A summer for hydrangeas

Tardiva hydrangeaIn a world where new hydrangeas are seemingly introduced every third week, ‘Tardiva’ (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’, above) is a dinosaur. While new, and arguably improved panicled hydrangeas (‘Limelight’, ‘Fire and Ice’, and ‘Little Lime’, below) have been relegated to the far reaches of the garden, ‘Tardiva’ was planted before these newcomers were seedlings in a test bed. By the time the superb ‘Limelight’ was planted, ‘Tardiva’ was ten feet tall, and there was no way I would move this lovely behemoth.Little Lime hydrangea

I cannot argue that the flowers of newer introductions are superior, though these judgments are obviously in the eye of the beholder. The blooms are larger, fuller, and some fade to wonderful shades of pink or red. But, ‘Tardiva’ is a grand old plant, and I don’t regret for a moment that it’s front and center while ‘Limelight’ (below) is well hidden in the back corner. At the time, that’s the only spot where there was room to plant it. I’m not one to easily give up on a plant (sometimes, even if it’s in poor health), and woe to the gardener who jumps to move things around with every new introduction.Limelight hydrangea in July

But, one note of caution. While I am the first to welcome free plants, several panicled hydrangea seedlings have surreptitiously established themselves while my attentions were diverted (for a year or two) in other directions. I know, sloppy housekeeping is a poor excuse, but in any case, by the time the seedlings came to my notice, they were not seedlings any longer. At first, I’m tempted to keep them, but six months (or a year) later I must acknowledge that the spaces are not nearly enough to fit a shrub ten feet tall and wide. But then, how do I get rid of it? I can’t dig it out or other shrubs and perennials will be disturbed. So, I cut it to the ground, this year, next year, and maybe forever more.Penny Mac hydrangea

In recent winters the mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) have suffered considerable damage, dying nearly to the ground. Fortunately, they grow back quickly, and to the benefit of the folks who breed new plants to improve on weaknesses, most of the mopheads introduced in recent years are remontant, meaning that they flower on new wood. ‘Endless Summer, and a bunch of others will flower in late spring, even after all stems are killed to the ground. Flowering is likely to be a few weeks later than if the stems weren’t killed, but this is a notable improvement from the days when a gardener wondered if he’d ever again see flowers on his hydrangeas.Pistachio hydrangea

And, now there are all sorts of colors and combinations to go along with the standard pink, blue, and white flowers (H. macrophylla ‘Wedding Gown’, below) I am at least momentarily besotted by the multi colored ‘Pistachio’ (above). I can easily imagine that some might think this to be garish, and perhaps someday it will wear on me, but not today. It also died nearly to the ground the past tow winters, and since ‘Pistachio’ was not well established it has take longer to return to full form. But, by mid July it was flowering and looking as if there was never a problem.Hydrangea Wedding Gown

Before we move along, one other hydrangea warrants mention. The newest introduction from the Endless Summer folks is ‘Bloomstruck’, a hybrid of sturdy lacecaps and large flowered mopheads. In my almost old age I’ve become quite a skeptic (perhaps I always was one), and I’ve become quick to criticize new plants that don’t live up to their marketing. ‘Bloomstruck’ does not grow like a weed, unlike most mopheads that will grow from a few inches tall to four feet in one summer. But, the reason for its somewhat stunted growth is that the plant will not stop flowering. Yes, the blooms are smaller than most mopheads, and more purple than blue, but they come one after another, starting earlier and ending later than any other hydrangea. And, it hardly slows down in the heat of summer. It’s a flowering machine, it you like that sort of thing.

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