The new leaves on the hydrangea are healthy and glossy but there’s no sign of flower buds. It’s August already, so I think leaves may be all we get this year.
The hydrangea, bought in flower last summer, suffered badly from red spider mites later in the year. I could have scrapped the plant then but I don’t give up that easily. Instead I pruned it hard, to get rid of all the mite-ridden leaves, and moved the pot to an out of the way corner of the terrace for the winter. I was pleased when healthy new shoots grew up from the base of the plant in the spring and looked forward to a good show of flowers. After six months of watering and feeding with no sign of flower buds, I’ve finally read up hydrangea pruning. Now I know that Hortensia varieties, like this one, flower on second year wood so hard pruning, or late frost damage, means a year’s wait for flowers.
Paris markets and garden shops cater for apartment dwellers with balconies or tiny terraces who want an instant display of attractive plants. I struggled to find a rose bush when I wanted to plant one in March but since June the stalls have been full of potted roses in full flower. If I want hydrangea flowers next summer, why bother with looking after that plant for another ten months when I could just buy a flowering plant next year?
The answer, of course, is that I’m a gardener. I’m a designer too, so I’d like to keep the terrace looking well planned and attractive all year round, but nurturing plants and watching them grow comes more naturally to me than scrapping plants and buying a new display in full flower. On a larger scale all but the wealthiest or most extravagant garden owners have to wait a while for a mature garden display. When your patch amounts to a few square meters, buying a new ‘garden’ for the new season is a more affordable option and, judging by the plants on sale, that’s just what a lot of Parisians do.
There are real, slow gardeners around too. Someone must buy all the seeds and bulbs on sale in the garden supply shops. Community gardening groups organise seed saving and plant swaps. Glance up when you catch a glimpse of green on a high building and you’ll often see the evidence of the impossible dreams of an apartment gardener; a potted lemon tree leaning from a narrow ledge, a grape vine trained round a window frame or a dozen different plants in containers of every description, suspended from a balcony rail.
I bought a new plant for the terrace yesterday, from a nurseryman’s stall in the Marché des Fleurs. It’s a clump of tall, golden orange Crocosmia, just coming in to flower. As usual I asked the stall holder’s advice on whether this plant would cope with the semi-shade of my balcony garden. The answer was that the plant will flower well this year as it has already formed its flower buds but next year it might not do so well. That is advice from someone who sees plants as an investment for the future, not just decoration for next week. If I divide the Crocosmia corms between two smaller pots in the spring and hang them outside the spare bedroom window for a few months, they may get enough sun to lay up flower buds for next summer on the terrace. It’s worth a try…….