Tag Archives: Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Spot the difference

I was going to write a piece this week shouting that now IS the very time we should be talking about climate change, aimed at the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, who left his burning country to holiday in the cleaner air of Hawaii, declaring that now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions to a major drought and extreme fires and neither is it the time to talk about climate change.

But the majority of Australians voted that man and his government in this very year and I decided that maybe I would leave it to those voters to reflect upon their collective decision and respond to their own environmental crisis. Instead I will focus on flowers.

Hydrangea petiolaris, resplendent in full sun, although it has its roots on the cool side of the fence. Most climbers appreciate a cool root run.

Both the common climbing hydrangea, H. petiolaris, and the less common Schizophragma hydrangeoides are in full bloom here and I have never lined them up side by side to compare them. We produced both commercially in our nursery days but concentrated more on the allegedly more refined and desirable schizophragma. What were the differences, I wondered, in visual terms?

Hydrangea petiolaris to the left and the white and pink forms of Schizophragma hydrangeoides. Petiolaris looks creamier because it is an older flower grown in full sun. 

Not a whole lot, was the answer when I lined them up. The pink form of the schizophragma is  indubitably a different colour – rosy pink sepals, not white. H. petiolaris has more fertile flowers (the central tiny blooms on the lace-cap) and somewhat smaller outer petals (ray florets or sepals). It makes it appear a little bit heavier perhaps, than the light dancing of the sepals on the schizophragma. The hydrangea also has larger leaves overall. All of them have a light scent with a slight variation between the two species but nothing of great note.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’

Botanically, there is a difference. They are distinct species, though from similar parts of the world (woodland Asia, particularly Japan) and liking similar conditions. Schizophragma is nowhere near as common as H. petiolaris and has the reputation of being slow to establish. But I planted that petiolaris many years ago and it took several years to reach its stride, too. Mark reminds me that the reason he went for the schizophragma over petiolaris was because the latter would not set flowers on young plants.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Plantspeople and those with refined visual sensibilities will pick the difference. I prefer the lighter, more ethereal look of the schizophragma. But overall, I concluded that Mark’s ‘man on a galloping horse’ analogy applies. A man (or woman, presumably) passing on a galloping horse would not pick the difference. To be honest, most gardeners wouldn’t either. They are both lovely at their peak and well behaved as far as climbers go.

Plant collector: Schizophragma hydrangeoides pink and white

schizo-1Yes, Schizophragma hydrangeoides  looks like a climbing hydrangea but it is not the common climber which is Hydrangea petiolaris. This one comes from Japan and we prefer it to the usual form despite its difficult name. It is a close relative and a member of the same family but one step further back on the plant hierarchy from species to genus to family. Planted side by side, the schizophragma (pronounced skitsofragma or shyzofragma, whichever you prefer) is more floriferous and has significantly larger flower heads which seem to dance on the vine. This may be because its larger, winged petals (technically bracts, not petals) are held singly whereas H. petiolaris has its smaller bracts grouped in four, like a little flower all on its own.  The schizophrama is self-clinging and relatively slow growing so it doesn’t take over and swamp neighbouring plants. It needs something to climb up, however. If left to ramble at ground level, it doesn’t seem to flower though it does layer its way along so you can get more plants from it by this strategy.

img_6642The pink form is even more unusual. This fact was often not appreciated in the days when we used to sell plants. I recall too many customers who were at best ABP – Anything But Pink, at worst IOBW – I Only Buy White (flowers). Such self-imposed rules can certainly limit appreciation.

Schizophragma are hardy and deciduous so, to all intents and purposes, they fill an identical niche to H. petiolaris. However, petiolaris seems to perform better overseas where it is more floriferous and even gives autumn colour. Talking to our friend and colleague, hydrangea expert Glyn Church, we agreed that it is likely that petiolaris prefers a colder winter than we have, whereas the schizophragmas are perfectly happy in our conditions. As with lacecap hydrangeas, the winged ‘petals’ or bracts are the showy part whereas the proper flowers are the small, less spectacular bits behind the bracts.

For the purpose of comparison - Hydrangea petiolaris

For the purpose of comparison – Hydrangea petiolaris

Simple pleasures – hydrangeas in summer

One of the You-Me series of hydrangeas

One of the You-Me series of hydrangeas

What would a Tikorangi summer be without hydrangeas? They are one of the easiest and showiest of summer flowering plants here. Much of that is due to summer rain. We are blessed with both high sunshine hours (higher than Auckland, I like to point out) but also regular rainfall and hydrangeas do best in moist conditions.

We have the usual macrophylla mop tops which often feature in older gardens, with their big heads of blue or white. These we use more as background plants but hydrangeas are a large family and there are many more interesting variations than often realized.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

Most hydrangeas hail from Asia, particularly Japan, Korea and China but the oak leaf species, H. quercifolia, is a toughie from USA. The double form of this plant, ‘Snowflake’, is particularly showy. The abundant flower heads hang like cones, with each bloom forming multiple layers of petals down the stem. While it opens white, over time it ages through shades of soft green and antique pink before drying on the bush to a buff colour. It can look as if they are made from paper or silk and the flowers last right through the summer season into winter.

Hydrangea serrata ‘Preziosa’  changes flower colour through the season

Hydrangea serrata ‘Preziosa’  changes flower colour through the season

We looked at a vast collection of H. serrata in an English garden and were very taken with the more refined appearance of this branch of the family. We have had the serrata hybrid “Preziosa” in our garden for many years. It starts flowering in November, coming out lime green, ageing through cream to white before turning pink and then red by the end of the season, often showing a range of colours on the same bush at any one time. The serratas are generally colour stable, unlike many macrophyllas. I want more serratas when I find the right spaces, particularly the daintier lace-caps.

We prefer Schizophragma hydrangeoides to the climbing Hydrangea petiolaris

We prefer Schizophragma hydrangeoides to the climbing Hydrangea petiolaris

When it comes to climbers, we favour the close hydrangea relative, Schizophragma hydrangeoides, over the more common climbing Hydrangea petiolaris. We have them in pink and white and they dance in the breeze with a lightness that petiolaris lacks, as well as flowering more profusely in warmer climates. Give them something to climb up and they will stick themselves to it.

Hydrangea ‘Immaculata’ – a top performing compact, white macrophylla

Hydrangea ‘Immaculata’ – a top performing compact, white macrophylla

If you are a fan of macrophyllas, I can vouch for the top performance of “Immaculata” which is a compact growing bush with beautiful white mop top blooms. I am also extremely impressed by the new You-Me series that has come from a Japanese breeder. We have four different ones and they have names like “Forever” and “Eternity” and I lost the names so I don’t know which is which. But they are all very good with compact habit and such lovely flowers – semi-double lace-caps in the prettiest shades.

The magnificent tree hydrangea, probably a form of H. aspera

The magnificent tree hydrangea, probably a form of H. aspera

The season will close out for us with the huge, unusual, evergreen tree hydrangea that I see is now classified as belonging to the H. aspera (syn. villosa) group and sometimes given the cultivar name “Monkey Bridge”. At over five metres tall, it is large. It is also brittle so needs protection from wind. And somewhat frost tender. This is not a plant for everybody. But those huge lace-cap flower heads in early autumn are showstoppers and the flowering season lasts for a long time. Each flower head can measure up to half a metre across with colouring in subtle antique shades. I love it.

003 - CopyA word on the thorny matter of turning hydrangeas blue or pink… why bother? Gardening should be about working with nature, not trying to outwit it. In Taranaki, our hydrangeas are largely blue, very blue – the sort of blue that folk with pink hydrangeas envy. Yet I found myself charmed by the pink hydrangea display in a Canberra garden centre.

It is many of the macrophyllas that have colour determined by soil conditions. In acid soils (where rhododendrons thrive) they are blue, in alkaline soils they are more likely to be pink. It is actually to do with the available aluminium, an element that is usually strong in acid soils and absent from alkaline ones. Surely it is better to live with what we have and just admire the alternatives elsewhere?

The good news is that in a time of declining specialist, mail order nurseries, you can still source many of the less common hydrangea varieties as well as good selections of more usual types. Woodleigh Nursery was originally set up by Taranaki plantsman, hydrangea expert and personal friend, Glyn Church but is now in the capable hands of Janica and Quin Amoor. Their website is good and easy to use.

Hydrangeas are invaluable plants for easy-care summer gardens where there is enough moisture in the soils and, ideally, semi-shade. An annual winter prune tidies them up and gives larger blooms but you don’t even have to do that if you don’t want to.

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First published in the February issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 




Tikorangi Notes: Friday January 7, 2011

LATEST POSTS: Friday 7 January, 2011

1) Schimas are flowering trees from the subtropics and tropics of Asia but such is the confusion over classification that the name of the large one we have in full flower this week is a little uncertain but it is likely that it is Schima wallichii subsp. noronhae.

2) Time to see to autumn bulbs without delay (they will be coming into growth shortly) and to summer prune cherry trees along with other garden tasks for the first week of the year in a southern hemisphere summer.

3) I was a bit surprised to find that the common advice is to spray apple trees every 10 days to a fortnight with an insecticide and fungicide throughout summer. Fortunately apples can still survive and crop on benign neglect – ours are lucky to get one winter spray of copper or lime sulphur and a summer spray to combat codling moth. Our latest Outdoor Classroom gives a simple approach to summer care of apple trees.

4) Helleborus orientalis are tried and true plants, understated and undemanding but quiet stars in winter.

One of the trumpet hybrid lilies growing through a lacy, burgundy maple

One of the trumpet hybrid lilies growing through a lacy, burgundy maple

TIKORANGI NOTES: Friday 7 January, 2011
Lilies feature in our summer display here and fortunately in New Zealand, they are generally free from insect pests. The lily beetle which we saw infesting the blooms in the UK in 2009 was enough to make one give up growing them. That is one pest we can do without here. While our main display will come in the next week or two with the auratums, it is the trumpet hybrids which are looking winners this week. The climbing Schizophragma hydrangeoides is also looking very fetching – a fluff and festoon of flowers all but covering the foliage.

The froth of Schizophragma hydrangeoides in flower

The froth of Schizophragma hydrangeoides in flower