Recorder – Between the Rows: A turbulent relationship with hydrangea

Recorder – Between the Rows: A turbulent relationship with hydrangea

Since 1945, I have had an opinion about hydrangeas.

I was five years old at the time and living with my parents and two younger brothers in the Bronx. When the weather is good on the weekend, my parents often take us for walks around the neighborhood. We lived in a cement block, but there were many houses on our street that had small front yards that often featured hydrangeas with large balls of blue flowers. I didn’t like those blue hydrangeas, but I can’t give you any reason why.

I don’t remember many occasions when hydrangeas played any role in my life after that until 1971, when I moved to Greenfield. In front of my new front porch were three scattered white hydrangeas. I took them out right away.

On subsequent trips to Maine and Manhattan, I began to feel more affectionate toward hydrangeas. There was no greater cause for my increased affection than for my dissatisfaction. We moved to Hythe in 1979 and I started gardening. Most of my attention and energy went into the vegetables and what later became our “flower walk.” Not a coupe on site. Years passed this way.

One day, I was looking at plants in a small nursery in Whatley owned by Bob and Nancy August. I wandered around and kept coming back to a small hydrangea with airy white flowers called Mothlight. I thought about it for a long time and finally decided to buy it.

The Mothlight hydrangeas grew very large on the Heath, which surprised me, but the white flowers retained their delicate calm. I added Limelight Hydrangea, which has pale flowers, and Pinky Winky, which starts out white and turns pink over the season. I also planted a native oakleaf hydrangea with white flowers. It was my intention to make these three large shrubs form a kind of tall flowering hedge on the eastern edge of my garden. There was morning shade and plenty of sun the rest of the day.

When we left Heath, I realized that the hydrangeas would be perfect for the low-maintenance garden I was planning in Greenfield. The land next to my neighbor’s driveway is in the driest area on our property. Hydrangeas, like roses, do not like “wet feet.” I chose Limelight again, and I also chose Angel’s Blush, which is white but turns pink in the fall. Firelight was my last choice, which is a dark pinkish red.

With the exception of the original oak leaf hydrangea, all the hydrangeas I have grown are paniculata plants. This is really by chance, but I chose them because they are very durable and very reliable. They can all become very tall and have conical flowers. Paniculatas and H. arborescens like Annabelle grow on new wood, which means they should be pruned in late winter or early spring. Since they thrive on new wood, it won’t matter to them if the winter is harsh and winter kills them. Cut them back and the new growth will provide new flowers.

Hydrangeas love sun, but can tolerate some shade. They need regular watering, but they definitely don’t like waterlogged soil.

Those big blue hydrangeas that I found so distasteful as a child were mopheads. Maybe I knew intuitively that they were a problem. Large hydrangeas bloom on old wood, which means if there is a bad winter, the buds will die and there won’t be any blooms. They can then be pruned, but there will be no flowers for another year.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:

(marks for translation) between rows

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