The Many Faces of Hydrangea
With a variety of flower colors that include white, pink, blue and lilac, hydrangeas are a no-fail shrub for Northwest gardens. Some blossoms are called "red" but have a hue more like an intense pink segueing into claret.
Hydrangea aspera 'Macrophylla' grows tall, this one nearly touching the top of a barn at the Roadhouse Nursery in Poulsbo, Washington. ©2007
Oak leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen' ©2007
Fall leaves of the oak leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice' ©2004
Lacecap, Hydrangea 'Blue Wave' ©2007
Some flowers begin in shades of green, turn to deep blue, and finish up in a shade of maroon. Flower types include pinnate (cone shaped masses of blooms), mophead and lacecap. Leaves can be large and are usually oval or elliptical shaped with serrated edges. Oak leaf hydrangeas sport oak-shaped leaves that turn brilliant red, orange and yellow in the fall. Hydrangea aspera leaves are nearly a foot long and eight to ten inches across with a furry velvet texture. A few varieties have leaves that are narrow and not more than two or three inches long; you'll even find an evergreen variety of climbing hydrangea.
The shrubs we see in nurseries and in our own gardens originated in Japan, East Asia, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and the Mediterranean. Additional cultivars were bred in France, Germany, England and the United States.
Hydrangeas thrive in our acidic, humus rich soils. Some will not appreciate full sun or a spot that gets afternoon heat and sun. The oak leaf hydrangea tolerates more sun than other varieties, showing more fall color in autumn if they receive at least six hours of sun a day. Some cultivars prefer dappled shade or morning sun. All these shrubs need regular watering in summer until the plant is established. You can find a hydrangea to meet nearly any light requirement.
Gardeners are known to manipulate the color of hydrangeas by changing the soil acidity. Many new cultivars on the market now will remain true to their colors and won't need manipulating.
Many hydrangeas bloom on old wood. However, new cultivars are being produced where the plant can be pruned and will still bloom the following year. Hydrangeas seem to thrive on neglect, but can become leggy. When pruning is needed, remove only one third of the stems at a time, by cutting them down to the ground. Experts vary on whether to prune in the fall or in the spring. Waiting until March seems to be the preference of most Northwest gardeners.
Hydrangeas splash autumn with flashes of color as well as providing abundant choices to decorate your garden with four-season color. Check out a few of the following beauties to help you choose your own favorites to enhance your garden.
Hydrangea aborescens ‘Annabelle' is the snowball hydrangea we all remember from our mother or grandmother's gardens. The flowers look almost greenish when emerging, turning to creamy white. The shrub is frost-hardy and tolerant of light shade, but does fine in sun too. This shrub does best when allowed to grow in plenty of space. It will tolerate pruning; however, for best results, give it plenty of room instead.
Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) is a tall, fairly narrow, but sometimes floppy plant with large oak-shaped leaves turning purple, amber, orange and claret red in fall. Over time, the shrub can reach six to eight feet. Elongated, white flowers turn various shades of purple and magenta as they age. Textured bark adds even more interest.
Another one with peeling bark, Hydrangea aspera, grows into a small ten to twelve foot tree as wide as it is tall. It too has peeling bark. Give it plenty of room to sprawl. Leaves are very large ovals covered with a velvety coat. Flower clusters have mostly fertile flowers with sprinklings of sterile flowers around the edges. Flowers can be white, pink, mauve or lavender. H. aspera sargentiana has white, sterile flowers and H. aspera ‘Villosa' has pink and lavender sterile flowers. With emerging buds and opening flowers sheathed in velvet, you'll want to pet them each time you pass by.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha' is a cultivar with small clusters of flowers; each one is indented and cuplike, in hues of white, blue or pink. Although it's hard to describe the flowers, you'll know them when you see them. The flowers are scented and each cluster is somewhat stiff. Striking and tempting are the only words to give this flavor of hydrangea.
For a red-pink variety, try H. macrophylla ‘Pia'. This small shrub usually grows no more than three feet tall and sprawls delightfully. It's perfect for rockeries or container culture. The green leaves turn red-brown in the fall. Blooms dry wonderfully and are good in dried arrangements. The only caveat is sometimes this plant grows into a large shrub.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Harlequin' is interesting with pink flowers with a white rim, as if someone took a paintbrush and applied a white edging to all the blooms.
Many older gardens are home to one or more huge, blue mophead hydrangeas. The names of these varieties are lost to us, but everyone who sees the gorgeous blue blooms covets these plants. Often the flowers will change from green to blue to deep purple to crimson as the blooms age through the months of summer and into fall. These hydrangeas are even lovely when the blossoms become pale and papery as the weather chills. The faded parchment blossoms atop the bare, wheat colored stems add interest all winter long.
Also, explore the many varieties of lace cap hydrangeas. Look for lacecaps with variegated leaves and blossoms in blue or white. New Japanese lacecap varieties have double blooms, such as Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Fuji Waterfall'.
Hydrangea seratta ‘Preziosa' is an all time favorite of many gardeners. The smooth stems are deep burgundy and leaves are dark forest green. Flowers are small rounded mopheads ranging from palest pink to palest lavender, with multicolors all on the same plant. Sometimes the blooms change from white to blue and then into pink, followed by lavender. As the season progresses, the flowers and leaves deepen in intensity, becoming a deep, rich merlot. When you see H. seratta ‘Preziosa' you'll want it too.
Photographed by Debbie Teashon
Peg Tillery's passion other than her husband, children and grandchildren is gardening and helping others learn about gardening. She's on the editorial team of "Westsound Home and Garden" magazine, along with writing several articles each quarterly issue of the magazine. Peg's column "Dig This" is featured regularly in Sound Publishing's Kitsap News Group's papers. During the day she's the Horticulture Educator for WSU Extension in Kitsap County and coordinates the WSU Master Gardener Program. Peg is also a member of the Garden Writer's Association.