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Green Acre #159: A Tale of Two Hydrangeas

Phyllis is on the left, against the cherry tree. Alice is far back on the right, a few pom poms visible by the arm of the chair. Margot can’t be seen at all but she’s there. Sulking. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

MARGOT IS NOT THRIVING. She was once the glory of the border. A pink hydrangea that grew so big, so leaf- and flower-laden, that it splurged across the garden path, making it difficult to walk through. With room to move her back, we did. Or My Prince did, as digging her up was a massive undertaking that clearly would have ruined my nails.

That was four years ago. She’s now a bare twit of a thing, alive but sulking. Meanwhile, Phyllis, who resides just across the path, is flourishing. As is Alice, who lives back toward the garage. They are fertilized in the same way, and get about equal doses of sun, so this failure to thrive is not weather- or care-related. Margot is just in a mood.

Phyllis, as you may not recall, is named for my blonde friend, who brought her to a party a decade ago, adorned with a shiny ribbon. Her white blooms gradually shade to palest pink, a lovely plant.

We bought Alice last July, at a farm stand near the Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland, the weekend place of our friends Alice and Robert. She was immense, laden with baseball-size white pom poms, and cost $30, so I had to have her. And though I feared she’d not make it in summer air hot as Hades, she’s half again as large this year.

Margot was another house gift, brought by our German friend of the same name. Perhaps I shouldn’t call her German, as she’s lived in the US for 70 years and is a citizen, but while she’s fluent in English her accent is as distinct as it was when she got off the boat, or however it was she arrived.

She buffs that accent annually with two weeks at a German spa where she fasts and saunas and marches through the forests. She comes back 10 pounds lighter and looking 10 years younger. I do not know what they do to her there, but she tells me, “You woot not like it.”

She’ll be 95 in October and just redid the kitchen in her beach place in Rehoboth, Delaware. Now that’s optimism.

I met Margot 30 years ago. She invited me to lunch. “We’ll meet at noon,” she said. “Let’s synchronize our watches.”

She owns two houses and several commercial properties on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill. Up until a few years ago she’d shovel snow from the sidewalks. But then, we haven’t really had enough snow to shovel in several years so maybe she hasn’t given that up yet.

If Margot decides to live to 110, I’m sure she will.

We were at the beach place last weekend, a large house that smells a little of mold and the mothballs she deploys to ward off bugs in her woolens. There’s an Alpine view from the screened back porch.

The house used to be surrounded by bamboo, which we thought insane: Anyone who has grown bamboo knows it’s even more invasive than wisteria—which is really saying something—and nearly impossible to eradicate. The tough little stems pop up, and you whack, and they pop up and you whack, and repeat until the end of time.

For years the bamboo stayed tame. I imagine Margot barking at them each morning, “Back, you!”

A couple of years ago she removed them, and they’ve stayed gone. Ferns now spread lacy leaves, and moss grows between the pavers that weave though glossy green shrubs.

The plantings surrounding her Federal-era city place are equally kempt, azaleas and roses in the beds, mammoth sago palms punctuating the patio, and a wisteria that meanders obligingly along an upper-level porch rail. She maintains both gardens herself.

Perhaps I’m just not firm enough with Margot-the-hydrangea. I should crack a whip and bark, Grow, dammit!.

On the other hand, I could invite Margot-my-friend over. I’d make her a gin & tonic with “schweppers” and lime, we’d share a “ciggie” on the back porch, and have her handle it for me. Next year the flowers will be guaranteed.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” suspects that tough love is what her garden needs. That and glitter.




3 thoughts on “Green Acre #159: A Tale of Two Hydrangeas

  1. Carol says:

    Excellent…smiling all the way through!

  2. Bonnie Bracey-Sutton says:

    Very nice article. Thank you.

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