I have a dream, a vision and the start of a heavenly blue and purple garden room.
Hydrangeas are to blame. The classic hydrangea shrub with the huge balls of blue, pink or purple blooms always have grown well in Western Washington gardens. During the past couple of years, new varieties and new gardening attitudes have moved hydrangeas to the top of the list if you’re looking for easy-care color all summer and into the fall.
The new hydrangea varieties are more compact, more sun-tolerant, easier to prune and above all, flower more reliably than even a decade ago. The big-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) gives welcome summer color in shaded parts of the garden. In rich soil with plenty of water, these old-fashioned shrubs will stand tall with bodacious blooms.
Enter the modern plant breeders. Shorter, ever-blooming hydrangeas have arrived in your local nursery and they bloom on both old and new wood. This means you no longer will need to consult with a Master Gardener when it comes time for pruning. Cut wherever, whenever or never.
So let me take you to my heavenly blue hydrangea room. You enter through an opening in a hedge of arborvitae. The hedge forms the entry wall. Once inside, the other three sides are enclosed with a wooden fence, creating a hidden enclosure. An old wooden door already has been recycled as a welcoming portal complete with a deep purple mailbox (to hold garden tools) and there is a purple “Jackmani” clematis vine that winds through the front hedge and over the door frame.
Once through this doorway, you arrive on a carpet of cedar wood chips to a small sitting area – completely surrounded by raised beds. All of these beds will someday be filled with hydrangeas. Right now, half of the beds still are composting garden refuse. Maybe in a decade, I’ll have a sunken garden effect with the sitting area surrounded by blue, purple and pink hydrangeas screening the wooden fence.
It’s a lovely dream, especially because I tell myself this new hydrangea room will not require much maintenance. Large trees shade and protect the garden and the evergreen hedge will screen the leafless hydrangeas during the winter. I’ll slip into the coolness of the hydrangea room during the dog days of summer and be overcome with the beauty – and not the work.
Hydrangeas are easy to start from cuttings so you don’t need to spend a lot of money to create your own hydrangea room or blooming secret garden. I’ll be using tall and the new compact hydrangeas to create this shaded piece of heaven, and the raised beds created from former compost piles will host hydrangeas that are drought-resistant and free of diseases and insects. Most of my garden plans don’t turn out as perfect as I imagine, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Here are the best of the new and improved hydrangeas:
“City line,” a Hydrangea marcrophylla hybrid (www.provenwinners.com) is bred for smaller city gardens. This compact shrub produces large flower heads on strong stems (no flopping) and very glossy leaves. No pruning necessary on a plant that grows from 3 to 6 feet tall. Excellent in the landscape or in a pot. The “City line” series of hydrangeas is from Germany and comes in a range of colors, with each shade named after a different city. City line “Venice” is my current love, with long-lasting, bright, fuchsia-colored blooms.
“Lady in Red” Hydrangea marcophylla (www.ladyinredhydrangea.com) has rich, red, distinctive fall foliage and red stems and veins. The lace cap style of flowers open pinkish white but then turn burgundy rose in color. Compact and mounded, mine still is shorter than 4 feet after three years in the ground but produced a generous number of blooms this summer.
“Endless Summer” Hydrangea marcophylla: (www.endlesssummerhydrangea.com) is the first repeat-blooming, compact hydrangea that started all of the fuss. Blooms a true blue in our naturally acidic soil and frugal gardeners should note that the price of this choice shrub has come down a bit since it was first introduced at local nurseries.
“Mini Penny” Hydrangea macropylla (www.gardenersconfidence.com) is a gem I’ve been growing in a container for two years and it survives our cold winters with no protection. It blooms pink in potting soil, blue when planted into the ground and is compact with smaller flower clusters that bloom all summer.
“Let’s Dance” Starlight Hydrangea marcrophylla (www.provenwinners.com) was the first lace cap-style hydrangea to bloom on new wood, which makes it easy to prune and shape, but only if needed. It’s compact to 3 feet tall with strong stems for holding the vivid pink or blue blooms. I’m adding “Let’s Dance” to my secret hideaway of a garden room just because of the name. Imagine dancing in the moonlight, hidden from view but surrounded by hydrangeas in glorious bloom.
Marianne Binetti is the author of several books. She can be reached at www.binettigarden.com.