The Language of Hydrangea Flowers

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to learn about the language of hydrangea flowers. We’re talking here about the most popular hydrangea: mophead, hortensia, pompom or big leaf. Botanically, it’s hydrangea macrophylla.

Although we know this plant originated in Asia, we also know from fossil discoveries that it existed 40-65 million years ago in North America. But it is the Asian cultures which first gave it significance. These meanings date back centuries when big leaf hydrangeas only came in 4 colors: pink, blue, white, and purple.

A Japanese legend associated hydrangeas with heartfelt emotion, gratitude for understanding, and apology. It seems a Japanese emperor felt guilty about neglecting the woman he loved in favor of business matters. He gave hydrangeas to the family of his beloved in his quest for forgiveness for his actions.

THE MEANING OF PINK HYDRANGEA FLOWERS

Pink hydrangea flower

Pink hydrangea flower

Pink hydrangeas generally mean, “You are the beat of my heart,” as described by a celebrated Asian florist. He was quoted as saying, “… The light delicate blush of the petals reminds me of a beating heart, while the size could only match the heart of the sender…” As a result, today in Asia pink hydrangeas can also signify heartfelt emotion.

The French make a different association. The plant blooms in June when the weather is bright and sunny. Because of soil chemistry, pink is the dominant color. The color and nice weather symbolize a “cheerful woman.”

WHAT DOES A BLUE HYDRANGEA FLOWER MEAN?

Big leaf hydrangea Let's Dance® Rhythmic Blue®

Big leaf hydrangea Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue®

A blue hydrangea in Asian culture represents perseverance. That meaning derives from the “persevering love” displayed by a German horticulturist. In the 19th century, he was exiled from Japan and took a blue-flowered hydrangea back to Europe to propagate. It was his way of remembering the “persevering love” for the woman he left behind. We know the plant today as the cultivar “Otaska.” On the other hand, there’s another British meaning: you might give or send a blue hydrangea to refuse a love interest.

AND THEN THERE ARE WHITE HYDRANGEA FLOWERS

In Victorian times, the lavish, rounded shape of the white hydrangea flower was often connected to vanity and boastfulness. Keep in mind, though, a white flower of any sort is still believed to signify purity and grace everywhere.

White hydrangea flower

White hydrangea flower

DON’T FORGET PURPLE HYDRANGEAS

A desire to deeply understand you is associated with the gift of a purple hydrangea.

THE FLOWER FORM CAN ALSO CARRY MEANING

The mophead flower can be interpreted to mean good friends and relationships. That stems from the flower petals growing so close together.

Somehow lacecap hydrangeas got into the act. The graceful display signifies humility (in contrast to the bodacious mophead flower) regardless of the color.

Lacecap flower of hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billow'

Lacecap flower of hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’

HYDRANGEAS FOR WEDDING ANNIVERSARIES

Did you know that most anniversaries are associated with a particular flower? Hydrangeas hold a place of honor for the fourth wedding anniversary. The long-lived beauty and fullness of the flower are at the core of that idea. It’s thought to symbolize the development of a couple’s partnership. And of course, their closeness. That concept of closeness transfers to friendships.

4th Wedding Anniversary Cake

4th Wedding Anniversary Cake

ARE YOU ON SAFE GROUND WHEN YOU GIVE HYDRANGEA FLOWERS?

It’s clear that hydrangeas have a wide range of meanings that stem from a variety of cultures and stories. If your recipient is aware of these meanings, you will be safer if you include other flowers in your gift to eliminate misinterpretation.

Mixed bouquet with hydrangeas

Mixed bouquet with hydrangeas

And you thought hydrangeas were just for adding beauty and fragrance to your garden.

IT’S SPEAKING SEASON!

Speaker addressing an audience

Speaker addressing an audience

Next week I’ll be starting my 20th year speaking to various organizations and groups about horticultural subjects. The first few times I am in Connecticut. Then I travel to points north and east with a mid-west radio program thrown in for good measure. Notice there are other topics besides hydrangeas as the subject du jour.

Here are the public dates and locations where you can see/hear me:

FEBRUARY

MARCH

  • Mar 7, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County Spring Garden Day, 2 p.m.; “Smarter Gardening”, https://tinyurl.com/va43up7;
  • Saturday, March 14: I will be talking hydrangeas on Ron Wilson’s radio show from Ohio twice on Saturday, March 14. Ron is a highly regarded plantsman and manages one of Ohio’s premiere nursery/landscape companies. He’s also the past president of the Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association. The first discussion will be at about 7.30 a.m. and again at about 11 a.m.
    • To listen live or later, go to http://www.ronwilsononline.com. If you are in the Ohio listening area and want to listen the old-fashioned radio way, here’s what you need to know:
    • First show from 6-9 a.m. is based out of Cincinnati: 55KRC, WKRC 550AM;
    • Second show from 10-12 noon is based out of Columbus at 610 WTVN which serves most of Ohio;
    • You can also download the free iHeart app to listen to any of Ron’s shows anytime from anywhere;
    • Don’t forget to check out Ron’s latest blog posts at https://ronwilson.iheart.com/
  • Mar 18, Wellfleet Gardeners, Cape Cod , MA, 10 a.m. “Shrubs, The New Perennial”;
  • Mar 21, CT Master Gardeners’ Symposium, New London, CT; 11 a.m. & 1.30 p.m., “Hydrangeas for Cold Climate Gardens”, https://ctmga.org/2020-symposium-information.

You can always check the calendar tab HERE to see other dates as I list them. In all cases, I’ll be signing and selling my best selling hydrangea book at these events so plan to stop buy. I’d love to meet you. Tell/bring your friends!

See you there.

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Lorraine Ballato