The flowers and bush form of a rare species hydrangea,
H. indochinense, which comes from Vietnam.
For some thirty years hydrangeas always seemed to be rather boring shrubs to me. But then I only knew the lolly pink and pale blue mophead kinds (Hydrangea macrophylla). Their bush form always seemed too round and fat in summer and too lank and straggly in winter, their colours were uninspiring, and their flower form was fat and bouffy. (I made that word up, but you know what I mean.) I thought the flowers were only good for quickly covering ground in a sand-saucer arrangement.
About fifteen years ago I became aware of lacecap hydrangeas, and then oakleaf hydrangeas, climbing hydrangeas and other much more desirable forms of hydrangea. Now I have several different kinds of hydrangea in my garden and would happily plant more. Even the mophead kind, if its blue flowers were as striking as these ones in my neighbours' garden.
H. quercifolia 'Snow Queen' has single white flower spikes and distinctively oak shaped leaves. My 'Snow Queens' start flowering in late January and finish in late February - this photo was taken at the end of February.
I am especially fond of the oakleaf kind (H. quercifolia) with its spikes of white flowers and its attractive leaves which go claret red in autumn (albeit not as often and as reliably as I am sure they do in its native habitat, which is the mountains of North America). It grows into a taller and more elegant shrub than H. macrophylla, has single and double flower forms, and is an excellent deciduous shrub to have at the back of a border.
My climbing hydrangea (H. anomala subsp. petiolaris) is not in an optimum spot and has yet to flower for me. If only I had a tall, south-facing stone or brick wall... actually, I'd be lucky if it were still standing in these quaky parts, but maybe a climbing hydrangea would have helped hold it together, since it has such strongly clinging little aerial rootlets emerging from its stems that it needs no other climbing support. You can see how fabulous it is from the photos and text on the Missouri Botanical Garden site.
A blue lacecap hydrangea left, and a pink one below.
Lacecap hydrangeas (H. macrophylla normalis) are really just moptops with frills – but such nice frills, and with a good contrast between the darker shade of the mop and the lighter shade of the cap. They are lovely to have in the garden at this time of year, when most other flowering shrubs have long since done their thing and are getting ready to shut up shop for winter. So if you have never been a hydrangea fancier up until now – maybe it's time to take a second look at what this genus really has to offer..