I always thought that hydrangeas were ... well, boring. Perhaps they had some certain charm, but only in their proper setting: the middle of a large rural yard with an old farm house and assorted outbuildings.

A few years ago someone dropped off an orphaned Easter plant. Cats and common plants seem to find their way easily to our house. Easter hydrangeas are often not hardy here, so I left it in its pot. That summer I did my best, without being obvious, to kill it. Several times it wilted to the point of collapse. In fall I "forgot" it, not bringing it inside until Christmas. But hydrangeas, natives of a kinder age than ours, do not bear grudges. By March it had leafed out, budded out, and bloomed on my sunporch. And while they were still just a white blob, any flower in March is welcome.

The next summer I decided to take better care of it. That was the death knell. It died. But in the meantime, visiting friends several hundred miles away, I had seen another unnamed hydrangea growing in their neighbor's yard, a deep red and quite dwarf. I came home with a softwood cutting which readily rooted, so I still had flowers in March, this time deep rose drying to almost maroon with touches of apple green.

That is one of the nice things about hydrangeas: the dead blossoms are almost as beautiful as the fresh ones. I've had people ask me how to dry hydrangeas for winter arrangements, and they expect some complicated and arcane procedure. But really the simplest way is to just leave them on the plant.

I like my red one better than the deceased white one. And though my view of the things was not quite as dour as it had once been, I figured one was enough. Then I did the unthinkable. I actually went out and paid cash money for one.

Like Mark Twain and his beloved Livy, I fell in love with a picture. It had variegated foliage in shades of white and soft gray-green, and I just had to have it. Since the picture showed no flowers, I figured they were not worthy of note, but I was wrong. It bloomed with blue lace-cap type buds opening to the clearest white florets. Striking in bloom, still beautiful when not.

It is not quite hardy outside in my Zone 5 garden. That is true of many kinds of hydrangeas, so you should be careful and do your homework when buying. It is no problem when growing in pots, though, and many of the new varieties are semi dwarf anyway.

Our grandmothers used to adjust the color by changing the pH of the soil. Adding lime would turn the blooms a dirty pink, aluminum sulfate would make them a dusky blue.

Over the years breeders have been working with colors. Now the "reds" are not quite red but a beautiful dark rose and the blues are luscious. You can still fiddle with the colors, but most modern varieties are predisposed to red or white or blue.

Planted outside they like a moist spot and prefer some shade. They are so water sensitive that you can use them as a drought alert; when the hydrangea wilts, it's time to drag the hose out to the garden.

If you grow them in pots, don't be in any hurry to get them inside in the fall. Let them catch some frosty weather and drop their leaves before you take pity on them.

If you don't grow them at all, you might want to take another look at hydrangeas. I did, and though my friends won't believe this, I changed my mind.