One of the most spectacular shows in the shady areas of gardens at this time of year are the Hydrangeas. There are several that are highly recommended for the greater Philadelphia area by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Societies Gold Medal Plant Award. Check out their website — www.goldmedalplants.org/gmpsearch.aspx.
We tend to think of the blue or pink ball like flowers of Hydrangea macrophylla (of course everyone has their favorite color, usually the opposite of what turns up in your garden!), but there are many more types of hydrangea available for use in the landscape. They are all easy care and deer resistant. What’s not to love?
The first one is Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” (Smooth Hydrangea), a very adaptable native deciduous shrub. It blooms on new wood so it can be cut back or pruned to make an informal hedge. It reaches about 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. Like many hydrangeas, it is best in part shade with some moisture in the soil. Plants may need some supplemental watering in extreme drought. The moisture loss can be reduced by planting in morning sun and afternoon shade, as the late low sun is too hot. The blooms are white and very large, up to 10 inches or more — blooms from June to July.
Another adaptable native hydrangea is Hydrangea quercifolia “Snow Queen.” This is also known as the oakleaf hydrangea because of its big lobed leaves that turn a wonderful bronzy red in the fall. The blooms are 6 to 8 inches long and are white turning to browny pink later in the season. Again, plant in part shade with some moisture in the soil.
The third winner of the Gold Medal Award is another hardy reliable flowerer — this time it originated in Asia. It is Hydrangea paniculata “Limelight.” The chief selling point for this plant is the chartreuse color of the young flower clusters that then fade to white. Since chartreuse is such a popular flower color in gardens at the moment, this should be a big gardening hit.
The final Gold medal winner is a lesser known Hydrangea macrophylla “Blue Billow.” It comes from Korea, and is not that available, but it is worth seeking out. The center of the flower cluster has small fertile florets that are a darker shade of blue/purple. The outer larger ray florets are a beautiful true blue that most gardeners crave.
There are many other hydrangeas to choose from that this brief survey can not cover, but if you are serious about hydrangeas pick up the new book by Michael Dirr — Hydrangeas for American Gardens.
I will finish with two hydrangeas that I grow and love. “Endless Summer” is a traditional Ball shaped hydrangea that was found by Michael Dirr. This plant blooms on new wood so that even if we get a terrible winter with late spring frosts that kill the flower buds, it will still bloom. It is blue in acid soils and pink in more neutral to slightly alkaline soils. This year I had pink, blue, chartreuse and purple shades all on one bush. What a sight! The final hydrangea that I have just planted, but that seems wonderful, is another Hydrangea paniculata called “Quick Fire.” It blooms early and on new wood. There are pretty white blooms now and these will turn dark pink in the fall. The stems are slightly red too.
I hope that you feel inspired to plant a hydrangea or two in your own garden.
Do come and walk around the Arboretum — it is looking lovely right now. You will find hydrangeas scattered around the shady areas. Come on a treasure hunt from the “Tokyo Delight” in the Groundcover Garden, to the Oakleaf in the Native Plant Garden and the various others behind the Louise Stine Fisher Garden, around Cottage Hall and towards the Wetland Garden.
If you have any questions please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Rose Carey
Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler