Every summer at this time we all hear it at least once, “What Makes Nantucket Hydrangeas so blue?” We have pink and white colors but it’s the blue that knocks the socks off everyone. They ooh and aah and take lots of pictures. There are many theories, from the experts and the amateur gardeners. But when I contacted Graig Beni, owner and operator of Surfing Hydrangeas Nursery on Somerset Road, he said the color is affected by the relative acidity of the soil. Agents such as aluminum or iron will usually produce a bright blue color so we can assume that Nantucket soil gets all the credit. If you add aluminum to the soil they can go from pink to blue. An alkaline soil will produce flowers more pink.
Last year my hydrangea bushes that border the back deck did not blossom. I chalked it up to maybe too much pruning in the fall. But then this year, I’ve got a bonanza of blossoms. It can’t be the result of our horrible winter. But I’m grateful for whatever reason, especially since the hudrangea bushes are not only very old but have been transplanted several times while doing work on my house. So I’m not exactly the expert to advse anyone how to get the best and bluest hydrangeas but I do know how to ask the experts which I did for my book, Nantucket Cottages & Gardens. No cottage garden is complete without a hydrangea bush.
If you want to cultivate hydrangeas you can do better than taking the advice from the American Hydrangea Society. Yes, there really is such an organization and they are the last word in all things hydrangea. Here’s what they have to say about rooting cuttings from hydrangeas included in my book. I like these directions because they’re simple and easy to follow.
- Cut a branch from a hydrangea bush (not on private property in Nantucket! That would not be cool) about 5 inches long. For best results cut from a bush that did not flower this year.
- Remove lower leaves. Cut the largest leaves down to half their size.
- Insert the cutting into damp vermiculite, sand or other clean material. I’m not sure what vermiculite is but I am sure they have it at most garden centers.
- Water well and alow to drain. Keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. Cover the cutting and pot with plastic and, if possible keep the plastic away from the leaves, perhaps with sticks. They should “take” in 3-6 weeks.
- Cuttings don’t do well in winter so start now for the last chance of survival.
- Hydrangeas do best if they are fertilized once or twice in the summer. A fast release fertilizer like 10-10-10 works just fine. Don’t fertilize after August.j
As I walked around town taking a few snapshots of different hydrangea bushes it was suddenly apparent that the roses were just as lush and beautiful. This town, right now, is looking like pages out of a fairytale book. Yes, it’s crowded. No you should absolutely not take a car into town. But walking around is so much fun right now. Everything is in bloom.
I stopped by the new William Welch Gallery on Easy Street where Bill has an archway laden with roses that leads to a little patio outside of the gallery. This is a pared down space from the one he used to have across the street several years ago before moving to ‘Sconset. Now he’s back in a jewel box of a space and open for the season. I can’t wait for openings on the little patio down by the entrance to Old North Wharf . And by the way, the hydrangeas growing in front of those cottages are spectacular. In fact Terry Pommett shot them and it became the perfect front and back cover shots for our new book. If you’re walking around looking for photo ops, get down there quickly. As you know, we have a window of opportunity when everything is blooming on Nantucket and then poof – the season is over and we wonder if it was ever here.