I know this is the mid westerner in me talking, but is there any shrub more widely hybridized and marketed and eventually disappointing than the hydrangea? I can barely keep up with the new cultivars. Some are blue. Some are blue and pink. Some are red. Some claim to bloom all summer. A list of of all the names would take better than a paragraph. All Summer Beauty, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer, Pinky Winky, Vanilla Strawberry, Invinciball – the list is long. The promises made for these new introductions are big. The performance of various cultivars of hydrangeas in the mid west-a mixed report. I drive by big plantings of hydrangeas every day that are all about the leaves with precious little in the way of flowers. Some are planted in much too much shade. But others just are not great bloomers. If you are a gardener in my area, and have a big love for hydrangeas that bloom reliably, consider the paniculata hybrids, especially the Lime lights.
We did have a terrible winter-no gardener would dispute this. But the hydrangeas I see everywhere with one bloom or so is a usual thing. Some cultivars bloom on old wood. In a hard winter, the bloom shoots freeze. Though the plant may come back and thrive, there are little to no blooms. Some cultivars rely on more temperate zones than ours. Some cultivars seem to bloom with abandon for growers, but fail to deliver with gardeners. The Limelight hydrangeas pictured above are on a very busy street in my area, in full sun. They are blooming their hearts out. I have no idea what the gardener in charge does for these plants, but they are gorgeous. It could very well that this gardener leaves well enough alone. This brick wall would be lonely indeed without the hydrangeas.
I plant professionally, meaning plants that cannot or do not perform are discouraging. I hope that every landscape I design and install encourages my clients to become involved, take over, and become interested in gardening when I am finished. This means I favor plants that have some success features built in. I like plants that thrive. Hydrangeas in full bloom are breathtakingly beautiful. Hydrangeas are by nature lusty growing and just about fool proof, given a proper placement. If you are keen for the flowers, and lots of them, Limelight delivers.
I have read so many articles claiming that hydrangeas thrive in the shade. Hmm. The shrubs may tolerate part shade, but good blooming on hydrangeas in my area asks for a fair amount of sun. Do not plant hydrangeas in shade, if you have a love for their flowers. They like regular moisture – the leaves are large, and thin. Those leaves will crisp if the plant goes dry. I have my hydrangeas at home on a drip zone, so when they need a drink, I can provide it right to the roots. I do not recommend overhead watering except when it comes from the sky.
The old Annabelle hydrangea is as charming and as floppy as ever. They bloom early, usually in June. I like them placed on top of a wall, where their cascading habit looks graceful and deliberate. The Oakleaf hydrangea is just as beautiful in leaf as in flower – maybe more so. This bony structured, open growing hydrangea with its loosely arranged blooms-gorgeous. Climbing hydrangea does tolerate a lot of shade. It sits for a long time after planting. Once it gets going, it can engulf a wall.
Pink and blue hydrangeas perform sporadically in my area. There are neighborhoods where they are lush and floriferous. I only have one client whose Nikko blue hydrangeas bloom heavily every year. They are grown in full sun, in a fairly protected location. The idea of using chemicals to alter the Ph of the soil is not my idea of gardening. Their is a hydrangea cultivar hydrangea macrophylla “Nantucket Blue”, for those gardeners with blue hydrangea envy. I have never grown it, but I have seen it for sale with the caveat “acidify the soil with sulfur for a deeper blue color”. There are those times when I am envious of what gardeners in other parts of the country are able to grow that I cannot, but that feeling is not that deep seated.
Lime lights are very big growing plants. Mine at home are over 8 feet tall this year. They have loved all of the rain. If your space is smaller, plant a smaller growing version. Little Lime tops out at 4-5 feet. Little Lamb is another smaller growing panicle hydrangea.
I am trying a new cultivar this year. “Bombshell’ is a dwarf cultivar that typically grows in a rounded mound to only 2-3′ tall and to 3-4′ wide. It was discovered growing in Boskoop, The Netherlands, in May of 2003 as a naturally occurring branch mutation on Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’. It is particularly noted for its dwarf/compact shape, abundant star-shaped sterile flowers with elliptic sepals, dense nearly round flower panicles, and free blooming habit. It blooms earlier and longer than most other panicle hydrangeas.” – this description is from the Missouri Botanical Garden. I recently planted them with a collection of perennials that mature to about the same height. Big growing shrubs that are pruned to fit small space always have that uncomfortable and anxious feeling about them. A hydrangea planted with all the room it needs to grow is not only less maintenance, it looks good.
My summer driveway garden has only one flowering plant-a white sunpatiens with a variegated leaf. Lots of them. I am astonished at how well this plant has performed, given less than ideal sun, chilly temperatures, and relentless rain. The plants have grown at an astonishing rate, and shrug off troublesome weather. The Japanese beetles did not touch them-I like to think that is because they wouldn’t dare attack a plant this robust. The white mandevillea vine is not flowering profusely, but it is flowering enough to suit me. All of the other plants are various shades of green. Green plants in pots have one big visual advantage. They never look like they are missing something.
The flowering plants on my deck are making a strong comeback from the cold and torrential rains. A big pot of lilac New Guinea impatiens is budding-but is missing all of its flowers. Likewise the pots of geraniums. Both geraniums and New Guineas have beautiful foliage, but I do not grow them with that in mind. I grow them for the flowers-the color. They been missing flowers for several weeks now. The driveway garden looks perfectly happy.
These green plants took the hostile weather in stride, and have grown steadily. No rotting flower heads to contend with. Every one of the plants in these pots is a different shade of green, a different texture, and a different shape. I have not touched these pots except to water when necessary. The pots are large, and the soil is completely shaded by plants. I have watered twice in the past 2 weeks. Now that our temperatures are climbing into the 80′s, I will water accordingly. I suppose I could pinch the plants in these pots, but I am more interested to see how they will sort things out for themselves.
Plants in annual contrainers should be planted with an eye to the eventual overall shape. The lower pots do not have a vertical growing centerpiece. This pot looks like a big salad-delicious enough to eat. Like all of the plants in my landscape, they have appreciated the cooler weather and ample rain. No pouting going on here.
This planting looks good with my butterburrs, the Princeton Gold maples in the background, and hosta behind me. The choice of plants for these containers has a lot to do with the plants in the vicinity. The drive court is large; the plant palette is limited to the moss between the bricks. These green plants recall and reinforce the overall landscape.
An errant nicotiana mutabilis in a sea of green and gold plectranthus, and some nicotiana alata lime has a few pink flowers. Should it grow strongly over the fall, I doubt I will mind the interruption. A plant that would breach the strongly horizontal lines would be welcome.
In a spot where five different hard materials come together-the wall stone, the limestone cap, the wood, the wall brick, and the driveway brick – the repetition of a limited number of plants is a softening gesture.
Greens done well are hard to beat. The three plants in the above picture, though formally arranged in rows, contrast in shape, surface, form, mass and texture. Variation on a green color scheme provide plenty of visual interest.
A friend traveling in France a month ago sent me this picture of a formally pruned juniper hedge, under planted with a skirt of trailing rosemary. The pairing of two needle-foliaged plants of very similar color and form is taken to another dimension all together by a decision to selectively prune. There is a gardener with a point of view at work here. The elements of good design may begin with the shapes of spaces, and architectural elements, but a green vocabulary never hurts.
We have had a long run of cold and rainy weather. As in overnight temperatures in the high 40′s and low fifties, and close to 6 inches in one day, last week. I don’t think the pink fittonia has grown an inch.
The Persian Shield on this north wall is such a beautiful iridescent purple. In full sun, the leaves green up-the resulting purple/green mix is a muddy color. This pot is holding its own. I have had the Persian Shields grow 3 feet in a single season. Not this year.
The nicotiana has had quite a bout with white fly. I can’t remember ever dealing with that before. I sprayed the foliage with water every day. Who knows if that helped. The cold may have slowed them down. I don’t see them anymore, but the nicotiana were damaged. The coleus is filling in for them.
The cool and rainy weather has not fazed the heuchera one bit. They have put on some weight. The geraniums have not been happy. They like it hot, and on the dry side. But these Caliente geraniums are bravely budding up. It is hard to keep a good plant down.
Container plantings are a joy, and a trial. Our summer has been cold and cool-no tropical plant loves this. I keep hoping for that warm up that never comes. By this time of year, my deck pots are usually overflowing. Do I have any complaints? Not really.