Thursday, July 7, 2011

Never In All My Days...

...have I seen hydrangeas so beautifully, naturally blue.  Hydrangea macrophylla.

I took a walk the other day--but not around here.  I went someplace special because the hydrangeas were in full bloom, and if it's ajisai you want to see... to Kamakura you go!  There are hydrangea bushes spilling over every wall, adorning every corner right now.  But one temple in Kamakura is so famous for its ajisai that people know it as well by its nickname-- "Ajisaidera" (Hydrangea Temple)--as by the real name.

Meigetsuin Road
"Mei" means "bright", "Getsu" means "moon", and "in" is "hermitage", also translated as "temple".  It is well over seven hundred years old, and the temple with which it was originally a part over eight hundred years old.

Ja... ikou, yo!

Every alley and cross street is lined with pink, blue, and purple.
Get off at Kita-Kamakura station and hang a right.  There are actually  any number of ancient, lovely temples that date back to the Kamakura period of Japanese history (the shogunate established in 1185 in Kamakura that wrested control away from the emperor for about a century and a half).  But on this particular day I (along with all the other Aunties of a Certain Age) had come to see Hydrangeas, so there was really only one temple to see.

The Ajisai-dera is only 500 meters from the station, so I walked instead of hiring a Jinrikisha (人力車... literally "person-power-vehicle").   It tends to be pricey, which is the other reason I didn't hire one.  Back in the day when I was single and traveling around Kyoto, I did shell out $50 for a ride-- and Ladies, allow me to assure you that fifty bucks is not an unreasonable fee to be pulled around town by a young, lithe, good-looking Japanese guy who runs all day for a living.  They wear tight pants.  The view is worth every bit of that 5000yen...;-))

Gradations of pink to purple on a single bush...

What was I talking about?  Oh.   Flowers.  Right.
It's a good thing I was by myself, as I took a picture of nearly every flower I saw:-))  Actually, all these photos are for my Mommy, who would (like me) stop to look at every. single. flower.  I come by it honest;-))  Happy Birthday, Mom!

Lovely blue Lacecap Hydrangeas (Gaku-ajisai)... and crowds.
In spite of it's having been a weekday, the whole area was quite crowded.  I figured it was the nice weather-- we had two beautiful, sunny days in between a week of clouds and rain.  Which meant that I, along with everybody else, thought it would be a good day to go.  It always seems to be that way here-- no matter what you think of to do, when you get to wherever you were going, you find out that ten thousand other people had the exact same idea...

Blue Lacecap, tending to purplish...
I didn't really mind, though-- I was mostly glad for the break in the weather.  And, as a matter of fact, all the rain in previous weeks meant that the ajisai were gloriously happy about being so well-watered and were busting out everywhere.  The last time I visited this temple, the flowers were rather pale blue-- lovely, but not the intense color I'd remembered from my first time seeing them.

My favorite color...because it occurs naturally:-)

 This year, though, the ajisai were almost pulsatingly blue-- True Hydrangea Blue, not the too-bright royal blue you sometimes see in hothouse hybrids.

Ajisai and Bamboo
The really fascinating thing (to me, anyway) about this species of hydrangea (H. macrophylla), is the way the pH of the soil affects the color of the flowers.  Really!

A bush may be initially pink or blue, but depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and the uptake of aluminum ions from the soil, very often you will see bushes with no two mopheads of flowers the same color.   Here's the relevant bit from Wiki:

"In most species the flowers are white, but in some species (notably H. macrophylla), can be blue, red, pink, light purple, or dark purple. In these species the exact colour often mirrors the pH of the soil; acidic soils produce blue flowers, neutral soils produce very pale cream petals, and alkaline soils results in pink or purple. This is caused by a color change of the flower pigments in the presence of aluminium ions which can be taken up into hyperaccumulating plants.[2][3]"

Don't they give the distinct impression of arteries and veins?
 Are you not diverted?  If you look closely at the stems, you can see how they gradually change color from the main stem to the tiny, branching stems supporting the individual flowers.   The main stem is green (as usual), but changes to pink, to purplish, to blue just beneath the flowers.  I wondered whether this wasn't maybe due to the uptake of aluminum ions as mentioned in the Wiki article....

Pink to Purple... maybe the soil is slightly acidic her
I noticed on the way up the street that the ajisai outside the temple were mostly of the pink variety, which had nearly all morphed to some shade of purple, while all the bushes inside the temple proper were blue (intensely blue this year).  

Not retouched in any way-- this is the actual color I was looking at...
Generally acidic soil, perhaps, causing the basically pink plants to shade to purple, while enhancing the blue of the blue plants?

Ajisai behind the Tea House

 This is getting a bit long, so...

The Tea House

... I'll leave you with a few more images of Hydrangeas at the Ajisai-dera, and continue this post on the weekend with the Other Stuff At The Temple Besides Hydrangeas...
Kamakura Ishi no Sandou

The money shot:  at right, the 800-year-old path of original, weathered Kamakura Stones (鎌倉石の参道... Kamakura Ishi no Sandou).  Of course, ideally, you'd want this shot with just the stone steps flanked by gracefully drooping ajisai and no people, but....

Ajisai and Jinrikisha...

 Hydrangeas, crowds, and Jinrikisha...

...all the bushes looked like this...
Blue ajisai with a touch of purple...


  1. What I love is that so many people actually take time to go and appreciate it. Saying 'I'm off to look at the flowers in the park' would get you many strange looks over here.

    'Aunties of a Certain Age,' capitalised like that, has a sort of literary look to it, but I can't think of what author I'm reminded of. Wodehouse, maybe? Any ideas?

    Haven't done a song link for a while, so here's The Move doing Flowers In The Rain.

  2. I like that about Japan, too-- the fact that cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, fall colors, and such are front page news:-) *Great* link--thanks! Perfect:-)

    Capitalizing... A.A. Milne did that, of course, but that's probably not who you're thinking of;-) What was I thinking of? Hmmmm... it was rather late at night when I was typing that... I have no idea!

  3. Wow! Look how blue they are! And i love the flowers and bamboo pic. I have bamboo in my current work in progress. But its sinister bamboo...

  4. "Sinister bamboo"? Sarah, you cannot leave things like that hanging over our curiosity-bumps!

    *Now picturing bamboo in the act of slowly stroking a white cat*

    Amy, Gerald Durrel, maybe. Something semi-comedic, for sure.

  5. Sorry for the double post.

    Got it! The Great Aunt, in the Swallows And Amazons books. Not comedic at all. Bit of a prim old dragon, in fact.

    If you've not read them, I highly recommend 'em. And if you have kids, you even have an excuse to be reading kids' books… ☺

  6. Sarah-- sinister bamboo?? Which wip? Glimpse? Aaaaahhhh! No fair dropping exciting little tidbits like that!
    (that was my favorite photo, too-- it can be hard to get a good shot of bamboo when you don't have a wide angle lens... or any lens at all...

  7. Daz-- I really have to just break out the plastic and order something by Gerald've mentioned him several times, and since you mentioned him to me, I've seen him mentioned/praised other places, too. And Swallows and Amazons--I remember you said that was one of your favorite series. And I never need an excuse to read kids' books-- I just go right ahead and read them :-))

    Durrell. S & A. Got it. Must get those.

  8. If you want recommendations:

    My Family And Other Animals, which is, or at least was, one of the books that all Brit schoolchildren get given to read. It's in the company of Animal Farm and To Kill A Mockingbird there, which is pretty good company to be keeping, I'd say.

    Then Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, and Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons: A Journey To The Flora And Fauna Of A Unique Island and The Picnic And Suchlike Pandemonium.

    Also, FYI, the S & A series should really be read in this order, for best effect.

    Ransome was a quite interesting bloke in his own right. Worked as a semi-spy during the Russian revolution, and fell in love with Trotsky's secretary, who he smuggled out of Russia.

  9. That's the one! That's the first one I'll get, then, though I plan to look for all of Durrel's work...

    Seems like I've seen S&A mentioned recently, and in more than one place... and of course can't think where. I think I'd enjoy reading about the author as much as reading the series, just given that tantalizing tidbit you provided up there. "Trotsky's Secretary" would be a good name for a band... ;-))