Tag Archives: You-me hydrangeas

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. 

 

 

 

Welcoming in the new year:2016

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After about 20 years of garden writing, I am not sure I have anything to say about new year’s gardening resolutions that I have not said before, so instead I will send out generalised wishes of enjoyment and pleasure in gardens and gardening, along with a plea to think carefully about environmental impacts of the activity. Gardening is NOT synonymous with being environmentally responsible. In fact many common garden practices are downright unfriendly and my hope is that we will see more people move towards modifying their activity and their expectations to work with nature, rather than being driven by a determination to control it or, worse, to conquer it.

On this day of welcome gentle rain (we have been unusually dry, sunny and hot of late), I offer you the prettiest of hydrangeas. These are from the You-Me series, originating from a Japanese breeder. Which is which, I am not sure, but they are all very pretty indeed and grow on obligingly compact bushes. There is quite a bit of variation on individual bushes, depending on the maturity of the flower heads. They also pick well. I have just refreshed my Christmas vase of these hydrangeas with pink alstromerias. IMG_6711

IMG_6723 Having just posted the pensive message above, I walked into the kitchen to find Mark arranging flowers. Umbellifers! Which one, I asked. “Manchester Table, to be precise,” he replied. Daucus carota subsp. sativus – in other words carrot that was bolting to flower and seed. It did strike me that there was a certain symmetry between my words and Mark arranging his floral display of Manchester Table, Yorkshire fog, Lotus major and linaria.
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Blue sky gardening rather than feeling blue

Weeds maybe, but pretty on summer roadsides - agapanthus

Weeds maybe, but pretty on summer roadsides – agapanthus

There I was, having decided to write about blue flowers this week, when I opened the latest issue of NZ Gardener and Lynda Hallinan had beaten me to it. But that’s all right. She was mainly looking at annuals with just a few perennials and one shrub.

It is the sight of the blue jacaranda in full flower which makes me fall in love with blue blooms all over again. It is the first thing I see out the window every morning and I sit and drink my early morning tea admiring it and reflecting on how much I love the colour.

Where we live, blue is the dominant colour of the roadside flowers in summer. I know agapanthus is a weed and difficult to eradicate but our verges would be the poorer for its absence. Plants have to be tough in that situation and the agapanthus is a showy survivor. Beacons of summer, here.

The simplicity of chicory

The simplicity of chicory

The wild chicory is pretty as a picture with its soft blue daisies. In the garden we grow blue asters with a similar flower but in long grass, the simplicity of the chicory is more fitting.

We are blue hydrangea territory, being acidic in soils. With regular summer rain and mild, humid conditions, the blocks of blue flowered hydrangeas tend to mean we take this plant for granted. Go to more alkaline territory and they turn pink as readers may have noticed in other areas, but they add to our blue palette here. As we fluff around our garden hydrangeas, pruning each year to tidy them up and promote good flowering, it is interesting to reflect that those roadside wildflowers are never touched yet bloom faithfully. As a general rule, if you don’t prune a hydrangea, you get more flowers but they are smaller.

Impressed by the garden performance of the You-Me hydrangea series

Impressed by the garden performance of the You-Me hydrangea series

When it comes to the garden, those big blue moptop hydrangeas (the macrophyllas) are okay as a backdrop but they lack refinement as garden plants. We have been most impressed with the more delicate appearance of the recent introductions from Japan in the You-Me series. We collected several from hydrangea expert Glyn Church a few years ago and have lost the names but they are all quite similar so I’m not sure that any one is better than the others. Look for them branded under the You-Me group and they carry individual names like “Forever” and “Eternity”. If you can’t find them in your local garden centre, then you can get them on line from Woodleigh Nursery. Be warned, however, that they are apparently not colour stable so if your soils are more alkaline, they won’t be the pretty blues we have here. Presumably they will be pretty pinks instead.

What is it about blue? For me, I think it is that the blue as blue skies are such a mood enhancer. It may have something to do with the dreaded holes in the ozone layer (though I hope it has more to do with our isolation and low population) but we have a clarity and intensity of light in this country that most of us take for granted until we travel overseas.

I have commented before on the fact that we treat green as colour neutral in the garden. All those monochromatic garden schemes are in fact bichromatic because they are one colour plus green.

Nigella damascena - a personal favourite

Nigella damascena – a personal favourite

Blue is not colour neutral as such, but it sits happily in any colour combination. So if your garden bed is hot colours of reds, yellows and oranges, blue will sit in that mix quite happily. In you have gone instead for pretty pastel pinks and whites, blue does not shout when included. Of the primary colours, it is the easiest to blend. It can lift a tightly controlled, colour managed garden out of the blandness that sometimes afflicts them, by adding just a little zing.

I don’t understand why “feeling blue” is a reference to feeling sad. In my books, you can never have too much blue in a garden and lifting one’s eyes to the blue sky above is a celebration of life.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.