In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
January, 2009
Regional Report

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This variegated lacecap hydrangea, 'Mariesii Variegata', has clusters of tiny fertile gentian blue florets edged with large, sterile, very light blue petals.

Lacecaps and Mopheads Hurray!

Conversation stopped as I began flipping through Michael Dirr's Hydrangeas For American Gardens. We'd been chatting and opening Christmas presents from good friend and holiday hostess Barb. "Hydrangeas are my favorite," offered one guest eyeing my handsome book. "They're so easy to grow. I have a lot -- don't know what kinds. Snowballs are my favorite. I remember them from childhood."

"I like that one," she said, slowing me down at the photo of dew-drenched, blue-purple lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla 'Taube'. Macrophylla means large leaf. The pink or blue mopheads (aka snowballs) we're drawn to as children are large-leafed hydrangeas. Lacecaps can also be macrophylla.

Flower Form
There are about 100 species of hydrangeas. So many to choose from -- where to start? At first glance, most people look to color and flower form (corymb) -- snowball or lacecap. Hortensia, snowball, and mophead all refer to hydrangeas with large, rounded flower clusters. Lacecap hydrangeas have flat flower clusters with showy sterile flowers surrounding a center of fertile, bead-like florets. Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mariesii Variegata' is a large-leaf lacecap with variegated, cream-streaked leaves.

Enchanting cultivars include double or faux-double flowers and picotee with dual-color flowers. As adults, our taste often broadens and refines to appreciate the structural native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) with exfoliating (peeling) bark and impressive clusters of fertile flowers and snowy sepals. 'Snowflake', with multiple, overlapping sepals (outside the petals), is an elegant, double-flower-looking, bi-color beauty. Foot-long panicles (flower clusters) cascade in attractive scale on 7- to 8-foot shrubs. 'Snow Queen' boasts upright, 6- to 8-inch white flower clusters that turn pink with age. 'Alice' is a favorite. Its 10- to 14-inch clusters carry creamy white sepals that mature into pink-rose above burgundy foliage come fall.

The picotees in the new Cityline series of compact, German hybrid hydrangeas quickly caught my eye. 'Mars' has white snowball clusters with red highlights. 'Berlin' flowers are chartreuse tipped in pink. 'Paris' has white flowers with red tips. 'Rio' flowers have a chartreuse eye with blue to purple margins.

'Let's Dance' is a new series of small, compact, reblooming, large leaf hydrangeas. The diminutive mophead 'Moonlight' has pink or blue clusters blooming on new AND old wood. 'Starlight' is its lacecap cousin, 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.

Species
The more we garden, the more we notice the leaves, the plant size and shape -- and the importance of knowing the correct botanical name to get the specific plant we want.

Hydrangea paniculata (panicle or hardy hydrangea) has the huge, showy flowers we see in floral shops and decorative arrangements. Panicle hydrangea can reach 10 to 15 feet and be trained as multi-stemmed or as a single stem, tree form -- fine on a garden edge but too large in the midst of perennials. H. paniculata 'Limelight', with lime-green flowers aging to pink and burgundy, is a striking new cultivar I'm using as background for a shade garden.

Sun or Shade
Most hydrangeas do well in sun or part shade (4 or more hours of sun). Oakleaf hydrangeas are a shade gardener's dream. The smaller new cultivars 'Pee Wee' and 'Sikes Dwarf' are sized nicely for garden beds. Large-leafed lacecap 'Lady In Red' flowers beautifully in containers in my dappled shade yard.


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