Hydrangeas For Every Garden

Lynn Coulter
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I’ve gone head-over-garden clogs for hydrangeas.

Recently I attended the Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival in Douglasville, Georgia, a suburb west of Atlanta. For those who don’t know about this festival, it’s held every year in honor of the late Penny McHenry, an avid gardener who founded the American Hydrangea Society.

And talk about luck–I landed an invitation to tour festival co-organizer Susanne Hudson’s private garden. You may recognize her name. Susanne, an interior designer and gifted gardener, has been profiled in Southern Living Magazine and on HGTV.com.

Read on, and I’ll give you a virtual sneak-peak into Susanne’s garden.

Visit Susanne Hudson’s garden during the summer, and  you’ll think there’s a party going on.

Everywhere you look, big, blowzy flower heads nod in the breeze. When the sun sets, an outdoor chandelier winks on over a table topped with pillar candles, vintage china and old silver. Everywhere, there are pink, blue, and snowy-white hydrangeas in bloom.

Hydrangeas lend a party-feel to any garden, because summer is prime time for their beautiful, long-lasting flowers. Susanne grows over 200 of the carefree shrubs at her restored Greek Revival home in Douglas County, GA, where she works as an interior designer during the day, and comes home to putter—but not much—with her plants.

“I’m a lazy gardener,” Susanne admits, although you’d never know it. Paths bordered with neat boxwood shrubs wind through plantings of ferns, azaleas, magnolias, and ivies. Weathered garden statues watch over the flowers, while a few rusty rakes and shovels lean casually against a potting shed, as if to remind visitors that you can put your tools away when you grow hydrangeas.

“A hydrangea is a shrub that’s easy to care for,” Susanne says. “You don’t have to do anything to it. It’ll grow in almost any soil, and you don’t have to prune it if you don’t want to.”

While many flowering shrubs bloom for a short time, hydrangeas put on a spectacular show for three to four months. Even when the blooms fade, they often take on hints of lavender or pale pink before turning beige or ivory. They’re attractive enough to leave on the plants for fall and winter interest, although Susanne often cuts armfuls to bring indoors for dried arrangements.

You might think hydrangeas are old-fashioned, especially if you remember seeing them in your grandmother’s garden. Those plants were beautiful, but you couldn’t always count on them for summer flowers. Late spring frosts often killed the buds, but modern plant developers have addressed that problem.

The new shrubs bloom twice a year, once on the previous year’s growth (called “old wood”) as well on the current year’s growth, or “new wood.”
This means that gardeners can still expect blooms, even if a cold snap takes out the first buds.

Hydrangeas can be grown in all but the coldest regions of the U.S. Not sure what gardening zone you’re in? Click here for a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Once you’ve identified your zone, try one of the plants listed here.

‘Balimer’ – Recommended for zones 4 to 9 and partial shade. This mophead hydrangea is a vigorous rebloomer from the “Endless Summer” collection, and versatile enough to use as a foundation plant or in containers.

Blushing Bride’ – Another re-bloomer, this one thrives in part shade, in zones 5 to 9. The ‘Bride’s’ icy-white flowers are tinged with pale pink.

Proven Winners ‘Incrediball’ – Huge flowerheads start out lime-green and mature to white. Tolerates part to full sun; for zones 3 to 9.

‘Tardiva’ – Very cold hardy; grows in part to full sun in zones 3 to 8. The pyramid-shaped flowerheads start out white and turn pinkish-purple. Give this one plenty of room; it grows 8 to 12 feet tall.

Oakleaf hydrangea- This native hydrangea can be planted in masses to form a bushy hedge. The blooms are creamy-white and elongated, and the oak-like foliage turns burgundy-purple in fall.

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