Hydrangea heaven


Hydrangea macrophylla 'Bela'

Katie MeluaHydrangeas those erstwhile urban favourites are making a comeback. Chelsea 2014 Plant of the Year was Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Miss Saori’ and singer Katie Melua is currently championing the drama, colour and year-round interest of the hydrangea as the Horticultural Trades Association August Plant of the Month.

These showy attention-grabbers can require large growing spaces, but whatever your choice, be it mopheads, lacecaps or panicles, Ashwood Nurseries, Kingswinford, West Midlands show you how to make the most of them in the small urban garden.


Container Hydrangeas

Paniculata and arborescens are the best hydrangeas to grow in pots, although you will need to hard-prune them in spring to keep them to a manageable size.

If you want drama, then Hydrangea arborescens is an amazing subject for a large container: the sheer size and beauty of its perfectly spherical white blooms will stop you in your tracks! Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is one of the best. Its flower, which gets bigger as it gets older, will bloom non-stop from mid-summer until autumn.


Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Equally spectacular in pots are cultivars of Hydrangea paniculata; these are tough, easy and reliable, and again brilliant for extending the season from summer into autumn. They produce huge, creamy-white tapering panicles of blooms in late July which, as autumn approaches, will change their colour. Picks of the bunch are Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ whose ivory flowers are probably the biggest of the group, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’  which turns lime green and Hydrangea paniculata  ‘Vanille Fraise’ which takes on the most gorgeous raspberry pink shades.


Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and ‘Vanille Fraise’

For successful growing, plant in generous deep-sized pots, using John Innes Compost No.3 for white and pink -flowered forms and a good quality ericaceous compost for blue varieties and site the pots in partial shade. Remember to water and feed regularly.

Border Hydrangeas

The hydrangeas most suited for the small garden are cultivars of Hydrangea serrata. Prized for their delicate beauty, these are slender in stature and typically have smaller flowers arranged in lacecap form. In late summer and autumn, their flowers and foliage become beautifully tinted. Plant them in shaded, sheltered areas, out of full sun, by a wall for example, and remove old flower heads cutting back to just above the uppermost pair of new buds to produce the new season’s flowers. Recommended cultivars include ‘Miranda’ a pink or pale blue lacecap and the white ‘Shiro-Gaku’.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Miranda’ and ‘Shiro-Gaku’

Many of the popular Hydrangea macrophylla only reach 5 to 6 foot wide so these are also good for small garden planting. Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bela’ is one of the dwarfer varieties with many rounded mopheads. It is best grown as blue in acid soil and prefers shady conditions. ‘Bela’ is also good in containers. ‘Masja’ is a low-growing pink mophead flowering from June to August which thrives in partial shade and has great autumn leaf colour. The dried blooms of these hydrangeas will often stay on the stems and add interest to your garden in winter.


Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Masja’

You could also try the most compact paniculata to grow in the ground-  Hydrangea paniculata ‘Sundae Fraise’

Climbing Hydrangeas

If vertical interest is what you’re looking for then Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris or Hydrangea seemanii could be for you.  With both you have to be patient as they take a while to flower but these self-clinging climbing hydrangeas are spectacular when mature, producing masses of white lacecap flowers in May. Both are very hardy, shade-tolerant and useful for a north wall, strong trellis or an established tree. Seemani is also evergreen.

Perfect Partners

If you have room in your plot for mixed planting:

Partial shade hydrangeas are great with hellebores, geraniums and Japanese anemones or on moist soils, astilbes. Epimediums, ferns and the golden-variegated grass Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ also work well. Or try shrubs with red foliage, such as Japanese maples with a drift of the autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium close by to complete the planting scheme.

In sunnier positions, hydrangeas are great with red-leaved berberis or cotinus, Rosa rugosa, hardy fuchsias and yellow or white-flowered shrubby potentillas. Add some herbaceous phlox, geraniums and asters as well as some floaty miscanthus grass and you will have a winning combination. If there is room, plant a deep violet or red late-flowering clematis (cultivars of Clematis viticella are ideal) to form a colourful backdrop. Under-plant with carpets of bulbs to create spring interest.

Selection of Hydrangea paniculata in John's Garden at Ashwood Nurseries

A selection of paniculata growing in John’s Garden at Ashwood Nurseries

Remember that hydrangeas are never happier than when in their own company!  Combine a white hydrangea with a blue or pink-flowered variety, or go for shades of one colour. The deep-crimson leaf and flower tints of cultivars of Hydrangea serrata will harmonise beautifully with the white or pink flowers of many Hydrangea paniculata varieties. The possibilities are endless!


Photographs copyright Ashwood Nurseries


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