First Blush

The first blush of blue is tinging the hydrangea. They are called “Ajisai 紫陽花” in Japanese, which translates to purple 紫 sun 陽 flower 花, though since they bloom during the rainy season, they are associated with rain. Throughout Japan, there are temples with so many hydrangea, they are called hydrangea temples. Hasedera in Kamakura has some 40 varieties of 2,500 hydrangea. Yatadera in Nara has 60 varieties and 10,000 hydrangea.

Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, a German doctor from Würzburg who joined the Dutch military, traveled to Japan in 1823 and was posted as a physician and scientist at the Dutch trading post of Dejima, a small island in Nagasaki where the Dutch were allowed to live and trade from 1641 through 1853. At the time, it was the only place where foreigners were allowed to live in Japan.

Because of his skills as a doctor, Siebold was allowed to travel throughout Japan, and he collected specimens of thousands of plants and animals during his stay. He particularly loved hydrangea, and named a variety, Hydrangea otaksa, after his Japanese wife, Otaki.

Summer Blooms

I enjoy these hydrangea. Instead of blooming all at once, they open slowly, a few flowers at a time, which means they stay in bloom a long time.


Summer Morning

This last day of June, the hydrangea are starting to bloom. In Japan, hydrangea bloom during the rainy season in June and July. Growing up I associated their flowers with rain and snails. When I close my eyes and think of hydrangeas, they are always wet with drops of fresh rain water dripping off them. Here, hydrangea bloom during the dry season from July through August. They are rarely wet and in this land of no snails, you never see a snail sliding across a wet hydrangea leaf.


South of Tokyo in Kamakura you’ll find Meigetsu-in, a Zen temple founded in 1383 also known as the Hydrangea Temple 紫陽花寺 because of its many hydrangeas. There are some 2,500 hydrangea on the temple grounds with 80 to 90 percent of them an old variety known as Princess Hydrangea. On busy days when the hydrangea are in bloom, the line of visitors waiting to get into the temple grounds can stretch for a third of a mile.


There are no lines here to see the hydrangea. Only a handful of people have ever seen the hydrangea bloom at A Man and His Hoe®. Actually, more chickens than people have seen them in bloom, though this morning, the chickens are more interested in pecking through the duckweed I pulled out of the pond for them. Maybe they will pause and admire the hydrangea when they are in full bloom and they have had their fill of duckweed, tadpoles, and waterbugs.