2014-07-24 / From The Garden

Heavenly Hydrangeas

By Cynthia Gibson

Next Generation Pistachio. Next Generation Pistachio. What is summer in Rhode Island without dreamy bouquets of hydrangeas? Whether placed in an elegant crystal vase or an antique watering can, the flower spells charm. The hydrangea is a signature shrub that is so versatile. It is a simple fix for an easy flower arrangement, yet perfect for wedding receptions and elegant parties. They have little to no fragrance, beautiful green leaves, and come in many shapes and colors.

The cloud-shaped flowers are really heads of a mass of smaller flowers. This structure is called an “inflorescence,” a group or cluster of small flowers growing on one stem. These clusters form the different types of large-headed hydrangea named “mop-heads.” The mop-head macrophylla, large leaf hydrangeas, are the most common. Unfortunately, after a three-hour rainfall, that is exactly what they look like.

“Endless Summer,” “Nikko Blue,” and “Blue Waves” are just a few of the famous blue hydrangeas. To keep blue hydrangeas blue, sprinkle a small dose of aluminum sulfate at the base of the shrub. The acidity in the chemical keeps the blue vibrant. If you plant blue hydrangeas near pine trees or a hedge of arborvitae, the acidity in the pine needles will work similarly.

The finest white flowered hydrangea is named “Annabelle.” They should be grown in peony hoops, because the large flower heads can be too heavy for the stems.

The latest hybrid varieties of hydrangeas look like psychedelic geraniums. Two breeds that really stand out are “Raspberry Parfait” and “Next Generation Pistachio.”

The most successful and fastest growing hydrangea is “Limelight,” nicknamed “Lambs Head.” With a bit of fertilizer, the conical flower grows to the size of a lamb’s head. In a breeze, the heads bob up and down and create a most enchanting sight.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. “Lace-Cap” varieties of hydrangeas have a large cluster of budlike flowers surrounded by a halo of full-sized flowers. They are very delicate, elegant shrubs. Some of the best to grow come in blue (“Nightingale”), pink (“Rotdrossel”), and white (“Lanarth White”).

The first hydrangea I ever planted was an oak-leafed “Snow Queen” that I saw at the first Newport Flower Show and fell in love with. It is elegant and stately, grows quickly, and its huge oak-shaped leaves are accented by very large snow white cones of flowers. Other oak-leaf varieties of note are “Snow Flake,” “Alice,” and “Sikes Dwarf.” The oak-leaf type of hydrangea is also native to America.

Just when you think you have had a full lesson on hydrangeas, I would be remiss not to mention climbing hydrangeas. Yes, they really climb and love wood fences, brick, and stucco walls. Rather than waiting years for ivy to grow on your fence, plant a climbing hydrangea shrub instead. They take about a year or two to settle in, then their growth skyrockets. The flower clusters on the climbing varieties are smaller, but look very interesting. Hydrangea petiolaris is a white, small lace-cap climber with beautiful green leaves.

As a summer plant with so many virtues, there should be at least one variety of this cloud-like flower in your garden.

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