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.
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.
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.
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.
The flowers fade to shades of pink for a fabulous fall showing.
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.