Chronica Domus: don’t look! Jane and Lance: avert your eyes!

….and any of the rest of my lovely readers who may like to dabble and hoe, please turn away now! For after you are witness to the destruction that I have wrought our friendship may be something of a trial for you

photo 4
My big, beautiful, hydrangeas
photo 4
….are hydrangeas no more. Why?!

Please understand that I have the best of intentions. I feed, I weed, I water. I bask in the glow of compliments and I disperse blooms to all and sundry.

IMG_1578My hydrangeas are the beautiful backdrop to our summers, both indoors and out, big blue hydrangeas grace tabletops and bookshelves.



I even have special containers in which to display them.

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Sugar Wimsey searches in vain
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…and inquires into their absence

We had landscapers at Alconleigh so I grew up without ever having done a drop of gardening and I had to learn it all when we bought our house (that’s what happens when you marry for love, folks). Together we tamed the yard with our own bare hands and continue to learn by trial and error.

My hydrangeas were my success story. Something blue and bonny to reward all my efforts. But when the tell-tale buds failed to appear this Spring I sensed something might be wrong. I spoke to my trusted local expert at the gardening center and she gave me the bad news: Winter Death.

Winter Death, N.C.Wyeth
Winter Death, N.C.Wyeth

Actually I made that up. I cant remember what she called it but that is what I heard because I was being told the stems were dead and it had something to do with the winter.

photo 5
Winter Death

In other words, no hydrangeas. I was instructed to cut back the stems until I hit green

photo 1

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When I cut back the branches I found a lost ball. To give you an idea of how long I have had big, leafy hydrangeas, my offspring haven’t played softball in about eight years

The prognosis, although hard to swallow at first, was not as bad as it could have been. There are leaves at the very bottom of each, so they are still alive and perhaps still have a chance

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photo 1

Hope springs eternal

21 thoughts on “Chronica Domus: don’t look! Jane and Lance: avert your eyes!

  1. I’ll leave the autopsy to Darlings Jane & Lance. I would think all that snow cover would have protected them from harm. I’ll have my boys yellow-tape that crime scene and take Dustin and Sugar downtown for questioning…methinks it was a few too many business trips from those two.


    1. Im just lost without them! And the poor birds must be wondering where there little play area has gone to.
      Ive been buying flowers from Whole Foods but its not the same.


  2. Hello Bebe,

    Worry not! All will be well. Hydrangeas really are the tough old boots of the gardening world and we have seen many a sorry sight as the one you show so clearly above (not usually, however, with ancient evidence of ball playing ).

    It is very important to cut back to the shooting part of the stem and, from your final picture,it looks to us as if you have still left too much old wood on the stems. Cut right down to the green and make sure that it is a clean cut with sharp secateurs, yours look perfect for the job, otherwise disease can enter. Then, water and wait.

    And, how fabulous that your Hydrangeas flower blue. Far superior to the knicker pink version.

    Now, darling Bebe, for all other gardening queries, do not hesitate to consult that fountain of all horticultural advice, ‘The Gardening Year’ by Lance Hattatt. Sadly, it is now out of print but vintage versions can be discovered…..rather like looking for signs of life in ‘winter dead’ Hydrangeas!


    1. Dear, dear Jane and Lance
      Shivering and vulnerable,I seek solace in the warm shelter of your learned advice. I shall go out this very am and do as you say-I was wondering if perhaps I didnt cut enough.
      A little fedora-clad birdie sent me the link to the textbooks of horticultural wisdom and I have already ordered The Gardening Year as well as Small Garden and The Gardeners Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers-An Hattattian library racing to my humble abode as we speak. So I know that you are right: all will be well.


  3. Oh boy, winter death has taken so many of my mature shrubs too, this old house was so lovely with its mature garden and now in the back garden it looks as if I watered with agent orange.Mt face was tripping me all weekend over plant bereavements!


    1. My mirrors are draped with black bunting and we are all speaking in whispers. The death has not completely passed over us, because the rhodedendron is about to shuffle off this mortal coil and the orange azaleas arent looking to good either. I am expecting some characters from Monty Python to trundle past our house with a cart calling “Bring out your dead”


  4. Ok – so you wont enter the Chelsea flower show this year I take it.

    I only have a flower window box and even with that my neighbour has to help me out so I empathize. I always find it so counterintuitive when they say just chop it all off – it will make it grow back even more but then I remember some dud haircuts where my bangs didn’t grow for what seemed years…

    Your doggie is a cutie – a shih tzu? I adore them!


    1. They were getting a bit large and growing over the walkway in some places..but to cut them all down!-What am I going to do about blooms this summer?
      Sugar Wimsey is indeed a haughty little shih tzu. We used to have a great big rhodesian ridgeback who was wonderful but a lot to take care of. She is like a cat, but with personality. Dustin is a Lhasa and he is still small but much more dog-like


  5. I lost all my gardenias I’m afraid. I have yet to cut them back because I keep hoping. Some of my butterfly bushes are growing just from the roots so they will need to be hacked also. While a few plants perished, those local to the area absolutely flourished. My rhododendrons have never bloomed so spectacularly.


  6. Oh gardenias!- so lovely. I have a butterfly bush also but I havent checked it yet. Fingers crossed…Was this past winter the coldest you have had there in a while?


    1. This winter, to put it honestly, sucked. I have been here twenty years and have never been so miserable. It was not only a cold winter but a very long winter for us. We got our first frost/snow in October and our last in April. Usually winter is from Christmas to Valentine’s Day. Now, we are straight into summer. Off to the grocery store and then to the garden. You have inspired me to start hacking away. Tomorrow I shall have problems lifting my arms.


      1. Sounds like you had a New England winter down there- that’s not acceptable!
        I highly recommend yoga stretches and Advil before bed.


  7. What a shame, they looked so beautiful. I’d take Lance & Jane’s advice, but it sounds as if you’re going to have to kill your darlings to bring them back to life.. Gardening can be such brutal work.


    1. Welcome Claire!
      I agree, and I shall follow their advice to the letter.

      Only for my gardening though. Rather questionable advice when applied to other situations…..


  8. Hello Bebe, fear not! Signs of life are there for sure and your once lovely hydrangea will again resurrect. I concur with Lance and Jane – cut down those brown stalks pronto!
    I lost a blood orange tree this year and hated to cut it down, but down it had to go.

    Remember, Time is every gardener’s best friend. He always gives back more than he takes. Your hydrangea will be a rhapsody in blue once again.


    1. Oh good- we can still be friends then?
      I just wish I knew what happened this past winter that was so much worse than any other winter. Should I start to consider hydrangea sweaters?
      I will tend to them gingerly this summer and hope for the best and if you say they will come back I know it to be true


  9. Well I leave the gardening to MrBP who knows a thing or two about it from Christopher the Darling Landscape Architect. When Christopher comes by for cocktails he gives instruction and MrBP listens carefully, he loves the work outside, it’s an excellent break from the law!
    I know for certain that here in hideous winter-forever-land the hydrangeas look completely dead and horribly brown in early spring, they are cut back to the ground and then they grow and bloom up victorious over the summer, it’s actually one of the most amazing things to witness in the garden.
    Yours will rise again!


  10. I have been looking for that ball! Now if you happen to see a set of spare house keys expertly hidden in the garden somewhere….


  11. Thanks Dani. You are all making me feel much better. Perhaps I should make a trip up to Canada and buy your local variety-If they can survive your winter then they should do just fine here.


  12. With my fuzzy eyes I thought the lost ball was a sign of life and busted out laughing once I realized! Winter Death, oh my, he’s scary and guess that’s the bonus for us having skipped winter all together this time. With all the good advice you’re getting, I think there’s more than a good chance your gorgeous hydrangeas will return.

    BTW, the blog dog is more than adorable.


    1. Welcome Tiffany Rose!
      That ball does give a little color to what is now a brown patch of my garden-I think I shall leave it there.
      Im feeling pretty good about my chances now. I am very fortunate to get such wonderful advice.
      The blog dog thanks you for your kind words. He is a good dog


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