LAURA HALL: Hydrangeas — A heady world (PHOTOS)

Laura Hall, Gardens with Annie
Kathy Andre shows us her beautiful garden of hydrangeas.

Driving around the Destin area you will see many lawns are covered with small shrubs covered with blossoms of white, blue, pink, purple and anything in between. This is the month when the hydrangeas show their beauty, ramping into a crescendo of resounding displays.

There are 23 species of Hydrangea and only five are cultivated in the U.S. The most popular is H. Macrophylla, a Japanese native. These heads (inflorescences) are composed of large, showy flowers. The mophead cultivars show many small petaled flowers arranged close together on a rounded head.

A very popular cultivar, lace cap (H. Macrophylla var. normalis), has an inner circle of tiny flowers that resembles the milky way on a starry, starry night. Closely bunched together they change colors as they age. An outer ring of large showy flowers surrounds this circle.

One I truly love is the oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia), native to Alabama, Georgia and Florida. You need to give it plenty of room to stretch its limbs. 

It seems to thrive in either shade or sun and grows to eight feet. The elongated 12-inch clusters of white flowers begin in early summer, turning a pale green on the front of the blossom with a dusting of light, baby pink on the back.

The leaves shaped somewhat like a red oak leaf, but larger than an outstretched hand, are known to turn bronze or crimson in the fall.  The color turns best if they receive some sunshine.

Another showy cultivar is one with variegated foliage such as the “Mariesii Variegata.” Leaves look as if a drunken sailor couldn’t decide whether to paint them deep green, grey or white. These variegated leaves make the plant attractive even when not in bloom.

Kathy and Terry Andre’s yard is covered with 50 or so gorgeous mophead hydrangeas. Walking through this dazzling array of color makes you feel like you have entered the land of Oz where the queen kept saying, “More, more hydrangeas or off with your head.”  You can lose yourself in this sea of glorious color.

Marlies and Richard Benedict have a complete garden with almost every available inch planted with so many different flowers it draws you like a bee to honey. North, south, east and west she has mophead hydrangeas, magnificent lace caps and variegated ones. 

A royal example of the lace cap stands six feet high by five feet wide. It is covered with hundreds of blossoms ranging in color from light purple, deep purple and some with tinges of pink. Marlies tells me, “I talk to my plants on my rounds throughout the garden. I tell them how much I appreciate the beauty and joy they bring into my life.” People lucky enough to ride by her garden get a quick shot of mesmerizing beauty that makes the day brighter.

Want to know how to get the most from your hydrangeas? 

In Destin, it is suggested that hydrangeas will be most likely to succeed if planted in morning sun and afternoon shade. Full days of sizzling Destin sun will cause your plant to struggle and require lots of water.  However, extreme shade will probably cause it to have sparse growth and difficulty producing the beautiful blooms. Remind yourself of this — if grass won’t grow in an area, hydrangeas probably won’t either.

The universally asked question is how to get the hydrangea to change colors. Normally it depends on the composition of the soil where it is planted. To change the color you have to change the p H of the soil. 

If the soil is acid, flowers will turn blue but if the p H rises above six, the trumpets blare and the blossoms all get in a panic to turn pink. No blossom wants to be left behind in the color parade. To get the deep pink color add lime to the soil; to keep flowers blue, add aluminum sulfate or superphosphate. Remember, a few cultivars called “non-bluing” will never produce blue flowers.

Happiness and hydrangeas go hand in hand if the proper care is taken. Work in our summer gardens is warming up so drink plenty of water and add a bit of Gatorade for good measure.

Laura Hall is a long time Destin resident.  She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie in tow.  If you have a interesting garden, contact Laura at llhall4386@gmail.com.