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For Me, There’s Always Room For One More Hydrangea

By Robert Woodman, Plant Specialist 

At Merrifield Garden Center, we’re all gardeners at heart. I know I’m not the only one who leaves work only to jump right back in the garden once I get home.

In my garden, you’ll find several hydrangeas. They’re one of my favorite plants, especially the varieties with those big, globe-like blue flowers that resemble a bowl of grapes.

These hydrangeas bloom like crazy in the cool shade of a large tree. On hot days, we all seek the refuge of shade. And, if we're lucky, we enjoy the company of these beautiful plants.

I’m describing a macrophylla, one of five different types of hydrangeas:

1 - Macrophylla or big leaf, including lacecap and mopped flowers
2 - Panicle (paniculata)
3 - Oakleaf (quercifolia)
4 - Smooth (arborescens)
5 - Climbers

The macrophylla is the most sought after hydrangea. It’s easy to see why. Who can resist their gorgeous shades of blue during the summer? Other than roses, they’re one of the most requested cut flowers.

To that point, macrophylla was used in the bridesmaids’ bouquets during my wedding. So naturally, it has earned a special place in my garden. ‘Endless Summer’ is a popular collection, known to have the ability to re-bloom, providing that spent flowers are removed. It’s not the only re-blooming type available, though. Some others include 'All Summers Beauty', 'Penny Mac' and the new ‘Forever and Ever’.

Obviously, growing a repeat flowering plant has enormous appeal. But don’t discount the rest of the group. The old heirloom types carry a charm that can't be matched in flower size, structure or color. In my opinion, 'Nikko Blue' has the best blue color, while 'Blue Bird' has an air of understated sophistication with its lacecap blooms. Newer types, such as ‘Big Daddy’, offer the largest flowers and the ability to take more heat with thick, leathery leaves that don’t easily wilt.

For those who seek to grow hydrangeas in sunny locations, the panicle types have definitely commanded attention. Leading the pack is 'Limelight', which is a rival to the popular PeeGee cultivar. With a height of about 6’ plus – about half the size of a PeeGee – ‘Limelight’ is a great choice in confined landscapes. The attraction that hooked many of us is their dense clusters of lime green blooms that turn white, and then fade out to pink. Old flowers can be left on the branches to dry, carrying its aesthetic into the winter season, much like how we use ornamental grasses.

'Quick Fire' is the earliest blooming of all panicle cultivars, while ‘Pinky Winky’ features a two-tone color variation of its white flowers. A surge of new compact varieties have hit our stores in recent years with 'Dharma', 'Little Lime' and the latest - ‘Bombshell', boasting an eventual stature of only 2.5’ to 3’ with smaller but in-scale flowers.

Flowers aren’t the only appeal of hydrangeas. Foliage should always be considered when you wish to extend the season past bloom. The oakleaf hydrangeas definitely corner the market on that. It’s actually hard to believe that you're looking at a hydrangea when you see an oakleaf for the first time, but the cone-shape flowers give it away. Fall color lights up this shrub in reds, oranges and yellows. It’s followed by light brown peeling bark during the winter to give a subtle, but desirable feature. Noteworthy cultivars include 'Alice', which matures at about 8’ tall with beautiful form, and 'Snow Queen', which is a little shorter at about 6’. Like panicles, oakleaf hydrangeas can take some sun, even in the heat of the day.

‘Annabelle’ is one of the best known and the widest grown of the smooth hydrangeas. But in recent years, ‘Incrediball’ has crashed the party and turned heads. Claims of larger, basketball-sized flowers with stronger flowering stems have made us all revisit using them in the garden. This was closely followed by ‘Invincibelle Spirit’, the first pink colored arborescens that opened up new opportunities in color combinations in the garden.

This year I was introduced to the latest member of the group - ‘Bella Anna’ - a limited release that came from the creators of the ‘Endless Summer’ collection. Their rich, magenta pink flowers have a vibrancy that makes them so irresistible that you have to find a spot for them in your garden.

If space is a premium but you can’t resist hydrangeas, the climbing varieties might be your answer. Their lacecap, white blooms have an airy nature that contrast beautifully with their dense, glossy foliage. Be warned this is a woodland plant, so too much sun exposure will scorch the outer margins of their leaves. Rather, find a shady spot for them to climb.

Surely, there is a place in every garden for a hydrangea. Or two. Or three …

Posted: 7/6/2011 10:02:17 AM
Filed under: garden, Hydrangea, Yost, David

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