What’s the secret to caring for the blooming beauties? Chatham Bars Inn’s Fine Gardener Pamela Vasques provides the answers.
By Lisa Leigh Connors
Photography by Marcy Ford
If you explore the winding paths around Chatham Bars Inn during the summer months, you might think you have arrived in hydrangea heaven. Visitors from near and far marvel at the sea of beautiful hues, from purples and pinks to blues and burgundies.
Since the ubiquitous Cape & Islands flower has endless admirers and fans, we were curious about how to best maintain and care for the iconic (and finicky!) flower. For answers, we reached out to Pamela Vasques, Fine Gardener at Chatham Bars Inn, where she and her team maintain 25 acres of the inn’s lush and colorful gardens, which include about 4,000 hydrangeas and 12 different varieties. “It’s my retirement job and it’s probably been the best job of my entire life,” says Vasques, who also teaches flower box design and wreath-making classes at the inn.
Vasques and her team add 250 to 300 hydrangeas to the property every year and introduced a new variety last summer called Sensation. This new addition joins Merritt’s Supreme, Tellers Blue, Glowing Embers, Lace Cap, Blushing Brides and climbing hydrangeas in the gorgeous garden beds and along the brick walkways. But perhaps the most popular and well-known hydrangea is Endless Summer, which can be seen on about 75 percent of the property in eight or nine different colors.
“I have been here for five years, so we have added almost 1,400 new hydrangeas,” says Vasques, who buys hydrangeas locally from Hart Farm in Dennis as well as from growers in Connecticut and New Jersey. The passionate gardener commutes from Falmouth five days a week and arrives at the property at 5 a.m. and works until 2 p.m. “It’s just me and the seals,” she says. “The sunrise is absolutely stunning every day.”
On an overcast July morning, we strolled the grounds at Chatham Bars Inn with Vasques, chatted with her about the correct way to water, how to change the colors of the beautiful blooms and the proper ways to prune. We’re definitely onto something—during our interview, several guests on bicycles stopped to listen and chimed in with a few of their own questions!
Insider tips from Pamela Vasques of Chatham Bars Inn:
- Planting Ideally, hydrangeas should have morning sun and afternoon shade, a 50/50 mix, says Vasques. Before planting hydrangeas (typically in June), place Bio-tone and a pinch of Soil Moist in every hole (This lasts about six months.) “It’s enough to keep it established so that if our irrigation isn’t enough, the Soil Moist turns into pearl water beads.”
- Water, water, water. Always water from the bottom and give it a good soak at dawn and at dusk. “Never, ever let the water touch the leaves because if it doesn’t dry, the sun is going to scorch the leaves and they will turn brown,” says Vasques. If you have irrigation, make sure the heads don’t spray the leaves. “We don’t have heads that come out and spray—we surround the plant with a tubing that drips water.”
- Changing colors If a homeowner wants to change the color of the blooms for Endless Summer, Vasques suggests using Aluminum sulfate to turn the flowers blue and Sulfur for pink—both of which can be purchased at your local garden center. Or, place Garden Lime (also available from your garden center) around the base of the plant and water it in. This must be done before you see a bud, usually in March. “We do not change colors on the property,” says Vasques, adding the inn’s soil type is clay, sand and plain old soil.
- Fertilizer for the homeowner Vasques recommends fertilizing with organic Hollytone, a wonderful product for hydrangeas. We do it twice a year, in March and October. We prune and fertilize with commercial-grade fertilizer.
- How to prune Don’t cut the wood. People will cut wood and the wood is what carries the buds.” When pruning, only take off 30 percent; go down only three buds. If you take off more than that, you will only see leaves for the next season. At the end of July and August, we start taking off the mop heads (dead-heading) and prune in the fall. Vasques also recommends removing dead wood. “If you can twist it easily, take it out because nothing is going to grow on dead wood.”
- Caring for them in vase To extend the life of the flowers after cutting them and putting them in a vase, Vasques suggests using Floral Life Clear Growing Glory Solution, a hydrator for hydrangeas. After you cut the flowers (on an angle), spray the bottom of the mop and top of the mop, place them in a vase and hydrangeas should last about a week (instead of two days).
Chatham Bars Inn, located at 297 Shore Road, invites visitors to stroll their pathways, take in the stunning water views and enjoy their beautiful gardens throughout the year!