Discover Blooming Wonders at the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival

There may be no more colorful summer event than this annual celebration of the Cape’s signature flower.

By Yankee Editors

Jun 13 2023

CCC_Hydrangeas at Sesuit Neck Rd_Dennis_cr Greta Georgieva

Hydrangeas at Sesuit Neck Road, Dennis, MA

Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

By Virginia Wright; sponsored by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

Over the past five years, chicken-keeping maven Melissa Caughey has revived and revamped her formerly drought-devasted gardens in the historic Cape Cod village of West Barnstable. She reseeded the lawn, built a charming clapboard-sided coop for her birds, assembled raised vegetable boxes, and planted lots and lots of her favorite flowers: hydrangeas. “You can imagine my excitement and surprise when I moved to Cape Cod and quickly learned that practically everyone here has at least one hydrangea in their landscape,” Caughey writes on her popular website, Tilly’s Nest. “I knew that I had to learn about them and add them to my gardens.”

Daily tours of private gardens, each designed and maintained by the individual homeowners and carrying a unique charm, are among the main attractions of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, now in its ninth year.
Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

That pretty well describes how hydrangeas came to be the Cape’s signature flower: Years ago, a few gardeners planted them, their neighbors coveted them and planted their own, their neighbors did the same, and before long the showy, nectar-rich flowers — whites, pinks, purples, greens, and, most prolifically, blues — were brightening gardens from Sandwich to Provincetown. Hydrangeas are now so integral to Cape villages and neighborhoods that residents celebrate them with a 10-day festival in July, just when most varieties come into full bloom. This year, from July 7 to 16, the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival boasts tours at more than 70 private gardens, Melissa Caughey’s among them. And while hydrangeas are the headliners, their equally beautiful companion plants are also part of the show.

A sign points the way to a floral paradise in West Dennis, one of more than a dozen towns and villages across the Cape where private gardens will be open for tours, with proceeds going to benefit a variety of nonprofits.
Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

Hydrangeas thrive on Cape Cod because of the sea’s moderating influence on summer and winter temperatures and because of the acidic, well-draining soil that is the secret behind those eye-catching true-blue blossoms, says garden writer and podcaster C.L. Fornari, the festival’s lead founder. “People here, as well as visitors from other parts of the country, have been gaga for them as long as I can remember. In fact, in 1993, when I told a friend in the Hudson Valley that I was moving to the Cape, she said, ‘Oh, now you can grow those outrageous blue hydrangeas!’”

Cameras in hand, festival attendees focus on a cascade of hydrangea blooms during a garden tour in Yarmouth Port.
Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

Inspired by an annual garden tour in Buffalo, New York — which had become a highly successful economic engine for that city’s restaurants, hotels, and shops — Fornari pitched a hydrangea-themed fest to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce nine years ago, and together they structured it so that charitable organizations and other nonprofits would benefit from it too. The Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival is made up of several independently organized events under the chamber’s coordination. This year, 30 nonprofit groups have created private-garden tours — they found the amenable homeowners, and they’ll staff the gardens and collect the $5 per-person admission fee at each one.

Set for July 7–16, 2023, the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival invites attendees to learn all about not just hydrangeas, but also the companion plants that work best with this dazzling perennial.
Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

The Chatham Garden Club, for example, is hosting tours at five properties, including a quintessential Cape house flanked by river birches, magnolias, crepe myrtles, and Leland cypresses and a beachfront estate lush with hostas, alliums, and lavenders. The Cape Cod Hydrangea Society has 10 gardens on its tour, including hydrangea-centric landscaper Linda Coven’s West Yarmouth property, where hundreds of hydrangeas flourish in island beds and alongside her and her neighbors’ houses. Coven has even placed dozens of potted hydrangeas on several neighborhood porches and patios; come November, she’ll tote them into her garage for the winter.

Although blue may be the best-known color for hydrangeas, Cape Cod’s signature flower can put on a show in a spectrum of hues.
Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

Fornari herself will preside over four open houses at her Poison Ivy Acres in Sandwich, each one raising money for a different nonprofit: the Sandwich Food Pantry, the Sandwich Art Association, the Unitarian Church of Barnstable, and the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society. (As for her property’s namesake poison ivy, she says, “We grow it quite well, but we keep it under control — visitors aren’t in any danger of coming in contact with it!”)

The floral fun gets rolling with the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival Kickoff Party on July 6 at Hyannis Country Garden. From there, the festival dives into a robust arts and educational schedule bracketed by Hydrangea University, an opening-day symposium with expert growers’ presentations at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, and the finale, the Provincetown Art Association & Museum’s Secret Garden Tour, featuring admission to several private gardens and five beautiful art exhibitions. In between are presentations at garden centers and sales of garden-inspired works by Cape artists and crafters and garden tours all across the Cape.

Strolling idyllic gardens is just part of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival. You can also attend workshops, classes, and lectures; discover promotions at participating nurseries and home centers; and even watch painting demonstrations by renowned local artists.
Photo Credit : Greta Georgieva

Fornari will offer a July 7 virtual talk on hydrangea care as well as a July 8 in-person talk at Hyannis Country Garden about different hydrangea varieties. Another in-person talk at Hyannis Country Garden, on July 11, will be given by landscape architect Barbara Conolly as she discusses companion plantings for hydrangeas. But the gardens and floral displays are in themselves educational, Fornari says, citing, in particular, the planters adorning the sidewalks of downtown Hyannis. The Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District has committed to growing native pollinating plants in 140 planters along a one-mile stretch of Yarmouth Road as part of the Pollinator Pathway Cape Cod project. “It’s an interesting, bold decision because the plants need to be hardy and look attractive before and after bloom,” Fornari says.

To those daunted by the festival’s menu of 70-plus gardens, Fornari says don’t worry. “No matter which gardens you choose, there’s something going on that you can learn from or be excited about, whether it’s a new plant, a way of combining plants, or a way of supporting pollinators. There’s no wrong place to go.”

The Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival’s principal sponsors are Monrovia Plants, Proven Winners, Bloomin’ Easy, Endless Summer Hydrangeas, and Hyannis Country Garden.