The lazy gardner: Drying hydrangeas in September

These were actually cut in August and abandoned (on purpose) in the music room.

If  I were a proper gardener, I would not be drying hydrangeas in September.  A proper gardener cuts blooms at their very peak, preferably in the morning of a beautiful dry sunny day.  For hydrangeas, that would be in late June or early July.  I know of one proper gardener who takes those perfect blooms and plops the stems into a bucket of anti-freeze.  The flowers soak up the anti-freeze and are preserved in their perfect summer state.  Or so I’m told.  I haven’t actually tried it.  A proper gardener also dead-heads spent blooms and trims the bushes back at the right time of year.  That would mean that hydrangeas in September should be cut back and absolutely, positively shorn of all their now-faded summer glory.

But I’m not a proper gardener.  I didn’t dead-head the blooms because they still had color in them.  They weren’t all black and crusty like the cone-flowers or black-eyed susans.  Plus it was hot.  When it’s hot, I’d rather sit on the porch beneath a circling fan and sip iced coffee (preferably laced with kahlua).  So forget about actually cutting back the overgrown bush.  Ack!  That would work up my sticky perspiring glow into an actual froth of sweat.

Overloaded hydrangea

So now it’s September and the cone-flowers and susans are looking ready for spooky Halloween centerpieces.  The hydrangea bushes look like they have been on steroids and plan to take over the planet.  There are actually little baby hydrangea bushes growing and I would love to (get my husband to) dig them up and plant them in other beds, but I have to trim the overgrowth to find them again.  (This I will do myself. If you have seen how he trimmed the lilacs, you would understand.)

Step one is to harvest the leftover blooms.  They are no longer the pure blue that inspires wedding bouquets.  They are turning like leaves into autumnal hues of purple and green.  They won’t go icky brown until after the first frost.  Now is the perfect time to just snip and decorate with them.  I cut the blossoms and arrange them right into the basket.  No water.   Nothin’.  I put the basket in the hallway.  Ta da. Done.  A week later the soft autumnal flowers are dried crispy but retain the same color.

Lest you think I am overly clever, I began drying hydrangeas by accident.  And often, if I am successful, it is because the magic drying fairy has taken pity on me.  The first time I dried hydrangeas, I cut some flowers, put them in water in a vase and put the vase in the music room.  And completely forgot about them.  Um…I do this a lot.  Some flowers don’t mind this.  I have a vase of pretty yellow roses from my orthopedic surgeon that dried quite nicely.  Usually, though, I end up with vases of dried twigs sitting in oogy water with goopy leaves.  The hydrangeas, however, looked great.  I decided after that to leave all the hyrangeas in their vases until dry–and I ended up with a lot of shriveled up hydrangeas.

After much trial and error, I have figured out some general principles to lazy hydrangea drying.

No direct sunlight in the hallway…a good place for drying.

  • Let them dry on the plant until they no longer have the original color, but before they look like toast.
  • Trim off all leaves.
  • Once inside, put the flowers in a dark room, out of sunlight.  This is where a log home is not only the perfect venue for showcasing dried flowers, but also to dry them.  With wood ceilings and surrounded by trees, it is dark inside.  My house has the perfect conditions for drying flowers.

This was a good blooming year. (Or should I go Brit and say “a bloomin’ good year”?)  I have baskets full of dried blooms to show for it.  But only because the flower fairy was nice to me.

These were cut a week ago and are now dry.

Smelling the roses…

Oakleaf hydrangea

“Life comes at you fast.”  We all love those insurance commercials because we could all have our turn starring in one.  Sometimes it even involves a big insurance claim, like for my daughter who recently went through labor with their first child while her husband dealt with a massive basement disaster.  Other times, we get caught up in the tornado twists of just living–there’s no insurance check for that one.

Saturday was a catch up day for me.  Ah…a day at home and all was calm.  It was a day to (a) stop and smell the roses or (b) do all the things I have not gotten around to because I’ve been busy.  Well, since I do not actually have any roses, that presented a logistical problem for option A.  Option B was overwhelming enough to send me into paralysis mode.  I  decided to follow the advice someone gave me years ago when I was in overload:  Don’t do anything unless it makes you happy.  Ok, this is not a mantra for all of life, but it is pretty helpful at keeping me from shut-down mode.

Chamomile

Since I have no roses (note to self:  buy some roses), I decided to just walk around the property, take stock of what was going on out there, and enjoy what I could.  There was a lot to enjoy.  In front of the house, the laurel are blooming like never before.  In the herb garden, big beautiful clusters of chamomile pick up the flowering where the sage blossoms left off, and feathery fennel fronds tickle my legs as I walk by.  In the back, the hydrangea bushes are preparing another stunning display.  It made me happy.

Mountain laurel

The rains of May have produced lush growth.  It’s looking more jungle-like than usual for June.  The weeds are very happy.  The weeds threaten to overwhelm everything, including me.  I chose to focus on the lettuce beds.  It would be nice to know what really is in my salad.  I pulled weeds until I had nice neat rows and my back was telling me to quit.  Then I took a water break in the lounge chair until raindrops shooed me indoors.

A rain shower is the perfect time to sit on the screen porch.  Unless it is covered in pollen.  Since it would make me happy to sit on the porch if the porch were clean, I wrapped a kerchief around my face and got to work.  I swept the screens. I swept the floor.  I swept and washed the tables and chairs.  All the while I thought of the bunny we used to have.  Lucy lived on the porch and in spring would hop around in circles mopping up the pollen while her feet turned green.    I appreciated her effort, even if she didn’t know she was making one.  She was just happy to hop around the porch.

Now that my porch is clean, I can stop and smell…oh, raindrops on fresh-cut grass,  citronella candles keeping the mosquitos away, hamburgers on the grill.  This was a day where a to-do list would have backfired on me and I would have accomplished nothing.  Giving myself permission to do nothing resulted accomplishing more than I expected.

Christmas is a time…

The halls are decked...

 

This morning I had the weirdest tune stuck in my head.  It was from Psalty’s Christmas Calamity, a record (yes, record!) that we had when the girls were little. The amazingly creative chorus went like this:

Christmas is a time, Christmas is a time, Christmas is a time to love. (repeat)

I don’t remember the words to the verses, but trust me the tune is really lodged in my brain.  I can even hear Psalty’s nasal-toned chirpiness and his perky little choristers.  (Given the number of times the girls listened to that record, it’s a wonder that the tune has remained dormant in my brain so long.)

Why, oh why, am I being plagued by Psalty? Maybe it has something to do with the little side-trip I took after Julie’s concert Thursday night.  Julie’s first teaching position is right around the corner from our first apartment when we got married.   After attending her first concert, I couldn’t help but drive by our old apartment.  And then I drove by our first house, just a few minutes away.  Both places looked so much the same that it put me in a time warp.  It was strange to travel through the years and end up home in the log home in the woods.

Christmas is a time for a lot of different things.  One of them is nostalgia.  Even as we enjoy our traditions and continue to make new ones, pulling out the decorations and listening to the music  always brings to mind Christmases past.  I often think of my friend Jeanette, gone ten years now this Christmas.  We spent many Christmas seasons preparing the family service at church.  My Dancing Day CD reminds me of children’s chorus whenever I hear the “Donkey Carol.”  My Gerald Finzi CD reminds me of one of my favorite choir concerts.  And the music rotation always includes Bryan Rowe’s Advent CD. 

A few years ago, when a number of Christmas stockings left our chimney mantle for new family units, I grieved as though Christmas had died.  Ok, I got over that.  There’s something about our new tradition involving mimosas on Christmas morning that perked me up.  And grandchildren. 

But I only need so much Christmas perk and Psalty’s melody could very well keep me up all night.