H. macrophylla 'Jogasaki'

Time was, in the early days of this Fairegarden’s planting, when it was a big blank beautiful bunch of bare earth. It was thought that this was the dream come true spot where anything and everything would be planted, would grow well and would look just like the vision of our mind’s eye. It would be lush and overflowing with flowers of every sort, stripe and hue. There would be trees with flowers, shrubs with flowers cascading downward with the weight of the blooms. We planted Hydrangeas, lots of them, in the shady, acidic soil under the tall pine trees, after the privet, honeysuckle and poison ivy had been grubbed out from under them. The first couple of years the scene was sublime, pink, blue and white blooms filled the space like a rainbow of whipped cream mounds scattered amongst the massive trunks.

Adequate rainfall supplemented with regular sprinkling from the pulsating head attached to the hose spigot gave the thirsty shrubs the moisture they needed. Teepees of Frasier Fir christmas tree branches protected the budded branches from the destructive late freezes that are common here.

Then came a series of three horrible events, all in the same year, 2007. The first was a late freeze on the Easter weekend. Not only did the temps drop to single digits well after all the plants had leafed out for spring, it remained frigid for several days. We were out of town, visiting offspring Brokenbeat for a family get together so could not cover anything. Even if at home, the garden is much too large to cover everything, there are not enough buckets, pots and sheets in our arsenal for that.

The second horrible happening was an extreme drought that summer. There was so much foliage damage and outright death from the frost of April, the drooping brown leaves from lack of water were not duly noted until late in the season. Water shortages brought awareness and stoppage of past free wheeling sprinkler usage. The pine trees sucked every last bit of moisture available in the leaf and pine needle litter at their feet, leaving scant for the small shrubs.

The third and most egregious sin had occurred in the late winter, before the frost and before the drought. The gardener, and she knows who she is, decided that if a few were good, more would be better. She dug and split all the hydrangeas under the pines, spreading them far and wide to new beds all over the property. In a fit of greed, the hydrangeas were divided into the smallest pieces that had some roots attached, often to a single stem. The losses were too numerous for accounting procedures to quantify. For shame.

There is a happy ending to this tale of woe, however. While there was wholesale death of the divisions, a few stout hearteds lived on to see better times and growing conditions. The native Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ that were spread about under the tall pines all lived. It has taken these years for them to become anything large enough to bloom, and some sticks are still not there yet, but they have leaves so there is hope for the mass of them still alive in the contrite gardener’s heart. (This is native to our region, Hydrangea arborescens, so it just goes to show the strength and resilience of native plants. A nod to my dear friend Gail of Clay And Limestone on her special Wildflower Wednesday.)

The luckiest of the hydrangeas are those planted in the magic chocolate cake soil under the now defunct maple tree, Ferngullly. Until the dogwoods and Ferngully replacement maple grow taller, they are shaded by the tall Rudbeckia lanciniata and Joe Pye, Eupatorium purpurea foliage from the scorching summer sun. All plantings there are doing better than expected, is the gleeful report. Last summer there were first time blooms on many with the combination of above average rainfall and no late killing frosts.

June 28, 2009 017
The Oakleaf, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alison’ has grown quite large. She protects the smaller step siblings with her siting at the southwest corner of the plot, giving shade with large, spectacular leaves.

H. quercifolia 'Little Honey'

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lady In Red’ (a gift from daughter Semi,) ‘Dooley’, ‘Hanabi’, ‘Jogasaki’, several unknown mophead and lacecaps and the newest addition, H. quercifolia ‘Little Honey’ seem to be surviving the vagaries of our weather and rainfall roller coaster ride.

H. macrophylla ‘Lemon Daddy’ ( also from Semi) was hit hard by last summer’s mini drought, but there may be life in the roots still.

There has been greater success with less stress from the H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ shrubs here, the PeeGees. The two survivors are trained as standards with a single trunk and staked with a large metal post to help hold the weight of the massive blooms. These bloom on new growth and can be pruned anytime the notion strikes.

October 26, 2009 new 041 (2)
The flowers fade to shades of pink for a fabulous fall showing.

The weeping branches with still intact bloom heads make for some fine winter interest, especially in areas of heavy snowball, make that snowfall.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lady In Red'

The care of Hydrangeas depends on plenty of moisture and partial shade, except for the PeeGees which like full sun. Loamy soil and regular feeding are nice but not a necessity. Pruning, if any, should be done after blooming on the macrophyllas and serratas for the buds are formed the year before.

Please, treat your Hydrangeas with proper care and respect. Do as I say, not as I have done before.


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27 Responses to Hydrangeas

  1. Ah Frances! They say we learn best by making mistakes, but you must have been heartbroken to lose so many of such much loved plants. Delighted you now have a thriving collection.

    Hi Janet, thanks for visiting. Heartbroken and angry at myself in a disgusted sort of way best describes it. I had given up on ever seeing the macrophyllas bloom so last season gave me hope. Late frosts are notorious in our area for zapping swollen hydrangea buds into brown bits, so each year is different. What will bloom this year is still a mystery among those, but Annabelle and the PeeGees are never fail. πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for sharing your Hydrangea tales. I have a love affair with them and cannot pass up a good story!

    May all your gardens grow!

    Hi Jan, thanks for those good wishes. There is a romance to the mopheads and lacecaps. That they are tricky to bloom here makes them even more prized. πŸ™‚

  3. Good morning F. Love your Hydrangea tales. That PeeGee standard spoke to me. I have added it to my wish list. In 2007 we had the same weather you did plus an added bonus of record days in June over 100. 2007 is the test year for any gardener worth her seed.

    Hi Helen, thanks. That was a year I never want to see repeated, 2007. We lost half of the Japanese maples in that late frost, it was heartbreaking and quite expensive. Only one was replaced, by the front entrance where only that tree would do, even though Edgeworthia and Crepe Myrtles were tried in the spot.

  4. H. quercifolia is native to the southeastern US, so it could also qualify as a wildflower. They are the best of the hydrangeas in my garden, although that’s not fair to arborescens, as mine is just a baby and has yet to prove its worth.

    Oh that’s right, MMD, thanks! I guess this is a valid wildflower post after all! The oakleafs are failproof. I love those leaves, flowers are simply a bonus. πŸ™‚

  5. gardeningasylum says:

    I have to agree with MMD on the oakleaf hydrangea – no fuss no muss – just fabulous bark, beautiful foliage in fall, and oh, by the way, big beautiful blooms. Who says natives are dull?

    Yes, Cyndy, all true! How could I have missed that? The oakleafs get taken for granted here, they are so darn easy! πŸ™‚

  6. Layanee says:

    There are more hydrangeas available than I have room for in the garden but perhaps that means the garden will have to become larger! I fear that the very cold winter will result in blue skirts on the H. macrophylla in these parts. The skirt is currently hidden under quite a bit of snow. We shall see….Love all of yours and the info imparted.

    Hi Layanee, thanks for dropping by. Ours have grown to large to protect with those branch skirts. We will have to hope for the best. The largest of the group, Alison Oakleaf might protect the smaller sisters some. Lady In Red is amazing simply in leaf. Best of luck to your ladies! πŸ™‚

  7. Barbara H. says:

    Ah, yes, those hard-earned lessons…thanks for sharing yours, Frances! Last year my Waterfall hydrangea really took off, after 3 years, and bloomed it’s head off. I was very pleased, doubly so now that I know all the dangers ready to beset it! This is a tough climate, isn’t it?

    Hi Barbara, thanks for listening. Waterfall hydrangea sounds a delight! I will have to look into it. It does seem like maturity helps with the hydrangeas get up and go. Every year is a gamble for some of them πŸ™‚

  8. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, Gardening in the Middle South has always had challenges, but, the 2007 growing season was devastating. My arborist said that trees are still being effected. In the meantime, we carry on despite, as you so delightfully said, the “vagaries of our weather”! I love Oakleaf, Hydrangea quercifolia β€˜Alison’ ~such a gentle pink and H arborescens is a hardy soul! Please remind me that I need to get Little Honey~that’s just the right color and leaf shape to add a bit of punch to the green! Soon our wild flowers will be blooming. xxoogail

    Hi Gail, yes, carry on, or to put it another way, Onward! HA Alison is a dreamboat, what a fast grower she has been. I will try to remind you to get Little Honey. I had to mail order it in a fit of must haveititis! πŸ™‚

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your collection of hydrangeas is great. I have had no luck with pee gees. I so wanted a standard. No luck for me.

    Thanks Lisa. I am sorry to hear of your bad luck with the PeeGees. They seem to be the toughest things. I remember that we had one in Pennsylvania, so it can’t be hardiness that is the problem. Perhaps not enough watering the first year? I wish you would try again if you so wanted one. πŸ™‚

  10. commonweeder says:

    What a tale. Our climate is such that I had never really tried hydrangeas. Once, years ago I saw a beautiful young hydrangea with airy blossoms and had to buy it. That was Moth Light which thrives beyond imagining. Two years ago I added the oakleaf hydrangea as a very small plant but it has come through two winters as have the larger Limelight and Pinky Winky. Right now they are covered under two feet of snow so I believe they are protected from our subzero temperatures.

    Hi Pat, thanks. I am so happy to hear of your successes and love the name Moth Light! I think the Canadian gardeners can grow them, too, so winter must not be an issue. For us, drought is the biggest problem for they are all thirsty shrubbies. πŸ™‚

  11. Molly says:

    “A rainbow of whipped cream mounds,” that’s the perfect description! What a lovely post, and the pee gees are beautiful!

    Hi Molly, thanks so much. It was so pretty that first year, there were pinks named Alpenglow that did not survive. All the macros are blue and white here now. Perhaps we should give it another go. πŸ™‚

  12. Eileen says:

    Hydrangeas are one of my favorite plants. It is only in recent years that we have many choices in zone 5. I am very excited to try some of the smaller introductions that bloom on both old and new wood.


    Hi Eileen, glad to hear it! There has been a lot of work done, by Michael Dirr in particular to help the more northern among us have flowering hydrangeas of all sorts. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. πŸ™‚

  13. Frances, you have a wonderful selection of Hydrangea. I myself have six varieties on my small plot. Last year WAS the year of the hydrangea. Big, full, luxurious plants, all benefiting from a perfect growing season the year before for them. This year I have less hope. We had a dry, hot summer. Many more 90 degree days than normal. The hydrangea was lovely, but I believe next year there will far less big flower heads.

    Hi Donna, thanks for joining in. We agree, last year’s heat and drought does not bode well for this year’s hydrangea show, not to mention our colder than normal winter so far. The worst damage is usually from those last frosts, a chronic problem here since spring often cannot make up its mind about coming and staying. May we both get more than we expect. πŸ™‚

  14. Janet says:

    I miss having PeeGee’s in my garden, didn’t bring any of those with me. I did bring one macrophyllum and have since bought two more– in addition to 5 Oakleaf. I know the deer like hydrangeas….so I am tempting fate having all that I do– but boy that Annabelle is really calling my name!

    Hi Janet, it sounds like you are good in the Oakleaf department then. I have found it very easy to start new shrubs by taking a stem at soil level that has a bit of root attached and sticking it in the ground underneath with a couple of rocks on each side to keep it moist and undisturbed for a year or so. Annabelle, or the species if you can find it should do well. The species grows in the woods in this area along with the deer. I suppose it depends on how hungry they are. In a drought year they will eat nearly anything.

  15. Laurrie says:

    I remember 2007 well. Although I am in Connecticut, my garden buddy lives in Kentucky, and ’07 was the year I first I got to see her garden in person… and between the freeze and the drought it was a disaster!
    I did not think you could divide woody plants like hydrangeas (and obviously some of your hydrangeas didn’t think so either). I’m amazed you got any successes from digging and dividing them!

    Hi Laurrie, I am so sorry for your Kentucky friend. The damage from 2007 is still showing up in dead for no reason trees and shrubs, including some in my garden. We have found the multiple stems of many hydrangeas to have roots attached and they will grow if watered well. They will not grow if there is a drought and no one thinks to water them.

  16. I like the Oakleaf, Hydrangea quercifolia β€˜, when they get big and established, I think they are a great garden anchor. Yours is a show piece.

    Hi Patsy, thanks for stopping by. The oakleafs are majestic. I love the large leaves and fall color too. Even without flowers, they have plenty of interest. The cinnamon velvety bark is also nice.

  17. Sharon says:

    Years ago when I lived with my mom, I bought and planted several types of hydrangeas, the first year they remained small, the next year they didn’t start growing till june, all but one got mowed down by my dad by accident never to come back, after I moved to my home mom moved the ‘annabelle’ hydrangea, that had survived, to the side yard where it has remained. It has huge white blooms!
    Last fall I traded a cutting from the annabelle hydrangea for several rooted cuttings of mexican hydrangeas, which I’ll plant in the spring and hopefully watch grow. I got them just when it had turned cold. I was afraid they wouldn’t make it outside without having time to get their roots adjusted. They do seem to require alot of water, like most hydrangeas need. When my mom moved the annabelle, she moved it to a spot where it got morning sun and afternoon shade.

    Hi Sharon, thanks for joining in the conversation here. I am glad the moved Annabelle did well enough for cuttings. Sometimes we have to move them to get the siting just right. Once in the right place, they can grow to meet their full potential. I have never heard of Mexican hydrangeas before, will have to check that out.

  18. I have three oakleaf hydrangeas planted in my dry woods at the base of a 100′ black walnut, and they thrive with no additional water. I know I sound like a broken record, but I don’t believe in growing plants that need to be watered after the first year. It’s not sustainable and usually not necessary. Of course I am talking shade areas in the mid-Atlantic—those are the only shoes I’ve walked in—but we did have the worst heat and drought ever this past summer.

    Hi Carolyn, thanks for adding here. Those walnuts can be a big pain to get stuff to grow under, we have several just on the other side of our property line. Glad to hear the oakleafs are up to it. I agree about the watering, first year only then they are on their own. The heat should not be a problem, the drought can be. We had the most fabulous hydrangeas in our garden outside of Houston, Texas. It was very hot there.

  19. alistair says:

    Its really great to see all these beautiful Hydrangeas. Here in the ridiculously fashion conscious UK several years ago, they were shoving down our throats how old hat Hydrangeas were and should only be seen in your grannys garden.I am pleased to say that common sense has prevailed.

    Hi Alistair thanks. I often wonder about the Brits and their what’s in, what’s out mentality when it comes to plants. We just want to grow what will grow with the least amount of effort and still look good, attract pollinators, etc. Usually that means natives and some friendly exotics. Old fashioned? We consider that a plus, it means they are survivors. πŸ™‚

  20. Hydrangeas are so beautiful. When we moved here there was one very unhappy one on the north side of the house. I moved it where I thought it would be happier and it promptly turned up its toes and died.

    A friend gave me a start of oakleaved hydrangea, which didn’t really get started.

    After those failures, I thought about these beauties fairly regularly, but now with my focus on xeriscape I think I’ll end up passing on them for The Havens. I’ll enjoy them vicariously here, since you seem to do so well with them.

    Hi Hands, thanks for adding here. I am sorry about your lack of success with the hydrangeas. They seem to have good years and bad years here, depending on the rainfall and last frostiness. The oakleafs and arborescens are much more drought tolerant than the others, but still need watering that first year.

  21. Ginny says:

    Frances, Hydrangeas were my first garden love! We had the same frost and drought that you did in 2007. The frost was damaging even though I did try to cover most of my plants. I love the hydrangea trained as a standard – the first time I’ve seen one treated that way!

    Hi Ginny, thanks for visiting. What a terrible year for the gardens was 2007. It was a nightmare and looking at the photo archives from that time still reminds me of it. The standard PeeGee fills my need to squeeze as many plants into this space as possible. I treat the butterfly bushes the same way. You need a stout metal pole for both. I like pruning them to keep the shape, easy and fun. πŸ™‚

  22. Spotted your title ‘Hydrangeas’ on the blogroll and had to stop over to drool a bit. I do declare if I could grow blue hydrangeas I’d never plant another thing. Thanks for the much-needed Zen-y moment. πŸ™‚

    Hi Kate, thanks for stopping by here. Sometimes simple titles are best, it seems. Those blue hydrangeas are wonderful, I really love the blue lacecaps best. Lady In Red with the dark stems, red leaves and blue lacecap flowers really stirs my soup! πŸ™‚

  23. Lola says:

    I really like the hydrangeas. I didn’t know there were so many kind. I only knew about what they call the snowball. I have a hydrangea but sadly I don’t know it’s name. It’s bloomed once, not big but pretty. It’s at the NE corner of my home so maybe it isn’t getting enough sun. Any suggestions?

    Hi Lola, thanks. I am glad you have a hydrangea, but without knowing what type it is, it is difficult to help. Perhaps you could go to a local nursery with a piece of it and ask them. Your climate is so different than mine, but I doubt a late freeze could be the problem. If you are pruning it at the wrong time, you might be cutting off the flower buds since many hydrangeas bloom on the previous year’s growth. Hope you get some answers. πŸ™‚

  24. Rose says:

    I appreciate the excellent advice, Frances, because I love, love hydrangeas. I’m so glad this has a happy ending for many of your lovelies. I learned firsthand last year just why they’re called hydr-angeas when I planted a new grandiflora in the middle of the August drought. Two days of forgetting to water it caused all the blooms to turn brown. I’m hoping it recovered enough to survive through the winter.

    Hi Rose, thanks for joining in here. I do hope your Grandiflora makes a comeback. Those are a tough group, it should, fingers crosssed. Planting anything in August is a bad idea, but we do it too. Just can’t help ourselves. πŸ™‚

  25. Hi Frances, thank you for your post on hydrangeas, your victories and defeats! I am glad you love the ‘annabelle’ which is a favourite of me, we grow them around cotinus coggrygia which always work well. Hydrangeas usually do well over here in England due to the fairly high rain fall although in a drought season we need to water, they are ‘hydros’after all..

    Hi Michael, thanks for visiting. Annabelle around the Cotinus sounds dreamy, a winning combination for sure. We witnessed first hand the rainy English weather, and remarked that it is no wonder the gardens are so lush with all that nice rainfall.

  26. VW says:

    Ah, my poor mopheads – even though they’re all endless summer types – put out no blooms except one, on one plant, last year. I’m not impressed. Our season just isn’t long enough for them, I’m afraid. But I am in love with sturdy Limelight, which bloomed fine and is much less picky about life in general.

    Hi VW, thanks for joining in here. I am sorry about the mopheads, we don’t get blooms every year either, but happy for your Limelight. We must celebrate every success! πŸ™‚

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