conclusion to – fingers crossed! A recent visitor provided my WV: https://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2020/07/wednesday-vignette-that-stare.html

    • annamadeit says:

      Fingers crossed indeed. I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to obsess over what our government is up to, life is just humming along, and I can trust that those we put in power know what they are doing, and have the best interest of their voters in mind. (A girl can dream, right…?) If you try it, it might be more red than blue with your conditions, but you could always tamper with the soil. The water, though, might be tricky. I even worry about that here, given that it’s in my community garden, and I only go there a couple of times per week. We’ll see how it holds up to my semi-neglect.

  5. Hahaha, we would have been disappointed had you not worked a political statement in there somewhere, especially when it was just so obvious!

    My WV: http://www.thedangergarden.com/2020/07/wednesday-vignette-wildlife.html

    • annamadeit says:

      Haha – I just can’t help myself…. I fret about it so damn much! I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point again where we can take our eyes off those grifting clowns and just trust that they will do our bidding…? Maybe that’s part of why I like being in the garden so much – other than the obvious effects on my wellbeing, it offers so many “omens” that make me feel better. LOL!

  6. tonytomeo says:

    They are pretty, but wow, I sort of miss the pastel hydrangeas.

    • annamadeit says:

      Why do you miss them? There are gobs of them around…

      • tonytomeo says:

        ?! I do not know of many that remain. Of course, some of the landscapes that I had worked with were less than a few decades old. There are a few old ones here, but mixed with about half new ones. I see old hydrangeas in San Francisco. I like them there.

        • annamadeit says:

          Tony – check out Joy Creek’s hydrangea assortment. Most are older varieties, and many were brought in from growers in Japan (where my boss grew up.) I think you’ll find some of your favorites! 🙂 https://www.joycreek.com/ref-hy.htm
          And, if you’re on Facebook, check out one of the latest posts on hydrangeas. Lots of good photos there.

          • tonytomeo says:

            That link is not opening for me.
            If old cultivars are less popular, why are they growing them? Or, are they growing old cultivars that are not like the old sorts that I remember?

          • annamadeit says:

            Maybe you can try googling their website directly? Anyway, I don’t know which ones you remember, but most of these are old varieties, and people still seek them out. We ship hydrangeas all over the country/world. The same goes for other plants; Joy Creek’s goal when they opened 30 years ago, was to grow the hard to find, old school perennials. We propagate about 70% of what we sell from our own stock. Old school cool.

          • tonytomeo says:

            It opened now. The first few and others like them are what I remember. I know they are plain and simple, but they are what I remember.

          • annamadeit says:

            Oh, good! So now you know where you can find them if you ever need them. 🙂

          • tonytomeo says:

            Well, yes, but if I want more, I will just grow them from cuttings. I just happen to like the pretty pictures, and imagining that I could grow some of those old cultivars too. (It would not be too far fetched.)

  7. ks says:

    Several years ago I escorted a group of my east coast gardening friends through the PNW , and one of the stops was Joy Creek .They were extremely excited by the Hydrangea forest out in the back 40.

    • annamadeit says:

      Aww, cool! 😀 It’s such an asset to be able to see them all grown up. It certainly helps me when trying to sort them all out. There are so overwhelmingly many…

  8. Jason Kay says:

    Very pretty, but I like plain old white Hydrangeas the best.

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