‘Ayesha’ has a sporting chance

In my time in Ireland I have come to appreciate macrophylla hydrangeas. I have even planted some in the new garden. There are zillions of cultivars and most of the new ones have bigger and brighter flowers on shorter plants. They look great in pots but are perhaps a bit too gaudy for the garden. One that I have come to appreciate is ‘Ayesha’. Until the introduction of new Dutch cultivars such as ‘Curly Wurly’ it was unique for the way the sterile florets have incurved sepals. This makes the florets smaller in size but there are usually lots of them on large heads. It is not fanciful to say that they look like lilac. I think it was with this in mind that someone thought they were scented and you frequently see it printed that the flower have fragrance but I don’t really detect it. I specifically sniffed hard today and it was a nice warm day and although there was a slight ‘smell’ I can’t say these are fragrant.

In any case it is a large shrub, up to 2m high with attractive blooms that vary in colour, like most hydrangeas, between soft pink and soft blue but are frequently this in-between colour. It reminds me of Margaret Rutherford for some reason. Quirky, cuddly and dressed in lilac and probably smelling of Yardley lavender.

‘Ayesha’ is a sport (mutation) of ‘Sir Joseph Banks’. This was introduced to the UK in 1788 by Sir Joseph Banks from China. It was new to horticulture and was named Hydrangea hortensis in 1792. It became very popular – you can imagine how exciting the first mophead hydrangea must have seemed. Fifty years later it was widely planted in milder areas, especially around the coast. It is a large shrub with large heads of relatively small florets. It is not suitable for cold, inland areas. It soon sported to produce a form that was named ‘Seafoam’ which is a lacecap variety with rows of large, sterile flowers around a central area of fertile florets. This is believed to be close to, if not, the true wild Hydrangea macrophylla. It is like many plants introduced from China and Japan in the 17th century –  because plant collectors were not given access to the countries they brought back cultivated plants from gardens in the ports or given to them by merchants. ‘Seafoam’ is not commonly seen. ‘Ayesha’ seems to have been named in the 1950s and references say it is an old Japanese cultivar but I need to check this.

Anyway, to get the point of all this – a plant here has decided to go back to its roots and half the flower head has reverted back to ‘Sir Joseph Banks’.


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