Minding your M.V. P’s & Q’s: Hydrangeas

Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

Some homeowners with gorgeous hydrangea bushes have gone for the winter. Is it OK for me to pinch some of the remaining hydrangeas to dry for the enjoyment of all?

Confidentially yours,
Flower Power

Dear Flower,

Some of my readers might believe the only acceptable answer is, “No, don’t take things that aren’t yours, that is theft.” While this is certainly one approach, for the purposes of VIneyard living I provisionally disagree with it, for the following reasons:

First: Horticulture.

Deadheading a blooming plant at the end of the growing season is commendable. It is good for the plant (provided you don’t cut down the stem so far that you also lop off next year’s potential buds*). As warm as it has been, I doubt you’re talking about freshly blooming flowerheads in early November. You are doing the owners a favor by taking the old blooms away. Many landscaping companies charge for the service that you wish to perform voluntarily. Those lucky homeowners!

Second: Tradition

I believe in honoring the memories of one’s elders, and I learned about Other People’s Flowers at the feet of my Edgartonian grandmother.

My grandmother was a charter member of the shadowy Other People’s Flowers (OPF) Club. She was rumored to walk around the historic district of Edgartown with a small pair of scissors, discreetly “pruning” blossoms that spilled over the neat whitewashed fences (or that might have eventually spilled over a fence if left to grow unregulated … after all, such wayward blooms might have ended up becoming hazards to navigation on those buckling brick sidewalks). She was careful never to mar the visual effect of the gardens from which she pilfered, and she generally never took more than one blossom from any given yard. She would add her loot to the cut flowers she herself had grown, creating lovely bouquets that she would frequently give as gifts, or display in her real estate office. Her philosophy regarding OPF was multifaceted. It included the following justifications, depending on her mood and the particular situation in which she was asked about it (by an irate homeowner, by an admiring client, etc.).

  • These flowers were grown to be seen by many, and I am increasing their exposure to the world. I am the Auntie Mame of these flowers.
  • These flowers are being neglected by their owners, and I’ll do a better job celebrating their beauty.
  • I want these flowers, and nobody’s going to miss them.

It seems to me that all of these apply to your situation as well, especially if you are certain the owners are gone. Add this to the horticultural justification, and I think you have a strong case for plucking the hydrangeas.

However, keep a couple of things in mind. First: Please be serious when you say “the enjoyment of all.” That better not be a euphemism for “the enjoyment of me (and maybe other people in my house).” If the point is to extend their beauty, remember theirs is a public beauty. Bring them to work. Take them to Windemere, or the teachers’ lounge at one of the schools. Drop some off at the office of your favorite wiseass advice columnist.

Second: The OPF Club did not trespass to get their flowers (at least not to my knowledge, but my grandmother may have been shielding me from the ugly truth). It is beyond the scope of today’s column to get into the ethical complications of actually trespassing to access said hydrangeas. I hope for simplicity’s sake that they are low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

Also, lest irate readers overwhelm the in box with complaints: The “but if EVERYBODY did it …” filter doesn’t apply here, because if everybody DID do it, then all the hydrangea bushes of Martha’s Vineyard would be more vigorous than ever next July. How is that a crime? Everyone knows hydrangeas attract tourists, and ours is a tourist economy. In the long view, an argument against deadheading other people’s hydrangea bushes is really an argument against the Island’s financial well-being. So please, thank the next non-hydrangea-owning person who gives you a bouquet of dried hydrangeas.

That’s my take.


* Thanks, Jeremiah Brown.

Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to Nicole Galland at OnIsland@mvtimes.com.