Hydrangeas for Frank

He deserves to have some, too.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY LINDA COOK DEVONA

My husband, Frank, and I built our house in 2004. We drove by a dead-end road and saw a Land For Sale sign. It led us all the way to a huge open field. I got out of the car and set our six-month-old on my hip. As soon as my feet hit the center of the overgrown clearing, I knew I was home.

“This is it,” I said, looking over my shoulder. Standing here felt new but familiar. Maybe I had seen this spread of land in my dreams. (Last night? Last month? Years ago?)

Our house would set back a bit and face toward the east. A barn would snuggle amongst the young maple trees. Maybe a chicken coop with a cupola would stand in front of the rock wall that would separate our land from the neighbors—just like the pictures I’d collected from my favorite home magazines.

I could see all that in my mind. But the best part was the juxtaposition of sun and shade. The land was peppered with tall pine, birch, and oak trees. It was an ideal setting for planting the gobs of hydrangeas I’d always wanted.

He could really use a few. After all, they were our wedding flower.

When Frank and I got married, my bridesmaids carried bouquets of PeeGee hydrangeas down the aisle. I didn’t want the manufactured kind you could get from a florist, so I snuck into a graveyard that had established shrubs and filled trash bags with the cone-shaped flowers, being careful not to squish them.

My labor of love was carried down the aisle in brown wicker baskets by women I adore. The blooms were stunning against the gold bridesmaid dresses.

I now have three PeeGee shrubs sprinkled in my yard that never get pruned. I am afraid to try lest I ruin them. I’ve been meaning to donate a hydrangea to the graveyard I stole my bridal blooms from. And I will.

Right now my hydrangeas’ branches are piled with crusty snow, but they’re mature enough to stand without buckling under the weight. One has a tiny hummingbird’s nest. I am tempted to take it inside and display it under a cloche, but I don’t. It’s more meaningful out in nature.

The first spring we were here, I met a lady down the road who grew plants and sold them on the side of the road. Her name is Sarah. She can always be found picking weeds, pruning, or moving plants around outside underneath her large-brimmed sunhat. Her Annabelle hydrangeas are epic and, grown in her spot less than a mile away, thrive in my yard.

I have visited her on balmy summer nights, rainy days, and when she is about to close. Sometimes my impulses get the best of me and I decide to add just one more hydrangea garden. She seems to understand. “I’ll leave a jar out in case I am not here. Just take what you need and put the money in there,” she told me.

Hydrangeas line our house, front and back. I’ve planted at least a dozen every spring. Of course you can find some in front of the barn and more in front of the chicken coop.

There are clumps scattered in our shade garden, too. I’ve noticed they seem to do best near our outdoor shower. “They are called hydrangeas because they need lots of water,” Sarah told me.

Right now ours are stiff and brown. Their heads are half-buried in the snow. They look cold and hard. I know it won’t be long until they come to life again. I will try to be patient and wait until late summer when they are strong enough to stand in a vase of water on their own before I cut any blooms.

Tonight I am sitting alone on one side of the sofa eating carrot cake with a spoon. I just dropped my three kids off to spend the weekend with their father. After almost 15 years of being married, we both agreed we needed to separate. We are acclimating to our new lives, both forced to stand strong on our own, whether we are completely ready or not. I am not.

My ex still comes over for dinner at least once a week, just as I go to his new condo once a week. Family dinners with our three kids have played an important role in our healing process. We may look different from some families, but we still share much love and laughter.

Frank’s place is nice, but it doesn’t have any hydrangeas. It could really use a few. After all, they were our wedding flower, and he has been surrounded by them for years. Although we are no longer together, we still think of our wedding day as one of the best of our lives—if we had to do it all again, we would.

This summer I will dig some up from our yard and plant them for Frank. I think out back on his patio would be the perfect spot. They might take a while to get used to their new environment, but with time, they will adjust, feel like their old selves.

I will, too.


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