If I stayed too long in Ireland I think I would be in grave danger of filling the garden with hydrangeas. I have always liked them but I have tended to ignore the big, mop-headed and lacecap varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla and I have been more interested in other species. This is not completely down to being a plant snob (though I confess I can sometimes be tempted to ignore the ‘good but boring’ in favour of the ‘awful but rare’) but because I have never gardened anywhere that really suited them. The perfect balance of moisture in summer and bright spot that is sheltered from severe winter cold has always eluded me – until now. I am sure the same is true of most of Ireland but here in the southeast there are some hydrangeas that are so beautiful you could cry. Even otherwise awful gardens have magnificent hydrangeas by the road or peeping over walls and fences that I am sure must contribute to at least half the traffic accidents in summer as motorists gawp at these huge piles of vibrant blossom.
So last spring and autumn I planted lots of hydrangeas in the garden and filled a raised bank, facing north and west, with half a dozen varieties, in groups of three or five. One of these was ‘Selina’. I got the plants from The Bay Garden*, one of the most visited private gardens in the south east. Created by Iain and Frances MacDonald, it is packed with plants and inspiration and although most famous for its Barn Garden, at its best in late summer and autumn when the naturalistic plantings of grasses and herbaceous plants shine, there is plenty of charm throughout spring and summer. Iain makes sure the small plant sales area always contains something interesting to take away and ‘Selina’ (or rather five of them) came home with me.
‘Selina’ is a lacecap hydrangea, meaning that the flowerheads consist of a ring of showy, sterile florets around a disc of insignificant, fertile florets. The effect is much less ‘vulgar’ than the mopheads with their big pink or blue ‘dumplings’, not that I am knocking those. It is a relatively recent introduction, hitting the garden centres in 2007 and is one of the Dutch Ladies series. It is said to be compact, reaching about 1m when mature but I have been impressed with the growth of the plants so far, each has a dozen or so flower heads after a year of growth. I am not sure what colour this would be in acid soil and have only seen photos of the plant with red flowers. Each has a paler centre and I must say it is an impressive plant. I may try adding some hydrangea colourant to one of the plants to see if I can change the colour. I have to say that the soil here is acid and azaleas and other lime-haters grow well so maybe this red colour is stable.
One big advantage of the lacecaps is that their flower heads are not so heavy that the stems groan under the weight and end up as supper for slugs. Even after the awful storms last night the plants look bright and perky.
Geoff’s rating 8/10
Garden rating 9/10