Fickle Hydrangea

Ajisai Hydrangea

In the last few weeks, hydrangea blossoms have turned Kyoto into a kaleidoscope of petals. Their hues run the whole gambit of colors, from white to the deepest of purples. A student told me this week that the flowers are known as the “fickle” flower, since over the years, the hue you planted is not always the hue that blooms. Because of this, many Japanese look at the hydrangea like a fickle lover’s heart — at one time being with you, but then changing color, and passions, for another.

In the West, the language of flowers has often said that hydrangea mean gratefulness, or, on the negative end of the spectrum, vanity. Whatever their meaning, they are gorgeous, and in Kyoto, are not to be missed!

42 thoughts on “Fickle Hydrangea

  1. The flowers, and your photos, are gorgeous. They’re one of my favorite flowers: probably because I grew up with them. I still remember with some amusement the year my mother learned you could alter their color by changing the alkaline/acid balance of the soil. She went to work, and although she didn’t get the complete change from pink to blue that she wanted, she did pretty well. My dad just rolled his eyes.

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    1. Thank you so much. 🙂 I really never paid much attention to them before Kyoto. I was always a stargazer, dahlia, and thistle girl, but in Kyoto, they really do dominate the landscape in June every bit as much as the cherry blossoms do in April. They’re so gorgeous!

      And yes, my student was talking about how her blue hydrangea went pink after years and years of alkaline level changes in her garden. I think that’s a really cool quirk of the flower… wonder why it developed that way (or what other flowers change their colors based on the alkaline/acid levels in the soil!)

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    1. There are so many types, here! I’m used to the five petal variety in California, but they are at least seven shapes of hydrangea in Kyoto. I really like the ones that look like little fireworks exploding.

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    1. Holy cow- our lilacs peaked about three weeks ago! Right now the big thing is the peonies. One of my coworkers has been bringing peony bouquets into the office just about every day this week. They smell so yummy!

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    1. It definitely is! Colorful… and rainy! Haha. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to get out there for photos with all the inconsistent weather.

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  2. I love hydrangeas and I have hydrangea envy after looking at all your photos with the different colours. I think they are fickle for a different reason – Mine are just not very cooperative about flowering at all!

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    1. It’s the exact opposite for me. The only thing I can’t seem to kill in my garden is my jasmine, my tomatoes, and my hydrangea. Together they make a triforce of plant bullies, taking over every other part of my garden. 😛

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  3. Gorgeous! We have one in our garden which started life as a blue pot plant but is pink since planting out. It has actually been moved several times because some places it just wouldn’t flower so, yes, definitely fickle.

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  4. Such amazing colours. Wish I could come back and revisit Kyoto. I’ve always wanted to live in Japan for a year but I used to want to be in Tokyo- now, however, I think I’d love to be in Kyoto!

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  5. Oh, Alex, you’ve captured color and elegance and symmetry all in a few spectacular snaps. Nature is mind-blowingly clever, isn’t it? So good with art, and a total whiz with math. I love the photos. It’s so easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of this masterful artistry.

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    1. I agree! You’re so write about the math and art~ how could we ever compete? I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Shelley. 🙂 I’m really glad the weather cleared up enough to take the photos!

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  6. Wow! What a stunning variety of colors! I like the ones that are two-tone like #3 in the top row. Maybe it’s just that the center petals have not opened yet (I’ve never seen any like this) but whatever it is, I like them!

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    1. I love those, too! And the center buds never open. I call them the “fireworks” hydrangea, but I don’t know their real name. I’d never seen them either, until Japan!

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    1. Thank you! I’m not a “huge” flower person either, even though I worked in a flower shop for three years. 😛 But I DO love color…. and the hydrangea has plenty of it. 🙂

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  7. Ohhhhhhhhh the pictures are gorgeous, Alex! Hydrangeas are my favorite flower, mostly because of their “fickleness” in color. I think it has something to do with soil conditions and the nutrients that the plants consume. My parents place pine needles under their hydrangea plants, and the nutrients from the decaying needles help keep the flowers blooming back in blues.

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    1. Yeah, it has a lot to do with the soil conditions. I’m glad I could get some fun shots for you! My favorite flower is the dahlia, for the same reasons, really, haha.

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  8. Oh, lord, this is so true. I planted a hydrangea a few years ago, and it never did bloom.
    Supposedly, you can add certain elements to the soil to alter the color. If you want the deep indigo/blue color by adding aluminum to the soil. The color can also change due to ph levels. Course I never got mine to work, so I can’t testify to the validity of those theories.

    I’m still bitter. Can you tell? Your pictures are beautiful though. I live vicariously through them.

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    1. I’m sorry yours failed! I literally did nothing for the hydrangea in my yard, and its a deep, deep fuchsia. Maybe it’s just the climate over here, though. They’re about as sturdy as weeds, here.

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      1. I’m actually worried that the hard winter we had a couple years ago killed it. They’re supposed to be hardy and can survive our climate by going dormant over the winter, but the winter after I bought it was the season where it only got above 0 degrees fehrenheit for four days during Jan and Feb combined, and about 30% of that it never got above -20. A more established plant probably would have made it, but I think that poor thing never had a chance.

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      1. Ah~ We had daffodils earlier this season. Thanks! (BTW, the ‘follow comments’ box didn’t show up for me on your blog. Not sure why. :/ )

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  9. Wow, Alex – stunning photos! My parents had a pink hydrangea in the garden when they got married, and when they moved house they transplanted it and turned blue. I always loved it when I was a child becuase of it.

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  10. Maybe somebody already said this, buy hydrangea blossom color is related to soil pH and can be controlled and manipulated via amendments that make the soil either sweeter or more acidic. The changing colors folks reference is due to soil depletion over time, as well as other factors, like type of mulch used (if any) combined with precipitation. Fascinating stuff. Love the photos.

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    1. Thanks very much for the comment, Chuck. 🙂 Yes, my students explained it to me, as well… It’s just such an interesting curiosity! You have to wonder how the plant developed that over time…. maybe different soil conditions made for different insect populations, and they’re trying to attract the locals?

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