Cape Cod’s hydrangeas: a visual feast

Hugo Balta

They come from near and far to Cape Cod’s visual feast of purples and pinks, blues and whites. The colorful hydrangeas are the scene stealers in a popular vacation spot known for its beautiful, white-sand beaches and charming shops and eateries.

Hydrangeas are ornamental plants, grown for their large flowerheads that thrive on the Cape because of its moderate maritime climate.

“The first thing we do is tickle the roots”, said Pamela Vasques, Fine Gardener at Chatham Bars Inn, about taking care of the resort’s 4,000 bushes. Vasques was featured on CBS Sunday Morning.

The Inn’s 25 acres of lush and colorful gardens, which include 12 different varieties of hydrangeas is a popular spot for flower fans. “It’s my retirement job and it’s probably been the best job of my entire life,” Vasques told Chatham Living. She also teaches flower box design and wreath-making classes at the inn.

Hydrangeas are flowering plants native to Asia and the Americas. By far the greatest species diversity is in eastern Asia, notably China, Korea, and Japan.

Hydrangea is derived from Greek and means ‘water vessel’ (hydria), in reference to the shape of its seed capsules. The earlier name, Hortensia, is a Latinised version of the French given name Hortense, honoring French astronomer and mathematician Nicole-Reine Hortense Lepaute.

Hydrangea flowers are produced from early spring to late autumn; they grow in flowerheads most often at the ends of the stems. Typically the flowerheads contain two types of flowers: small non-showy flowers in the center or interior of the flowerhead, and large, showy flowers with large colorful sepals (tepals). 

Hydrangeas are big drinkers.

Water, water, water. Always water from the bottom and give it a good soak at dawn and at dusk is one of the recommendations Vasques tells Chatham Living in caring for the plants. “Never, ever let the water touch the leaves because if it doesn’t dry, the sun is going to scorch the leaves and they will turn brown.”

If you’re planning to make the New England pilgrimage to see the colors on the Cape, check out the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, an annual ten-day festival held in July that provides daily tours of private gardens.