I took the photo above last summer – I was trying to get the rose, but definitely didn’t know how to focus my camera. (But that’s a different defect to discuss on another day.) In the background you can see little bits of purple and green hydrangea – probably the best thing in our garden. The best thing in our garden that won’t bloom this year. This is a story about those hydrangeas and the lesson they taught me.
Here’s the thing – even though it’s our fifth summer in this house, I’m still getting to know it. The house and garden have been here for 92 years – we’re just the latest chapter in its book, and I’m still trying to puzzle out the pages that have come before.
The first two summers here, the hydrangea didn’t bloom at all. I wasn’t sure if it was because I’d cut them back when I shouldn’t have or because the winters were exceptionally harsh. So the next year I decided not to touch them at all and wait to see what would happen. They bloomed for the first time for us that year and were lovely. The mystery was solved – don’t prune the hydrangeas. Even when you think you should prune them – don’t.
But, in a move that is so classically me, I kept researching until what I’d just figured out was dissolved into doubt. One thing I read said that you *should* prune back hydrangea deadwood, the sticks that are brown all the way through, not green when you scrape them. I tucked that bit of intel away in my mind for the next year.
This June when the rest of the garden was green and lush, but the hydrangea was still stick-like and bare, I started questioning things. Did it look like this last year at this time? And…wait…*did* I, in fact, cut them back two autumns ago?
And then, you guessed it…like a blond, Target-clad Edward Scissorhands, I got to work. All through my cutting frenzy, there was the tiniest voice in my head saying “wait…you know better…”
When I was done, the hydrangea looked better, because there were no bare sticks poking out of the green new growth below. But in the part of me that talks in the quietest whispers, I knew that while it appeared to be an improvement, it might not be.
I didn’t lose hope, though. Never lose hope. I kept waiting, thinking maybe blooms would appear. They didn’t.
Until yesterday. One single flower head in a sea of green. One survivor that had escaped my wrath. I don’t want to say that it was mocking me, because it’s a flower and that sounds crazy. But it *was* mocking me – saying, “Look at what you could’ve had if you would’ve just listened to what you knew instead of being tricked by what you see.”
And that’s the point of this thing….I knew something…and then over the course of a year, the knowing was buried by doubt. Because things didn’t seem to be growing fast enough. And what I was doing didn’t match up with what other people were doing. So I listened to the doubt instead of listening to the knowing. An easy thing to do when doubt is so loud and knowing only whispers.
I think I’ve got the hydrangea thing sorted now. There are lots of varieties and I think I’ve finally figured out what kind we’ve got. Next year there will blooms again. I hope, though, that I’ve learned something that lasts longer than hydrangea blossoms. I hope you learn it quicker than me.