Year of Grace, Day 204. Emptying the garden, and the pantry too

Today is a typical autumn day, grey and rainy, and the blustery winds keep rocking the bamboos rather roughly. The garden truly looks bereft and forlorn without the hydrangeas. I bid them goodbye yesterday, as off they went to their new home with our dear friends D and A. I’m glad they’re being welcomed by a lovely and loving family though, and I know they’ll be happy there. D, in particular, has always admired them and appreciated them from the first moment she saw them.

Before the hydrangeas left, I took a few photos, not that I lack images of them, as I’ve been avidly photographing them throughout the past three years, but I thought I had better, to mark the occasion.

Bless them – these three shrubs, though actually one qualifies as a tree, it is almost three meters tall.  M and A laboured to take them and the huge tubs they were planted in to the van. When I’d brought the plants here, they were no taller than 30 cm tall. And in the span of just three years, they have lent their grace and character and presence to the back garden. Now that they are gone, the scope of their contribution is very much felt.

Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora becomes pink-tinged in the autumn.

Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora becomes pink-tinged in the autumn.

A freshly blooming blue hydrangea next to one wearing its autumnal garb.

A freshly blooming blue hydrangea next to one wearing its autumnal garb.

Just three plants – how they have made such an enormous difference to this space.

The side and lower branches had to be trimmed so as not to damage them during transport and to better fit into the van. I now have a few vases full of hydrangeas gracing the kitchen and dining room to console me until we leave.

And yes, my heart was torn as the van left, but I busied myself quickly to stifle threatening tears. I am also emptying the pantry, as it happens.

What did I have to play with? A punnet of fresh fat champignons, leftover chunks of Stilton and Pecorino, tuna, garlic, a third of a tiny jar of sambal oelek washed out with red wine, and tomato paste. Into the oven everything went to slowly bake topped with bits of butter and some rosemary and chives that I’d stepped out quickly into the garden to snip, as a last minute decision. By the time M came back, we were so hungry I didn’t have time to photograph the final result. It was meant to have been a late lunch that turned out to be an early supper. For a consolation meal, it was satisfyingly good, especially with a glass of robust red Cretan Daskalaki, organically produced — we are also finishing up the wine.

Year of Grace, Day 179. The garden at dusk

The white hydrangeas are just coming into bloom. Yesterday at dusk this is what entranced me.

The white hydrangea is Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, otherwise known as “peegee” (p.g., get it?); the variety is Limelight, and in the run up to blooming, the panicles are lime-coloured, until the sepals open to white. In the autumn, the sepals turn to pink.

I had envisioned this part of the garden to be blue and white. Evidently the blue hydrangeas had other ideas, as you can see in the background, so after trying to get them revert to being completely blue by watering them biweekly with a blueing liquid, I’ve decided to let them be for now. They are so gorgeous the way they are – mauve, purple, blue, and pink, and all shades in between — that I’ve come to prefer them this way.

And this agapanthus nearby, its roots well protected in a clay pot from the resident voles and moles who dig up everything in the ground, is coming into bloom as well. This is a cold-hardy variety though it did suffer a bit from this winter’s frosts and snow, and I am glad that it has recovered.  I love that its buds are a very dark blue, and then when the petals open, they are pale blue with a dark streak through the centre.

The borages are in bloom too – self-sown from plants of previous years. I shall be sprinkling these sky-blue flowers that taste of cucumber onto salads.

I might add some peppery nasturtiums as well.

This South African allium, whose name I can never remember and so I call it garlic allium, has two flowering stalks this year, its second year of blooming. Last year it had only one. And the curious thing is that within seconds the name Tulbaghia popped into my head. My erratic memory certainly works in mysterious ways! But just to make sure I had it right, I googled it. It is indeed Tulbaghia violacea, and its mauve colour justifies its specific name. It is also known as pink Agapanthus, though it is more violet than a distinct pink. It has also been discovered to have anti-cancer and other medicinal properties. Oh, and like most other alliums like garlic and onion, the leaves and flowers are also edible raw, and thus the alternative name “Society Garlic” (milder than true garlic, and thus fit for society). I shall be using them as edible decor.

Those were the stars that lit up my garden at dusk yesterday. It was so lovely just sitting there as night fell and I was reluctant to get back indoors. But the grass mites, despite the garden being thoroughly sprayed with neem just days ago, found me within seconds, attested by itchy patches that made themselves felt at once all over my legs and arms. I was forced to retreat and immediately shower, and from the unbitten, un-itchy safety of the upstairs window, I was able to continue admiring the soothing view.

Year of Grace, Day 175. A symphony of hydrangeas

Three years ago I bought 3 hydrangeas — 2 blue mopheads and 1 peegee (Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora – thus “p.g.”) Limelight. I potted them in acidic soil, hoping thereby to keep them blue. Below you can see the yellow bags of Rhododendronerde, ‘soil for Rhododendrons.’ I used 90-liter tubs to plant the hydrangeas in, instead of direct planting in the ground, as additional precaution to maintain blueness.The hydrangeas made spectacular growth; however two years later, the flowers were no longer totally blue, as you can see below.

So starting in April this year, I watered them with a blueing agent — aluminium sulphate/aluminum sulfate — every two weeks but no more than ten times per season, as advised on the container. Curious as to its efficacy,  I monitored the blooms, from the first tight buds to the eventual colouring of the sepals, which start out  as bright lime green.

The hydrangea is not a real flower as such: it has sepals, not petals; the “buttons” in the centre are the actual flowers.  The  sepals change from lime green to the palest of greens, then to white or a soft yellow. Despite the blueing, the first blooms were pink.

Nachtigal blue hydrangea first flwr showing pink_0937

Later to my relief did come some blue.

Then came some with a curious mixture of mauve suffused with blue.

Nachtigal hydrangea first sepals purple_0866

It is fascinating that the same plant displays such a symphony of colours — from lime green to the softest whites and pale yellows to tender pink and mauve, blue, and purple. Sunlight no doubt plays a part — those branches in more shade from the yew trees above having the gentlest of colours.

As well, age might have an influence, with the younger branches taking up the blueing more eagerly. This is just a surmise — if so, then next year’s blooms should be bluer.

NACHTIGAL same plant range of colors xlnt_1058A cutting that I had taken from the original plant and rooted in regular potting soil (non-acidic) bloomed a pale pink, with lovely lime green centres.

Compare this with the pinky mauve ones growing on acidic soil with blueing added.

NACHTIGAL hydrangea pink to purple heads xlnt_1029I have another hydrangea, which I suspect is a Preziosa, though not certain, and its bloom is a bright cerise.

Should I give this beauty some blueing next spring? I cannot wait to find out, though I do love this extraordinary colour.

I rather love this amazing diversity of colours. How about you? Which do you prefer?

Ah… Nature  —  the Supreme Colourist!

Year of Grace, Day 99. Sure signs of spring

Today I came upon the first open crocus in the front garden. What a wonderful surprise! And close by, the hellebores must have been blooming for some time, quite unnoticed, as they are hidden from view by overhanging bushes.

This year's first crocus

This year’s first crocus



Tulips are also starting into growth – the reddish tips of their leaves are out, and one of the hydrangeas – the one I’ve placed facing east —  has pale green crowns emerging from its base. Fat buds of new leaves are beginning to clothe  its bare branches. The rose bushes are also showing a flush of fresh growth, shiny and red-tipped against the dull green of last year’s stems. They will be needing pruning very soon.

In the back garden, the snowdrops are up —  thick clumps of their blue-green spikes are everywhere on the lawn, and a few buds have  slivers of white. They’re just biding their time – perhaps tomorrow I may see some in bloom.

It might still be winter to me, but to the plants in the garden, spring is just waiting in the wings. On this 99th day of my gratitude journal, I am much heartened and so grateful indeed to see these sure and unmistakeable signs of spring.