A Banner Year for Hydrangeas

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Today we’re in Elie Gilbert’s garden.

I’ve been gardening for at least 70 years, but I’ve never seen a year like this for hydrangeas. Here in my Plymouth, Massachusetts, garden, we recently had one of the rainiest Julys on record, and the hydrangeas just loved it, rewarding us with both aggressive growth and a magnificent display of blossoms.

I have a large assortment of hydrangeas in both my hill garden and patio garden—lacecaps, mopheads, bigleaf (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 5–9), tall oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, Zones 5–9), and even a dwarf one called ‘Pia’. Although I love them all, I have to admit that the lacecaps are my favorite because of the delicacy of their flowers.

The ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangea can be stunning, both for its intense blue color and the size of its blossoms. Most of that strong blue color results from the high acidity of our soil, so I never have to add anything to it to maintain that color. However, some hydrangeas, like ‘Pia’, always remain pink in color, regardless of how acidic the soil is. But just like other hydrangeas, they prefer an acidic soil to grow their best.

I can’t say enough about my oakleaf hydrangeas, because they offer something of interest all year long. They begin by putting out enormous oak-shaped leaves, which can often reach 10 inches in size. Then when they come into bloom, their large panicle-shaped flowers open white, then transition through several shades of pink over the summer. When fall arrives, the leaves turn a wonderful crimson color, and even after the leaves drop off, the cinnamon-colored bark on this beauty shreds off in long strips that flutter in the wind.

I can’t think of any gardener in the Northeast who doesn’t have at least one hydrangea in his or her garden. It just seems to be a part of our gardening culture.

shade garden full of hydrangeasThe hill and patio gardens with hydrangeas

garden with a variety of hydrangeasMophead, lacecap, and oakleaf hydrangeas

hydrangea with white flowersLacecap hydrangea ‘White Wave’

white and blue hydrangea flower‘White Wave’ blossom

blue and pink hydrangeas next to housePatio garden with lacecap hydrangea ‘Blue Wave’ and mophead ‘Cityline Paris’

closeup of blue hydrangea‘Blue Wave’

closeup of pink hydrangea flowersOakleaf hydrangea changing from white to dusty rose

hydrangea next to pink flowersLacecap hydrangea and Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis, Zones 4–9)

shade garden under small birch treeLacecap hydrangea nestled in the shade of a birch tree

hydrangea with dark blue flowers‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangea

view of garden from back slopeHydrangeas in view from the hill behind the house

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