The hydrangea is about to steal the show

The hydrangea is about to steal the show

Next to roses, hydrangeas are perhaps the most common deciduous flowering shrub in West Coast gardens.

Almost every well-kept garden goes through its summer color cycle, but there's a certain flowering shrub just around the corner, poised to steal the spotlight.

Next to roses, hydrangeas are perhaps the most common deciduous flowering shrub in West Coast gardens. 'Macrophylla' or 'garden hydrangea' was introduced into England in 1736, and since then a whole series of new and exciting cultivars have been developed for the home garden.

When people ask me to recommend a good vine for a shady northern wall, my first choice is climbing hydrangea, 'Petularis anomaly'. This fast-growing deciduous vine has glossy, dark-colored, heart-shaped leaves about four inches long. It has aerial roots that cling to almost anything standing, and the plant itself will extend 20 feet or more, if left unpruned. Its leaves appear very early in the spring and continue until autumn. In my opinion, it almost qualifies as an evergreen vine.

However, the real highlight of this attractive vine is the clusters of large, flat white flowers, which are up to six inches wide and resemble the lace cover varieties. This hydrangea is hardy to at least -25°C, which is surprising due to its lush appearance. It is a winner in any garden and will tolerate some sun, but the foliage is lush in a more shaded location.

The white-flowered hydrangeas you see in fall gardens are most likely the “PG” variety, short for “paniculata Grandiflora.” You may have seen some of them in tree forms as many have been grafted in this way. It is very easy to choose one strong branch and train it into a tree. Believe it or not, this hydrangea is very hardy, withstanding temperatures down to -35 degrees Celsius. Over time, the plant can become almost a tree, expanding to 12 feet in height, but most people like to keep them trimmed to about six feet. Feet to fit most garden situations. Its huge, drooping, cone-shaped flowers appear in mid-July, and often last until late September, when they take on a pink colour. The leaves of this beautiful garden plant also turn a rich bronze color in the fall, so it's a colorful touch in your fall garden.

'Little Lime', one of the hotter newer cultivars that turns cream and then multicolored, is a shorter cousin I love for those sunny but more compact sites. The most compact of all is Hp 'Bombshell', which grows only three feet high and wide and blooms from July until frost with stunning pure white flowers.

'Angel's Blush' is another new variety that comes out white, then immediately turns pink and maintains that beautiful pink color until the end.

However, what steals the show is Hp 'Vanilla Strawberry', with its stunning white flowers that are blended with red almost immediately, creating a 'wow' feel.

'Lace Cap' hydrangeas have certainly attracted the most attention over the past few years. It is called “Serrata” or “Lace Cap” because the cluster of sterile flowers in the center is surrounded by large bracts of traditional hydrangea flowers. The effect is mesmerizing, and in questionable locations they seem to outlast the “macrophila” or common varieties. However, like large-leaf hydrangeas, the flowers will turn a beautiful navy blue in acidic soil and pink or reddish-purple in chalky soil. Remember: You can change their color by adding lime to keep them pink or aluminum sulfate to make them blue. There are now white “lace cap” varieties that look classy and elegant in any setting, and do not discolour.

One of the lesser-known hydrangea varieties is the “quercifolia” or “oak-leafed” hydrangea. This beautiful shrub has rather large, leathery leaves that resemble oak leaves, and grows to a height of about six feet. This is a great plant for heavily shaded areas because the creamy white flowers, which appear in June, brighten up those faded spots, and the foliage, which turns brilliant crimson in the fall, is truly stunning. Unfortunately, this oak-leaved variety is often very difficult to find in nurseries.

Most hydrangeas are versatile, but they prefer moist soil and thrive much longer with shelter from intense afternoon sun.

Brian Minter owns and operates Minter Gardens, just outside Chilliwack.

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