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Hydrangea macrophylla

When I think of hydrangeas, I picture a Southern belle holding a limp wrist to her forehead, demanding refreshment to quench her thirst from the hot Southern sun.

“Hydra” means water and hydrangeas do tend to wilt rather dramatically to let you know when they want to be watered (although experts say this isn’t necessarily the best indication). However, hydrangeas truly are the belle of any good woodland garden and definitely worthy of attention (and extra watering)– whether they’re mophead or a lacecap (pictured).

Mophead hydrangeas (such an unattractive name for such beauty), with their dramatic blue and purple and pink blooms the size of your grandmother’s mop, truly are drama queens of the landscape. The lacecap variety are more delicate, and perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve.

According to the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, five popular hydrangeas are:

  • Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), sometimes called garden hydrangea, French hydrangea, or Florist’s hydrangea; the flowers are mophead or lacecap.
  • Oakleaf hydrangea ((Hydrangea quercifolia ) with large, cone-like white flowers and large leaves that resemble an oak tree.
  • Smooth hydrangea (hydrangea arborescens)
  • Peegee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
  • Climbing hydrangea (hydrangea anomolapetiolaris)

What about the popular “Endless Summer” hydrangeas series? This cultivar that blooms from late spring through fall is Hydrangea macrophylla. For all, color is dictated by the pH of the soil.

If you want visit some public gardens with hydrangea collections worth viewing, here are some suggestions:

In Norfolk, Virginia, the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Kaufman Hydrangea Garden features approximately 300 hydrangeas representing 20 different species and 200 different cultivars.
The most prevalent is the Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), but many other interesting types are found here too.
Gibbs Gardens, located in Ball Ground, GA, north of Atlanta, opened in 2012. More than 1,400 hydrangea, of 150 varieties, are interspersed with the rhododendron and are planted on a forested north-facing slope of mature deciduous trees with gentle sloping walkways on the hillside. Blossoms appear in May and continue to October. Colors include blue, pink, white, lavender and purple depending on the soil acidity. What’s interesting here is that some of the hydrangeas have both pink and blue blooms. According to Jim Gibbs, this comes from lime leaching from pathways close to the plants.

Of course, the easiest thing is to have your own hydrangea collection to enjoy every day!