I haven’t seen many hydrangeas since I was in Australia. I came upon a bush the other day while exploring the area around Toorbul. I immediately had a distinct feeling of dislike and anger. I was repulsed by this innocent and seemingly attractive flower that changes colour with the pH of the soil in which it grows.
I had almost completely forgotten how my self-esteem had been smashed by a hydrangea way back in 1959. We then lived in Palmerston North, in New Zealand, and I attended Westend Primary School. In those days the school fair was a popular annual event. Bring and buy, cake stalls, funfair activities, and art and craft competitions for the pupils.
It was decided that my class would participate in a flower arranging competition. On the Friday before the fair we were to bring flowers to school and arrange them artistically in a saucer of wet sand. These would be judged at the fair the next day and the best three would win a prize. I told mum and we went out looking for flowers around the block of flats where we lived. We found a few dandelions and a hydrangea bush. That was it.
By the time I got to school the dandelions had wilted. I threw them away. That left me with a couple of hydrangea inflorescences. I picked apart the individual flowers and florets and arranged them in an artistic spiral with the colour graduating from the palest on the outside to the deepest blue in the centre. When it was done, I did not think much of it, and I knew it would not win a prize, but it was the best I could do.
Next day, with a shilling in my pocket to spend on anything I liked, I went to the fair. In our classroom on a trestle table I found the flower arrangements, arranged in order from best to least favoured. As I expected mine was not amongst the top choices. I went to the other end of the table and was surprised to see it was not there either. Maybe it was better than I thought. I searched along the table to find it, and see exactly where it fit into the scale of artistic expression. After several passes, I could not see it anywhere. I was perplexed. Where was it?
Then with a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of foreboding far more serious than the occasion warranted, I spotted the rubbish bin beside the teacher’s desk and went over to look inside. There, inside was a pile of sand, and my hydrangea arrangement, now tumbled in disarray. I saw the saucer on the teacher’s desk.
I still cannot express how very devastated I was, not that my flower arrangement was not any good, but that it was not even considered worthy enough to be put on display with the other failures. It was the utterest of utter failures.
And therefore so was I.
I still fuckin’ hate hydrangeas.