The Japanese are glad of rainy weather in June and July – because rain is great for the hydrangea. You will be aware of the Japanese Ume festival which celebrates Plum Blossom and the Sakura festival which honours Cherry Blossom but have you heard of Ajisai time?
The start of the rainy season in June is a signal for people to put on their waterproofs and get out into a hydrangea garden – often surrounding a temple.
The Japanese people have a very strong cultural relationship with nature and certain blooms which they feel have qualities which teach us much about life. For them, the more it rains the resulting bloom – so worth it.
Blooms are appreciated in minute detail in Japanese art – like in Ikebana, the art of flower arranging, seen above.
In glorious woodcuts like this one with dancing wasps,
or in their fabrics and clothing, such as this hand-painted obi, or sash.
Hydrangea are also referred to as nanahenge – which means seven transformations. Hydrangeas change their colour with the environment and in the rain. This quality makes people think of the inconsistency of life; mortality, sadness, of impermanence, a change of mind, of hopeless love and so on. However on the other side of the coin the actual structure of the bloom with its head of florets symbolises: enduring love, everlasting friendships, and family bonds.
I love hydrangea but sometimes I think it still suffers in this country from an association with very old fashioned gardens – a bit like the tightly permed head of Ena Sharples. Time to turn that around I think.
They make wonderful informal hedges,
are a pretty point of colour in a mixed border,
can look natural and woodsy,
or formal as a standard.
Whichever way you like your hydrangeas, (this one is called Glam Rock and is not for the faint hearted), I think it is time to give them a second look and reflect on their qualities – on a perfect, rain-filled, summer’s day.