(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 16, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Yesterday's conversations might be gone from my mind, but when I see things that I recognize from my childhood, memories run dancing through my every thought. So it was with my mother's prized oakleaf hydrangea. She had received it as a gift for something wonderful she had done in her Homemakers Club. My mother was always doing something wonderful. The problem was that she expected me to do wonderful things as well.

The hydrangea had been in place in the corner of the shaded yard for only a few years and it had bloomed profusely. I remember that it had a heavenly scent and the cone shaped clusters of blooms were all intact, though they had turned from white to pink and on to a tannish color. She was saving them for drying.

At about the same time, Aunt Bett told me she sure wished she had some "hydrangie" bark to make a decoction to cure her innards. It must have been late summer and I paid close attention because she rarely complained about anything. We were sitting in her back yard in the weathered ladderback chairs, and we were fanning ourselves with cardboard fans that had a picture of Jesus on the front and the words "S.E. Frazier and Sons Funeral Home" written on the back. It is funny that I remember the words on that fan, because truthfully, today I can hardly remember the name of the closest funeral home here in my own town. I remember asking Aunt Bett what innards were, and she told me that it was just a word for the inside parts of a body. The only other time that I had heard it used was when Granny Ninna was throwing away the innards from a chicken she was getting ready to cut up for dinner. I wondered if Aunt Bett would have to have some of her innards thrown away, and that really worried me because I didn't want to think that Aunt Bett would have to go around without her innards.Image

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is a deciduous shrub, with big toothed leaves and long drooping limbs. It forms an upright rounded clump. Its coarse bark, which tends to split, lends texture to a garden. It has showy cone shaped clusters of flowers which start out creamy white in June, then age to pink as the summer goes on. In the early fall the blooms turn to a tannish rust color, and they can be dried for floral arrangements. There were a few years when I added the dried blooms to our Christmas tree, but that is another story. The leaves become red, bronze or purple in late fall, again adding more color to your garden. It is indeed a lovely shrub. When pruning the oakleaf hydrangea, it must be remembered that next year's growth is from the old wood of this year. It should be pruned by mid-July, but only necessary pruning. Removing broken branches is really all it needs. {1}

Someone had given me a tiny pink pocket knife on a chain. I think it was my uncle who gave it to me, since he shared my love of plants and digging in the dirt. It wasn't very big, but big enough to contribute to the trouble that I found myself in. My great Aunt Bett said she needed bark from a hydrangea to make a decoction to cure whatever was troubling her innards. I was determined that her innards were not going the way of the chicken's innards. I went home, shaved the bark from the biggest stalk of the hydrangea bush, and took it back to Aunt Bett.

Today's herbalists tell us that the root of the hydrangea is one of the best herbal remedies for treatment of kidney problems, especially kidney stones, by reducing the size of the stones and allowing them to pass painlessly. It is said to be of benefit for overall kidney and bladder function. But the bark can be peeled and used as a compress or ointment for treatment of bruises, burns and sore muscles. {2} Aunt Bett needed the bark, and so I peeled away the bark.

Aunt Bett said, "Where on earth did you git this here bark, chile?" "Mama's got a hydrangie bush in the front yard, Aunt Bett. I peeled it for your innards," I said.

We fast walked back up the holler to my house, and Aunt Bett went inside to talk to my mother. I was told to stay outside. I opened the door of my dad's workshop which was attached to the back porch. I knew there was some black electrical tape there. I got the tape, and taped that bark right back onto the hydrangea bush. When my mother and Aunt Bett came outside, I didn't say a word. I just held the leaves of that hydrangea back and they could see that it was all repaired. Image

My mother spent the evening moaning over her prized hydrangea that the Homemakers Club had given her. I spent the evening in my room without my tiny pink pocket knife. I thought at the time that Aunt Bett should have been there with me. After all, I was only trying to save her innards.

I remember that room very well. I spent a lot of time there thinking over the problems that I had created just trying to do something wonderful. The hydrangea bush is still growing very well right there in the front yard. I don't think the electrical tape weathered the years, but the hydrangea sure did.


{1} http://landscaping.about.com/od/shrubsbushes/p/oak_hydrangeas.htm

{2} http://www.gardensablaze.com/Shrubs/Shrubs/Hydrangea.htm

Photos are from Plant Files. Thanks to victorgardener for the thumbnail and for the fall color in the last photo, and to mgarr for the pink bloom.

A special thanks to my friend Kay Bennett for the gift of my oakleaf hydrangea, and for reminding me of this story.