True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

The diatribe here last week on the paucity of flower in the May and June garden should have listed at least a few flowering shrubs and herbaceous things that, along with the foliage mentioned, offer a little relief from an otherwise derelict picture sans blasts of color. 

To wit: of all things, there should have been at least passing mention of the value of hydrangeas of varying species that can go on for months with pink, blue, white, purple and even red flowers. 

Yes, I know I talked about them only a couple of weeks ago, but a couple of my latent brain cells kicked in today with a little more info on them, so I am going to add something to that former column. 

As we speak, and flowering since mid June, is a head-high bigleaf hydrangea, ‘Endless Summer,’ that is covered with dozens of the aforementioned colors except white and red. It is among the first of a series of re-blooming hydrangeas of the species Macrophylla (Macrophylla: big), sometimes called French hydrangeas. Their ancestors have been around forever and are common here. 

The problem with them is their sensitivity to freezing. About half the years they fail to bloom because the tender buds froze, or they are cut to the ground by freezing. They will regenerate from the roots in the latter case, but precious time is lost waiting for another good year. 

The mentioned bush has been at the edge of our woodland for perhaps 10 years, and strangely, while other tender plants froze in the late lamented winter, it was unscathed. The multi-color effect of this year’s flowers has stopped traffic. 

The bigleaf hydrangeas, as mentioned, are very popular. If one can live with a freeze-out a lot of years, there is a plethora of varieties. Most will be blue in our acid soil or pink in alkaline soil. If the soil is near neutral, the coloring can be mixed, as with the present specimen. 

More winter hardy are the Japanese forms of hydrangeas of the species Stellata, often termed Japanese mountain hydrangea. Said to be more resistant to freezing, I have found them to be somewhat difficult to get established; probably because of my Scotch heritage, I have started with small plants. 

An exception to that is the variety ‘Blue Billow,’ which I have had for at least 25 years. From a single plant, I have divided it over and over until there are now perhaps 15 specimens in our woodland. It has never frozen back in all those years. 

Coming on in later summer, about now, are the hard wooded hydrangeas of the species Paniculata. 

As the epithet suggests, the flowers are usually in panicles, composed of many small flowerlets. They are always white, but some fade to pink as they age. Or so it is said. I have had little pink on my several varieties. Cool weather, which is non-existent here in late summer, helps the transition I believe. 

Hydrangea arborescens is a native here, often producing acres of plants in remote areas due to suckering roots. The specific epithet means “tree-like,” but it is anything but. The straight species grows to some 4 or 5 feet with white lace-cap flowers.

The most common cultivar is ‘Annabelle,’ with mophead globes of white flowers, but some have lacecap blooms. The stems of these can be cut back severely in late winter without causing any bloom loss. 

Early summer is not too short on flowers if you have a good collection of hydrangeas. 


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.

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