Hydrangeas are to an extent the victims of their own success. There are very few plants to rival the mophead macrophylla hydrangeas for providing the maximum flower display for the minimum of effort. As a result they are absolutely everywhere and familiarity rapidly breeds contempt.
The good news is that they are also a rare example of a plant group where you can have your cake and eat it. Search around just a little and you can find varieties that are just different enough to escape being branded as ubiquitous, but are still floriferous and undemanding to grow. That at least is what I have aimed for when I have added them to my garden.
The July 2016 issue of “The Garden” has an article about Hydrangea serrata and its varieties, describing them as “more nuanced, refined, elegant and chic” in comparison to the mophead hortensias. I agree completely, I have six, plus at least one hybrid.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Shichidanka’ has grown only 3 feet in the many years I have had it. It is in shade, but within the rootrun of a sizeable maple, so it is often dryer than it would like. This year has been a good one for it, with plenty of moisture available and I have been rewarded with a fair sprinkling of tiny blue stars that whilst possessing a certain charm can hardly be described as a display. Herself has been trying to get me to dump it for years but I have resisted. I should propagate it and get it growing in a better spot.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Shojo’ is stronger growing, with lacecap flowers in abundance, each with only a few ray florets. The blue colour seems to have been applied sparingly, adding to its delicate appearance. In less acid soil it would create the same effect in pink.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Fuji-no-taki’ AGM has only managed to get about a foot tall and two wide in the four or five years I have had it. Reliably smothered in flowers each year, it has become a real favourite of mine. The ray florets are numerous and largely hide the fertile flowers; each being a small double with the bracts diminishing in size as well as getting greener towards the centre. It has a tendency for the blooms to become spotted in the garden but this is much more noticeable in photographs than on the actual plant. I have in the past grown it under cover and it didn’t suffer in the same way. Hopefully as it gets taller and the flowers get improved air circulation, the problem will diminish.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Kurenai’ has the usual lacecap flowers but is distinctive for the strong red colour that they turn as they age. It starts out deep pink, inclined to mauve on my acid soil, with the small fertile flowers being blue. Dark stems and a dark reddish-purple flush to the leaves add to the effect. It is not the strongest grower and I shall have to ensure it doesn’t get swamped by the plants around it.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Tiara’ AGM was named and introduced by Maurice Foster, author of the aforementioned article. My plant is now around five years old and stands around three feet tall with a spread of about five feet. It is hard to see a leaf for the amount of flower it is carrying. Mine is a clear light blue which would become pink on an alkaline soil. It hasn’t done it for me but I have seen it produce good autumn colour at RHS Rosemoor.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Sizun’ has far more ray florets than ‘Tiara’, approaching a mophead effect by comparison, a comparison that I cannot avoid having planted them beside each other. The serrated petals and green leaves edged purple save it from looking coarse but I may at some future date move it. Both plants suffer from such close proximity, ‘Tiara’ looks like it is producing a lesser display, ‘Cap Sizun’ borders on looking common.
‘Garden House Glory’ is a variety I planted only this year. A hybrid between serrata and macrophylla, it is a lacecap that I am expecting to flower pink, even in my conditions, and to be repeat flowering. ‘Izu-no-hana’ is a macrophylla variety with double flowers in lacecap heads but again it has only been in the ground since last autumn, so no pictures yet.
The Dutch Ladies series of Hydrangeas appeared in suppliers catalogues around 2010. Hydrangeas were undergoing a big surge in popularity and a good many new varieties were appearing, something of a chicken and egg affair. To my mind the most distinctive of them were the ones that combined strong red-purple colouring in the new foliage with bicolored flowers, typically white with a pink edge. Hydrangea ‘Sabrina’ is perhaps the best of the ones I have seen, but sadly I don’t have it. The old Japanese serrata variety ‘Kiyosumi’ almost certainly had a part to play in their parentage, it having these characteristics but on a rather unruly plant.
Hydrangea ‘Selina’ and H. ‘Salsa’both have dark emerging foliage, going largely green by August. ‘Selina’ has lacecap heads with ray florets that I have seen in reddish pink and purple-pink. ‘Salsa’ is a mophead with strong pink flowers grading to white at the centre. Both of mine are young plants that haven’t really got into their stride yet but from which I expect great things.
Around the same time but from a different nursery, I bought young plants of ‘Dolce Kiss’. It infuriates me when I see names like this:
HYDRANGEA macrophylla DOLCE (R) KISS ‘Dolkis’ cov Hortensia DOLCE® Kiss
Nurseries are left not knowing what to sell it as, customers don’t know what to call it. Which is a shame because it is a beautiful plant. The new leaves are strongly infused with purple, the lacecap flowers have ray florets which are white with a pink or purplish edge.
Anyone who knows Cornwall will know Trago Mills. Love it or hate it, there’s no getting away from the fact that their plant centre can and frequently does turn up some surprising things. In this instance it was a large delivery of “You & Me” series hydrangeas. These are of Japanese origin and appear to be a range of compact double flowered mopheads. I suspect they have been treated to keep them compact but suffice it to say that the one I failed to resist was ‘Together’. Fittingly herself and I settled on it as the one we both liked. It’s gone in a pot, which scuppers its chances of flowering blue without treatment, so I expect it to flower pink or purplish pink next year, if we haven’t killed it before then.
The last three, bringing the total to fifteen, which surprised me greatly, are Hydrangea paniculata varieties. A few years ago, after quite a number of new varieties had appeared on the market, the RHS ran a trial of paniculata varieties. They concluded that a lot of the new ones were a big improvement on a lot of the old ones and made a lot of changes to the AGM status within the group. Unfortunately, breeding has continued apace and the exercise could probably do with being repeated. I have ‘Unique’, ‘Early Sensation’ and one with no label. That’s the one in the picture, trained on a 30 inch stem so it shows above the low hedge that it stands behind. Generally reckoned to flower on current season’s wood after the macrophyllas are done, this one has different ideas. I may be able to identify it when it’s fully out, but I doubt it.