Bloom where you're planted - or else

Many years ago, I planted a hydrangea in my garden. I've always liked hydrangeas - their puffy flowers of pink, blue, white, violet, and amethyst are like nature's balloons, a fete of color. My father grew them, year after colorful year. He liked them because they could be easily dried, offering comforting color during Britain's dreary winters. Because of this, and because my soil was very acidic, I thought such a plant would do well in my yard. It would also give me the opportunity to carry on my father's little pleasure. I planted it next to the path that ran around the back of the house.

Year after year, the plant put forth a rich bounty of leaves, full and bursting with emerald brightness, but no blooms.

My local gardening shop advised me that my hydrangea needed acidic soil.

"It might not be acidic enough," he said, with big emphasis on "acidic." It's one of those words that make you think the person using it knows what he is talking about. I informed him that my soil was already acidic, so much so that I feared putting an ungloved hand into the soil and coming up minus some fingers.

My horticultural expert did not appreciate the joke.

He then informed me that sometimes you need to shake the plant. "If they think there is an earthquake," he intoned, "or they are threatened in some way," they bloom to ensure the survival of the species. I spent the next week shaking my hydrangea, initially just a branch or two. Later I began grasping it fiercely at the base and threatening to pull the plant out. Still no blooms.

Finally, after much agonizing, I decided the plant had to go. I was not in the business of growing greenery. My house is surrounded by National Wildlife Conservation land, and I have all the green I can manage. I want color - violets, pinks, blues, salmons, and indigos. But no matter what I'd tried, the plant had refused to bloom. I had a squatter on my land, taking up room.

So last year, I put spade to earth - pushing it deep into the soil around the plant - and dug it up. I did not feel good about this. In a way, I felt like a parent pushing my child out into the world with the words, "It's for your own good."

I took the hydrangea and threw it on a pile of leaves, branches, and other garden debris. I smacked the dirt from my hands and told myself that that was that.

This year I took a tour of my yard to see what else was mooching off my water and my perfectly acidic soil. I pulled out some odd plants here and there, and took them to the back of the yard, to the pile of organic debris that I kept there. Through the winter-packed pile, some bright green leaves were poking through.

I was not fooled. It was my hydrangea, making some halfhearted plea for mercy, for a last chance to redeem itself. "No," I said to myself, "you had your chance, and you blew it." Earlier this month, though, I took more yard waste to the heap, and there was my hydrangea - blooming, small flowers appearing at the ends of those rich, green-leafed limbs.

My hydrangea had seen the light. It had come through. I went back to get my spade, and again I put the sharp tip in the ground, this time to retrieve my plant. Then I stopped. There was something to be learned here. I put my spade away and went to get my watering can. Then I gave my flowering hydrangea a good soaking in its new home.

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