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Provincetown :: Sunday, April 23rd 2017

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Summer on Cape Cod

@home, Provincetown

August 1st, 2011

Summer is a special time of the year, and summer on Cape Cod is an especially lovely time of year. Painted Adirondack chairs, the squeak and slam of a wooden screen door, the hissing of summer lawns and of course the wedge woody blue of a bushy hydrangea conjure all sorts of sunny memories during the darker times of year and life. Gardens here in Provincetown run the gamut from lushly overcrowded to sparse and artistically designed. An abundance of plants both indigenous and imported seem to be as much a part of the landscape of one’s memory as are the rolling sand dunes and the drag queens on Commercial Street.

The hues of blues are as varied as the gardens in which they dwell. When hit by the amazing light that enhances this lovely spot we call home, they glow!

One plant in particular always seems to be on the lips of those new to Provincetown and Cape Cod . . . the hydrangea. While the tempestuous tulip, the roguish rose and bountiful beach grass may have become almost native, the homey hydrangea has a spot in the garden all its own. Styles change and plantings follow the tastes of the day. This flowering shrub has attained an almost iconic status here in New England. As much a part of the herbaceous border as it has become, it is far from native and far from its original home.

In the 1700s the first plants were brought to England from Asia, and given a name literally meaning water barrel, which refers to the shape of the flower as it bursts open and also to the amount of water that is needed to keep the flowers hydrated. Originally a woodland plant (which is probably the reason they tend to faint when planted in full sun), this amazing plant has withstood changes in climate and fashion for a long time on these sandy shores. They come in over 700 varieties ranging from climbing vines and trees to shrubs and potted plants. The Shrubby “Big Leaf” or “Mop heads” or delicate “Lace Cap” are the types found in most gardens on the cape.

The hues of blues are as varied as the gardens in which they dwell. When hit by the amazing light that enhances this lovely spot we call home, they glow! This bluing is often achieved through altering the soil’s aluminum sulfate content (I remember my mother pushing old rusty nails into the ground surrounding the plants to enrich the hues, and what blues they made). Pink hydrangeas can turn blue but alas the reverse is never possible, and the white ones will always be white. They are one of the best cut flowers going; when used in arrangements, if they are prepared properly (which means smashing the stems to a pulp-like state and placing in plenty of water and adding more water each day), they can last up to two weeks.

Brides love them because they withstand the day’s events often in better shape than them. When the flowers are dried, they can also be used throughout the fall and winter as lovely displays in your home. Drying them is an easy thing to do. Tie them in small bunches (that’s what the ball of rubber bands in my kitchen drawer is for), snip the stalks to about 6 or so inches and hang them upside down in a semi-dry place. They will become a golden brown that is simply delightful, and when the holidays are upon us, a quick spray of gold paint makes them look divine. I often wonder at the depth of allure this simple flower has, which has given it such an iconic place in our garden and our heart. But, often the simplest of things are what make us feel @home, in Provincetown.


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