I’ve been told that hydrangeas are making a comeback in gardens but, in my opinion, they’ve never gone away. With their beautifully-shaped, serrated-edged leaves and huge balls of flowers, why wouldn’t you like them?
The flower heads are composed of small fertile flowers surrounded by larger sterile bracts. The bracts can last on the plant for months and their colours fade to antique shades that many gardeners find attractive. I’m not fond of this look, so I cut some of the heads when they are at their most colourful and display them inside. Hydrangeas come in eye-catching shades of white, pink, purple and blue.
I bought four hydrangeas in large pots with me when we moved. This gives me the flexibility to move them into more shade on hot days and to move them into the background when they’re not looking their best in winter after I’ve pruned them.
On hot days, hydrangeas will droop if they don’t have enough water. When the hot westerly winds blow in summer and the sun beats down, I sometimes fear for the health of my plants. Luckily, after a thorough watering, the hydrangeas always recover.
In the ground, I have ten plants. Four of them are planted in the completely wrong place – facing west and up against brick walls. Last summer, they had a tough time, with hot winds drying them out and frizzling their leaves, while all the leaves were covered with ash from bushfires.
I thought I’d give them another chance at life this year, so I pruned them hard and they have grown well. But already the leaves are scorched and I know they won’t thrive through another summer. I’ll be digging them all out and replacing them with shrubs that can stand the heat.
This plant with deep blue flowers has grown from a cutting that was given to me by a friend over twenty years ago. Every time it flowers, I think of her. This is part of the joy of gardening; we can share pieces of our plants as we share pieces of our pasts. I love to be surrounded by memories like this; it’s as if my garden is full of friends.
Ideal situation: morning sun or dappled shade
Dislikes: hot midday or afternoon sun
Suitable for: massed borders or pots
Needs: moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter
Maintenance: cut flower heads for use in vases indoors. Only prune stems that have flowered that season otherwise the plant won’t flower next year.
Propagation: softwood cuttings in summer or hardwood cuttings in winter
Fun fact: some hydrangeas can change colour depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Lime encourages pinkness and aluminium sulphate promotes blueness.