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The wonders of hydrangeas, explored and pictured.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hydrangeas That Bloom in the Spring, Tra-la!

Potted hydrangeas are popularly sold in the spring around Easter time and Mother's Day. The normal blooming time for hydrangeas in the home garden is late spring into summer so these potted hydrangeas have been forced into bloom ahead of schedule which is fine by me. Winter often seems to go on forever, and the voluptuous rounded blue, pink, and white blooms satisfy my pent up need for hydrangeas before they're ready to perform in the garden.

I'm not alone in this, as sales would testify. Several years ago I was part of group touring the "Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill" in Boston in mid-May and we all commented on the number of window boxes filled with hydrangeas. Each was unique with its own style and companion plants used as fillers, and all were gorgeous. After the tour we happened to walk past the open door of a florist's shop. It was filled with tiered ranks of potted hydrangeas, ready for all the local gardeners inspired by the beautiful window boxes on the tour.

Potted hydrangeas make wonderful houseplants for the several weeks they remain in bloom. People often ask me what they should do with them when the blooms finally fade; can they plant them in the garden? Should they throw them out as some people advise? Here's what I do: I cut off the spent blooms and plant them in the garden, at the front of a border because forced hydrangeas are likely to be smaller than those bred specifically for the garden trade. They also tend to be less hardy which is why some people advise against planting them outside. I hate to throw out any hydrangeas, especially those that have given me such pleasure at a time of year when I'm desperate for a hydrangea fix. I like to give them a fighting chance. More often than not, they reward me by coming back year after year, even when I haven't provided any winter protection. I know not to expect any more flowers that first year in the garden but I'm fine with that; they already put on their annual show and are entitled to relax and get settled into their new home.

To see a picture of one of the window boxes spotted during the Beacon Hill tour, click on the "Hydrangea Containers" page and scroll down. I think you'll agree with me that the gardener who created the display did a great job. 

8:58 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

King George
I loved the movie “The King’s Speech” and was delighted when Colin Firth won the Academy Award as best actor for his role as King George VI. To commemorate the movie, the king, and the superb performance by Colin Firth, I’ve decided I must add Hydrangea macrophylla ‘King George’ to my own personal hydrangea collection. This hydrangea variety is as admirable as the person it is (presumably) named for. It was bred in 1938 by E. Draps in Belgium. Since King George VI reigned from 1936-1952, I’m guessing this hydrangea was named for him, although I can’t find any supporting documentation. Any horticultural historians out there? Please let me know if I’m right and correct me if I’m wrong.

The history notwithstanding, you can’t go wrong with this hydrangea variety in your garden. The color is cherry pink in alkaline soil and a rich blue in acidic soil. The rounded flower heads crowd the shrub with abundant blooms, flowering mid- to late-season. The flowers also dry well. Once it is established in your garden you will be inclined to say “Long may he reign!”

To see a picture of 'King George' go to the mopheads page and scroll down until you find a place to click on "Mophead varieties with pink flowers".

9:48 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Old Blue Eyes

Back when I was first learning about hydrangeas I read about a distinctive feature of a white mophead called 'Madame Emile Mouillère'. It had to do with the small dot in the center of each flower called its eye. The eye, it said, will be blue in acidic soil and pink in alkaline soil. If you don't know the pH of your soil, just look into the "eyes" of this hydrangea to find out. I was in luck. I had this variety planted in my garden. I had not thought to look into its eyes but I did so immediately, intrigued to see what I'd find.
The eyes were blue, no question about it. I had guessed my soil was acidic because I had mainly blue and not pink flowers on my hydrangea shrubs but this confirmed it. Now, whenever I see this variety in a display garden, I make a point of looking into its eyes.
If you have a white mophead in your garden and you don't know which variety it is, look into its eyes. If it has distinctive blue or pink eyes chances are good that it's 'Madame Emile Mouillère'. Or, as I like to think of it in my garden, Old Blue Eyes.

11:47 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hydrangeas Around the World
When I first learned about the International Hydrangea Conference to be held in Ghent, Belgium in 2007 I was determined to get there, especially when I read about the topics to be covered and the authorities making the presentations including Michael Dirr, Glyn Church, and Corinne Mallet. I would have gone for the conference alone but significant bonus side activities were offered as well. Tour organizers had arranged for us to get to two gardens in Belgium, the collection of the Belgian Hydrangea Society in Destelbergen and Arboretum Kalmthout both of which sounded wonderful. Now that I’ve seen them I can assure you they were, indeed, wonderful and well worth a visit if you ever get the opportunity. But the offering that sealed the deal for me was the Shamrock Collection.

The Shamrock Collection is the largest collection of hydrangeas in the world with over 1200 varieties. As you can imagine it headed my list of must-see gardens. The conference was in Belgium and the Shamrock Collection is located in the Normandy Region of France. It bothered me not a bit that a five-hour ride on a bus was our means of getting there. Not a morning person I willingly got up very early that day to get to the meeting place on time. Our journey was well worth it; the Shamrock Collection was every bit as wonderful as I’d anticipated, with Robert Mallet our excellent tour guide through this beautiful garden. There was so much beauty to be seen and photographed! So many questions to ask! I learned a great deal and departed reluctantly, determined to return one day. With any luck I will eventually know it as the first of many visits to the Shamrock Collection.

I’ve created a page on this website called “Hydrangeas Around the World”, a listing of places where visitors can see and appreciate beautiful displays, either in formal collections or in other locations not primarily known for their hydrangeas. After the hydrangea conference I flew to Ireland where I’d arranged a visit with a friend with a house in County Limerick. She took me all around, including a visit to County Clare where we toured Dromoland Castle. The highlight was the walled garden. Imagine my surprise and delight when I walked through the gate and saw, arrayed in front of me, a corridor filled with lush mopheads textured in many shades of pink. It took my breath away. My camera got a good workout that day.  

I plan to add to the list regularly so that travelers who love hydrangeas will be aware of all the places in the world where these wonderful flowers can be seen.  I welcome your contributions.  
9:37 am est          Comments

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hydrangeas Always on My Mind
The First International Hydrangea Conference was held in Ghent, Belgium in August of 2007. I arrived in Ghent a day early with hopes of recovering a bit from jet lag before the conference began. After several hours of playing tourist I sank gratefully into a seat at an outdoor cafe. I was very thirsty after doing a lot of walking on a hot day and I ordered sparkling water. I was surprised and delighted at its presentation. The bottle was cobalt blue and the water, cleverly named Eaulala, was served in a distinctive glass. The effect was artistic and I took a picture to preserve the moment. Not only did I preserve the moment but I also saved the bottle because, as I sat there enjoying the refreshing water and the passing scene, I thought how good a blue hydrangea would look in that bottle. If you click on the "Hydrangea Containers" page you can see both pictures and judge for yourself.
8:53 am est          Comments

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