From the previous post it is easy to get the impression that all my hydrangeas are blue – and that would not be far wrong! Many hydrangeas swing from pink in alkaline soil to blue in acidic, but as many will not change colour dramatically as a result of soil ph. I DO have pink hydrangeas, and in the Beech Borders I plan to plant some more, as there the flowers are almost all pink.
In this post I wish to concentrate on some of the many species and varieties of hydrangeas, as people don’t always realise how much they differ. Most obvious is the difference between the mopheads or hortensias with their fewer, hidden fertile flowers (first picture) and the lacecaps (above) where the infertile ray florets usually surround the small, fertile flowers in the centre.
Recently a new range of double-flowered hydrangeas, the YouMe Hydrangea series, was launched with dramatic and unusual double flowers; I bought a few last summer and photographed this on a still very young bush recently.
Much to my surprise I discovered this double growing along Oak Avenue recently; it was planted at least five years ago and was almost certainly grown from a cutting – but where then is the parent plant??? I had actually stood closer to investigate its lovely white centre when I realised it was double – but as you can see, not all florets are double.
Colour is mostly not a reliable identification tool, merely a help. But the shape and number of the bracts of the ray florets and their distribution around the plant, the relative size and proportion of the blooms and the way they change after fertilisation and during the later part of the season all help in identifying the many cultivars that at first glance might appear very similar.
In our climate, where they are so happy, most years brings a gradual change of colour over many months as the flowers age; these bright blues become the colour of old-fashioned bottled ink.
And these start of a soft but saturated powder blue and fade to chartreuse – a wonderful combination!
Sometimes the young flowers also show change and variation. These jewel-like purples indicate that this plant might be a dark pink or even red in alkaline soil.
Sometimes you find variegated leaves. This plant with yellow variegation is particularly striking. When I set off to photograph my more common white variegated plant, I found it had disappeared… I must do a proper search and see if it is overgrown and overpowered or completely lost. Coming to think of it – how many years since I last saw it, anyway…
Whilst on leaves: Hydrangea quercifolia, the oak-leaf hydrangea has a very different leaf and wonderful autumn foliage, much better than the mopheads and lacecaps in the H. macrophylla family where there is a vague yellowing only. Its conical flower-heads are always white, fading quickly through russets to brown before bleaching to straw by autumn; their dainty filigreed nature causes them to catch the frost most beautifully later in the year.
Here you can see a large grouping of them on the edge of the arboretum in autumn, framed by Prunus sargentii and with Camellia sasanqua ‘Blanchette’ in the centre.
H. serrata is superficially very similar to a small-leaved, delicate lacecap H. macrophylla, but as you get to know the plant, you realise that they are quite different. H. serrata ‘Preziosa’ with its richer, redder pigmentation is the loveliest, but I have yet to find it in South Africa. It is one of my all-time favourite plants.
This picture shows the remarkable range of colours a single plant can show. Taken in autumn, before the first frosts put pay to the display, there is a young flower, a faded flower from earlier in the season and one that has turned brown after being scorched by the heat very early in the season. However often the scorched flowers, which having been damaged tend to bleach to pale brown rather than show metallic colour, retain their shape. Besides – the garden is simply too large for regular deadheading!
In a good year flowers change colour slowly and are never scorched or parched, so that their show continuous right up until the autumn leaves turn.
Because of our long summers, secondary growth often provides an autumn flush of flowers. The way they combine with autumn leaves adds a whole new dimension to the beauty of hydrangeas at Sequoia!
As a good season progresses, the flowers that developed in shade become richer and richer, and their original flat colouring is forgotten in the opalescent mix of their maturity.
Whilst searching through my files I came across this series of particularly lovely close-ups… Don’t believe anyone who says that hydrangeas are not subtle!
Look at the way the shadow falls across this petal…
And just look at the little spider sitting on an anther, less than 2mm across I would guess, and below her what seems like an aphid (eek!). I only noticed them when I developed this ultra-close-up photo!
More detailed than the spider I can’t get, so let us end our walk with the big impact of a gorgeous powder blue hydrangea in its prime around Christmas time.