Hydrangeas and Blueberries
Blueberry season almost passed us by this year. Having had some back problems, and with groups touring the garden almost every day these past weeks, there was no time to go berry picking. Saturday morning Josh & I got up early and headed off to Dripping Springs Berry Farm south of Berryville, AR. Our friends have about 2 1/2 acres of blueberry bushes, all about head high, just the right height for reaching out and picking. They did have nearly 4 acres of berries but have removed an acre and a half and will be replacing the bushes with new ones. Most of the bushes are 25 or more years old and the owners have decided to replant with new ones, with better spacing, better mulch. They live beside Dry Fork Creek, which is never dry. It's a cold, clear, always moving stream with fish, and is the source for the water for their irrigation system for the berries.
Their main crops are fresh cut flowers and vegetables, which they sell through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, and through the 3 day a week Fayetteville, AR Farmer's Market. They have several greenhouses and about 5 acres in production of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
It was blisteringly hot, even in fairly early morning and we got 4 gallons of blueberries picked. Some will go in the freezer, others have already been eaten. I made a blueberry cobbler for supper last night, and made homemade vanilla ice cream to top it off. This morning I made blueberry pancakes and Josh made a peach-blueberry smoothie for his breakfast.
A visit to Dripping Springs always means a dip in the creek to cool off. After getting soaked with sweat in the summer sun, the cold water always feels great. The Dripping Springs folks host 4 interns a year through an organic internship program and this year they have 2 fellows from Arkansas, a girl from Peru and a guy from Thailand, all there for the season, learning about organic production crops.
The road to Dripping Springs goes along Dry Fork Creek for several miles, and goes under a beautiful limestone bluff (click on the photos to enlarge them). Along the road, and beneath the bluff, which includes caves and springs, grow native hydrangea. These hydrangeas are the mother of the domesticated hydrangeas in bloom across the country right now. Some of the newly patented hydrangeas, like 'Twist 'n Shout' show the wild hydrangea parentage in the form of the flowers. Notice how the flower clusters bloom around the edges like lace.
Native hydrangeas like cool, damp locations. Notice in the bluff photo that it's hydrangea bushes that line the road. That same photo shows hydrangeas hanging out of cracks in the bluff face, well above where cars drive. And in one crevice between the bluff outcroppings, the hydrangeas have climbed all the way up between the rocks.
Hydrangea has been used medicinally by Native Americans and early folk healers, although it's not a plant to be used without caution. Mostly you will know this plant as a decorative shrub in the yard, with either blue, white or pink flowers. Not all hydrangeas can have their flower color changed by the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, but some can, so you may see wildly blue flowers or shocking pink in people's yards. The native variety and the old fashioned ones are white flowered.
I tried growing blueberries here in our gardens once many years ago. I began with 6, chest high bushes and planted them in what I thought to be a moist location. I mulched, watered and they did fair. But it takes a lot of irrigation to grow blueberries and I didn't give them nearly enough. Our guinea hens, which can't see well but somehow were able to see the blueberries, tried every way they knew to get at the berries. They were funny to watch, the size of chickens, somewhat dumpy, they tried unsuccessfully hovering like humming birds, but that didn't work. Jumping up as if chasing a grasshopper did, and in just a few days they had picked all but the very top berries off the plants. The next year the bushes were shorter from not enough water and attention, and by the third year, they were about knee high and I simply mowed them down with the lawnmower. I'd rather go to Dripping Springs Farm, pick berries and go skinny dipping in the creek afterward, than go to all that work to grow them myself!