2018: Summer of Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas were my mother’s favorite flower and landscape shrub and she was a strong influence for me to include hydrangeas in my garden. I now have 40 separate plants on a pie-shaped .73 acre lot. Most I have purchased outright to get different varieties, and about 10 or so are propagated, something I learned how to do from Master Gardener workshops.

A large factor on hydrangeas will perform is up to Mother Nature. A dip in temperature in the spring — a late frost will devastate the summer performance of many hydrangeas. Knowing the type of hydrangeas you have, where it will thrive, its sun requirements and ultimately how to prune correctly are essential for profuse blooms.

In Delaware, Zone 7b, we had a very wet, soggy spring and no late frosts! The result: a blooming bonanza for Hydrangeas! July will bring the paniculatas such as Limelight, Little Limelight and Little firelight.

We replaced most of our Knock-out roses in the front of our home with plants like this “Little Limelight” which won’t get as big as regular Limelight and loves the sun the front of our house receives.

Hydrangeas are beautiful inside too! Bring them indoors! Accented here with lavender spires and lemon balm

Hydrangea “Sikes Dwarf”
So many blooms in 2018, there is plenty to snow and take inside. Sprigs of lemon balm add a soft green accent. The tiny white flower is “pearly everlasting.” By mid summer, dill and parsley are starting seed heads and these add interest to a bouquet!

I call this mom’s hydrangea. This was one of the pink hot house flowers the florists delivered at my mother’s funeral. I planted it in 2001 where it grew for three years before blooming. This shrub is 17 years old and is the most vulnerable in the winter. It faces east. This year it has come back nicely.

I don’t know the name of this hydrangea as it was mislabeled by the home improvement garden center. I thought it would be a white schneeball, but it’s first blossoms were pink and white. All following years produced this blue and cream white blossom. I don’t know the cultivar but I love the old-fashioned look. It is always a reliable bloomer. Faces south but it is shaded by large trees from direct sun.

This is a variety I purchased from the mail order catalog Wayside Gardens. I wasn’t good about writing down the cultivars. I’ve asked them to see if my purchase from 10 years ago is still on record. These blossoms start out white and transition to pink and rose. A beautiful water color effect.
This beauty was one of two my husband and I purchased at a garden center in Pennsylvania in 2006. One was for my mother -in-law, and I loved it so much he got one for me! I was so bad then about saving the labels. It is planted where it gets afternoon sun (not the best place) so we have to baby it and water it generously. It is a delightful frame for our front porch and is a true blue performer!
Hydrangea quercifolia “Snow Queen” looking up through the blossoms!
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I’ve got the blues!

Hydrangea blues that is!

Hydrangeas are my favorite flower and shrub, a passion I inherited from my mother! And while I am fine with the traditional blue, as I expand my hydrangea landscape, I’ve attempted to introduce some other colors, such as whites and limelights (successful) and pinks (unsuccessful).

My lack of pink hues in my macrophylla hydrangea collection reminds me of a close friend whose first four children were boys. When she became pregnant a fifth time, she decided to wear only pink for the entire pregnancy! In her first trimester she was told to expect twins. She adored her sons, but I think the trains, trucks, footballs, baseball bats and dinosaur decor had run its course. She wanted that pop of pink!  She wanted to introduce Barbie to Spiderman! But, what popped out were fraternal twins-two adorable baby boys! She was delighted. She was in love. Her passion for pink did not linger.  She saved a fortune on baby clothes and toys, and she’ll certainly save a fortune on weddings!

But I empathize with her when it comes to my blue hydrangea children. I adore their show-off blue audaciousness and rock-steady performances. Although I turn to other flowers to contribute pinks, roses and magenta hues in my landscape, I must confess: I too, yearn for that early pop of pink in my macrophylla hydrangea family!

The failure in pink is all about my soil chemistry. Here along the Delaware coast, USDA Zone 7b, my soil has a good deal of aluminum composition and as a result my pink purchases eventually turn into blue boasters! And I am fine with that! But I keep trying, thinking my soil’s chemistry will change all by itself.

I fell in love with a particular hydrangea below (left). Its old-fashioned look and combination of pink centers and creamy white edges reminded me of something my grandmothers might have selected. I quickly scooped it up in my garden center cart and made a bee-line to the checkout counter. I planted it in a special location–at my garden gate entrance where my visitors and I would not miss this unique greeting. For the remainder of the summer I enjoyed the variegated pink display. It was a great choice as the official welcome hostess to my garden. I looked forward to it growing profusely offering delicate pinky goodness in my landscape and bouquets!

I should not have been surprised, but I was, that my soil had a different plan in store for that shrub. The following year not a trace of pink remained. The blue bully lurking in my soil battled for dominance and won, replacing all of the original, dainty pink hues. To the victor goes the spoils! I am a gracious loser!

While the colors of some hydrangeas varieties are affected by pH, that is not the only factor. Your soil’s pH will affect the uptake of nutrients and minerals that pre-exist in the soil. With hydrangeas, it is the uptake of aluminum that is the primary factor for color.

If you have pink, and want blue, it’s easy to add aluminum to the soil if it is not there, and make your soil more acidic.

But if aluminum is already in your soil naturally, it’s much more difficult to remove, and simply changing the pH toward alkaline will only slow down the plant’s ability to access that aluminum. But it will not be enough to override the blue. This Georgia Extension site explains it. A good deal of misinformation and Old Wives’ Tales on changing color abound on the Internet. My mom told me pushing pennies in the soil would change, or boost the color!

The plants I buy purposely as blue are normally not as beautiful the blues that start out as pink and transition over to blue. Those chameleon blues are stunners! The flower below, was a deep pink, hot-house hydrangeas with blooms forced for the Easter market. I planted it that same year and it stopped blooming, which I expected. For an additional two years it grew and leafed out and did not bloom. But on the third planted year, the shrub, nearly 5 foot tall, was festooned with these beautiful blue balls with just a whisper hint of lavender! Why its more blue than any of the blues I bought as blue!

Last July, 2017 , I bought another hydrangea (because one can never have enough and I am completely justified since I suffer from GBTH (Gotta Buy This Hydrangea) Syndrome–a serious affliction for which I am refusing treatment! My husband, however, has tried many forms of intervention upon me, alas (hooray) to no avail. I google-eyed and exclaimed “ooh la la” over a specimen and eventually bought the “Merritt’s Supreme” looker, seen below. The garden center owner assured me it “should stay” pink. Even without this expert assurance, I was going to buy this showy darling! I heaved her my trunk for the short ride home (yes, I refer to it as a she). Here it is where I gave her a new home:

Miss Merritt is leafing out now and setting  her 2018 buds. Other than adding home-grown compost at planting, I’ve not added any fertilizer or amendments. I resolved to let nature take her course. Stay tuned for the June reveal!

UPDATE: June 17: We’ve gone purple! I love the color shift.

In 2018 I don’t have as many blooms. The spot I selected clearly gets more shade than what my Merritt’s Supreme obtained at her nursery. We’re going to do some strategic tree pruning, and take down one Arborvitae that is not doing well, and that should allow more light to filter through and improve the flower yield of this shrub for 2019.

Stones for the Sixties

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I saw these stones in my Facebook news feed and I just loved the idea! They are by artist Shenaz Bac and her Facebook page is is http://www.facebook.com/shenazbac.

I love the way they look and I think they would be an amazing addition to a George Harrison-themed garden.

Her work is quite intricate. Given the volume I think I will need, I may try to do something myself, perhaps with larger stones, and maybe take as inspiration from some of the items directly linked to George- his hand painted home Kinfauns, his colorful Mini Cooper and his Fender Stratocaster, ca. Magical Mystery Tour.

I have some shady areas where I haven’t been too successful growing anything with vivid color. Adding various sizes and colors of some Sixties stones might be just the answer!