This is going to seem like a very odd time to even mention hydrangeas – this time of year is hardly their greatest moment. But I saw a couple of plants the other day that struck me as interesting so I hope they will strike you in a similar way! Firstly there was the huge mophead hydrangea above. I am never exactly happy with the word ‘mophead’ and am tempted to call them mop-head – mophead looks too much as though it should be pronounced moffeed. The plant above was notable because of that mass of brown flowerheads. They may be brown but they were certainly still notable and I can only imagine how this looked in summer. Well it is on acid soil so must have been a cumulonimbus of a cloud in blue! The fact that it is by the coast, so not prone to hard frosts, and in full sun, probably helped it flower so freely.
It is worth noting that now is the time to prune hydrangeas and the acceptable advice is that every shoot be relieved of its old flower head back to the uppermost pair of growth buds. The heads are left over winter to offer a little cold-protection to the lower growth. This type of pruning will, eventually, lead to very twiggy growth and the flower heads will get ever-smaller. So it inevitably happens that the plant needs a clean out or it gets too big for its allotted space. The best recourse is to thin out the shrub every year. To do this, get on your hands and knees with a pair of loppers and cut out a few (about 20%) of the stems, back down to the base and pull them out. Ideally do this evenly through the plant and not just on the side you have placed your kneeler! What you ought to avoid is giving a hydrangea an all-over-trim because this can result in no flowers for a year – more if you do it every year. There are exceptions now that there are new types that flower reliably on new shoots. And this pruning refers to mophead and lacecap – hortensia – macrophylla types (there are so many names for this plant) only.
And so on to another hydrangea.
This one is another mophead but it is unmistakable among a crowd of unidentifiable lookalikes. ‘Ayesha’ is the only hydrangea, as far as I know, that has curled bracts around the tiny flowers. The mass of smaller-than-usual florets are said to resemble lilac though that is a bit fanciful and it is perhaps because of that supposed resemblance that it is often said to be fragrant – I have never noticed that despite my nose doing a good bee impersonation on several occasions. But here is the plant, this week, looking amazing. The flowers are still fleshy and although they are bleached and hardy colourful the pedicels (the flower stems) were blue or greenish and the strange turqoise colour usually seen in that fabled tropical climber strongylodon.
That the foliage had remained intact and, where the sun touched the leaves, had become burnished, made the plant still more extraordinary.
This is how it looks in summer on neutral soil.
I am going to miss hydrangeas when I return to the UK. My garden is far too dry in the east Midlands for them to thrive and having seen what they can do when content it would be cruel to see them suffer.