July 1, 2022

 By Kate and Len Lucas

These plants can be both stylish and old-fashioned at the same time. They can be expensive but if well grown, they can be aristocratic in anybody’s garden. 

This is one group of plants where their Latin names, at least to us, are in a mess which has led to some very splendid Hydrangeas ending up looking like their name was chosen by a committee who couldn’t agree on what the name should be. The most important thing, of course, is what is it going to look like when I plant it?

We would not describe ourselves as Hydrangea experts, but what we have learned about them is the importance of choosing the right flower colour. 

In our choice below we have avoided those plants with red or reddish flowers because over the years we have been unable to maintain the original red colour in the garden. For most of our gardening life, our soil has been chalky and we have concluded that it is difficult to grow red-flowered Hydrangeas on chalky soil. Blue flowered Hydrangeas would probably go a mucky pink unless you add more aluminium and iron to the soil but they are so special that we have included just one below.

Whilst they are quite hardy in our climate, they suffer from damage to young leaves caused by severe frost and might take a bit of time to recover. It used to bother us a lot but now we just let the new leaves re-grow and wait for the damaged leaves to dry up and either fall off themselves or we just pick them off when we prune them in the spring.

With apologies to the Hydrangea police, our selection represents what we, as amateur gardeners believe are the three main types. They are those with round mop head or conical flowers, those with flat lace cap flowers and thirdly climbers. We have chosen two from each.

Hydrangea arborescens “Grandiflora” This will need space if you have it. Large white flowers and withstands frosty weather better than most. There is another variety called “Annabelle” which has even bigger white flowers.

Hydrangea macrophylla “Madam Emile Mouiliere” This is a good round mop head with white flowers. It’s been around for over a hundred years. 

 Hydrangea macrophylla “ Blue Wave” A lace cap and is indeed blue. This colour can be difficult to achieve especially in the eastern counties where there might be plenty of chalk in the soil. The best blue would be achieved on acid soil. Growing it in a pot with ericaceous compost might be enough to maintain the blue colour.

Hydrangea aspera “Villosa”. A lace cap and a belter of a plant. We have one at the back of our garage and it will easily grow taller than the roof every year. We cut it down each winter because we like the foliage which means we never let it flower. We have allowed it to flower in the past and it produces the classical pink lace caps.

Hydrangea petiolaris: A deciduous, vigorous climber and as long as it does have something to cling to, it will not need any extra support. A very fine plant when it gets going and will need some space. The large white flowers are just a bonus.

Hydrangea serratifolia. The late Graham Stuart Thomas refers to this as an excellent evergreen climber and we have no reason to doubt his experience as he was horticultural advisor to the National Trust. Despite its arrival from Chile nearly 100 years ago, it is still not common in garden centres. Maybe we will be lucky and find one this year.

Hydrangeas can be bought in five-litre pots for a decent price and we suggest are good value for money because of what they will turn into in the garden. If you have a quiet corner that needs a substantial plant to fill it then have a look at a Hydrangea next time you are in a garden centre where you should find most of the plants in our list.