There are certain things that when encountered will always remind you of a Hamptons Summer. The sound and smell of the ocean, blue and white interiors, vast green lawns surrounded by privet hedges and those wonderful billowing plants that are so much a part of summer landscapes—the classic hydrangea.
During the Gilded Age, in the great American summer resorts such as Newport, Lenox, Tuxedo Park and the Hamptons, hydrangeas often lined the driveways and verandas of all the summer cottages. They were so popular that summer cottages were named after them; interiors had hydrangea-patterned fabric on sofas, chairs and draperies, and upon every tabletop were cut hydrangea blooms. Even the lady of the house, her children and sometimes her husband would wear clothing sporting a hydrangea pattern.
Hydrangeas have never lost their popularity, but during the mid-20th century they were thought to be too showy and old fashioned. Since the 1990s, with the return of traditional house architecture and gardens, they have once again flourished, especially in the Hamptons. Hydrangeas come in many colors, ranging from white to deep, dark purple, my personal favorite, but the most popular are often seen in blue and pink. They are especially easy to care for and if you do nothing they will just flower year after year. Three of my favorite books on Hydrangeas are Hydrangeas by Daria Price Bowman (Friedman/Fairfax Publishers), Hydrangeas for American Gardens by Michael A. Dirr (Timber Press, Inc.) and Hydrangeas: A Gardeners’ Guide by Toni Lawson-Hall & Brian Rothera (Timber Press, Inc.).
There is nothing better than to look out a second-floor window and see a mass of hydrangeas planted all in bloom, or walk down a garden path surrounded by their fat, luxuriant flowers. For me, whenever I see them I am reminded of an old photo of myself as a child, watering can in hand, dwarfed by the massive blue ones in my mother’s garden, and I know that summer has arrived for another year.
Gary Lawrance is an architect, historian and co-author of the book, Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930.