Why I Love Growing Hydrangeas

hydrangea paniculata

Garden long enough and you’ll likely begin to attribute human traits to your garden plants.

The irises I purchased for their showy colors have now revealed themselves as divas that only perform under exacting conditions, whereas the single clump of black eyed Susan’s has voluntarily expanded it chorus line, and will soon be kicking color up along a sunny wall. However, it’s another resident of my garden that has captured my heart because it reminds me of my childhood friend, my teddy bear.

I’m hooked on hydrangeas and grow several different varieties. The genus Hydrangea is comprised of 35 species, consisting of small trees, shrubs, and climbing forms. These species break down into a dizzying collection of varieties and cultivars, producing plants suitable for nearly every location and condition.

In the wild, hydrangeas are often found at the woodland’s edge, thriving in filtered sunlight and moist, fertile soil. Capitalizing on their popularity, plant breeders have cultivated hydrangeas that sport a range of colors, grow in different sizes and shapes, and prosper in varying degrees of sunlight.

Hydrangea macrophylla

Gardeners are often attracted to hydrangeas based on the shape of their blooms—which are actually clusters of small flowers. Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly called big leaf or mophead hydrangeas, are popular for their large, colorful blooms, which can range from red to pink to lavender to deep blue, depending on the pH of the garden soil. A more acidic soil (below pH7) turns their color blue while a more alkaline soil (above pH7) encourages red or pink blooms.

Hydrangea paniculata

Another popular species is Hydrangea paniculata. It bears conical, typically creamy white blooms that later mature into a blushing pink or dusty rose color. Willing to tolerate less-than-perfect growing conditions, H. paniculata can thrive in sunnier, drier sites in colder climates. These attributes make them welcomed guests in my garden.

Last season I fell for one particular hydrangea, H. paniculata ‘Lavalamp Flare’ —and this is where my childhood friend enters the picture. Introduced by Blooming Easy, this hydrangea has a compact 3’ x 3’ size and will do well in full to part sun.

It has captured my heart because it takes me back to my childhood. Greeting me at the door, the creamy white blooms look just like my teddy bear’s head.

Early in the season the blooms look skyward, but, as maturity approaches, the weight of the large, teddy bear blooms cause the stems to form an attractive arch. With time, and perhaps knowledge of my childhood affection, my teddy bear’s face begins to blush a dusky pink on his cheeks and ears.

As the season fades, the drying blooms turn brown and my chubby-cheeked beloved friend retreats to his den for his winter nap. I am looking forward to his return this year.

Featured image: H. paniculata ‘Lavalamp Flare’

Lise Jenkins, a newspaper columnist, volunteers her time as a Durham County Extension Master Gardener. You can find her on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener

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