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  • When I moved to Portland twenty-two years ago, Martha Stewart was singing the praises of hydrangeas in the early 1990’s as a shade-tolerant shrub that bloomed though the “hammock days of summer,” and could also be cut and dried for wreathes and other glue-gun projects. The cover of her Living magazine was graced with a purple hydrangea bush and a freshly painted Adirondack chair. Best of all, the flowers were sometimes true blue, the most-sought after garden color. Blue.

    That year I decided to make hydrangea wreathes for Christmas gifts. But, because I lived in a small studio apartment in NW Portland, I didn’t have a yard, much less a hydrangea bush to work from. So- I placed a free ad in the community newspaper. The paper was weekly and had a distribution of SW and NW Portland. The ad was a whim. If it worked out, I’d have enough blooms for a wreath; I’d be happy.

    The ad ran on a Wednesday and by Friday I had over a dozen calls. All the phone messages were from women who invited me to stop by and walk through their garden with clippers and a box or garbage bag. And, all wanted me to ring the bell to alert them to my arrival so they could meet me.

    On a Saturday morning, I set out early. The first house was in Goose Hollow, and was a stately white colonial, a couple blocks from the MAC Club. When I ran the doorbell and frail, elderly woman came to the door and invited me in. I took my shoes off and left them by the door. The frail woman told me she had cookies and tea for me and motioned for me sit while she heated the water. When the tea was poured, I was treated to a long story about her family, how long she’d lived in the house and how most of her friends had died in the last decade. Obviously lonely, Ethel asked me to take her arm while we walked through her entire garden admiring the new retaining wall and recently planted annuals. When it came time for the hydrangeas, Ethel helped me select the best and brightest blooms for my wreath. Before we parted she told me how lovely it was to meet me and hoped I’d return again someday.

    The next two yards were similar experiences, all elderly women, and all lovely gardeners. I had much more than I needed in the way of blossoms but I couldn’t say no to meeting with these sweet people who were expecting me to arrive that weekend. It turned out to be a memorable experience that made my new hometown immediately a community of caring individuals.
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