• lacecap hydrangea, hydrangea

    Hydrangeas – Beyond the Mop Head

    15th September 2017Stephanie's BlogStephanie Donaldson


    I recently had the great pleasure of spending three hours walking round the garden of the 82 year old hydrangea expert and breeder, Maurice Foster. Despite the fact the temperature had plummeted from 28º the previous day, to 13º – and it was pouring with rain throughout – I loved every moment and came away determined to grow more hydrangeas – especially those of the non-mop-head species. Inspired by him I took a closer look at the hydrangeas in my own garden and at Wisley.

    hydrangea ayesha


    hydrangea, hydrangea Madame Mouilliere

    Madame Mouilliere

    I am anti mop-heads, far from it.  I have several in my garden, include the best white, Madame Moulliere and the wonderful Ayesha with its lilac-like flowers. Mop-heads, more correctly known as H.macrophylla are those that fill coastal gardens (like mine) with their blowsy, billowy blooms. They can look magnificent in shades of  purple and blue or candy-floss pink (depending on the soil’s acidity) as well as purest white, but quite often they are neither one thing nor the other – a bit pink, a bit blue, a bit unimpressive, so it is definitely worth seeking out good cultivars with stable colours. Quite often the ‘poor doers’ started life as indoor pot plants.  Grown soft and fast in  glasshouses, they need to be deadheaded, fed and hardened off before planting outdoors, or they will never amount to much.

    Hyrangea Cote d’Azur, Hydrangea

    Cote d’Azur

    Hydrangea Altona, hydrangeas


    teller pink hydrangea

    Teller Pink

    Lacecaps are similar in size and habit to the mopheads, but have less ‘blobby’ flowerheads with lacy centres, surrounded by larger florets often in a slightly different colour. The Teller series are very reliable, well-coloured lace-caps. Bred in Switzerland, several cultivars are available from Ashwood Nurseries – with their original German bird names – including Nachtigall, Faisan and Blaumeise and more widely and straightforwardly available as Teller Pink, Blue and White. They are strong, reasonably compact plants with well-coloured, erect flower heads.

    lacecap hydrangea, hydrangea

    Unidentified lacecap

    While  mop heads are the best known species of hydrangea, the hydrangea family is much larger with over twenty other species originating from either Asia or North America.  If you want something tough and reliable, despite its delicate appearance, there’s Hydrangea arborescens  ‘Annabelle’ with its huge balloon-like flowerheads that start of pure white and fade to an attractive lime green. It was found growing wild in the woods of Ohio, so has no problem dealing with the British climate.  It’s only fault is a rather lax habit which means that the heads tend to droop as they mature, so you either need to provide some support or you could go for its stronger stemmed cultivar ‘Incrediball’.

    Hyrangeas, hydrangea Annabelle


    The aspera hydrangeas can make substantial plants and have large leaves that are often hairy.  The flattish flowerheads  have a lacy centre surrounded by often large florets.  The aspera ‘Villosa Group’ is a more refined part of the family with smaller leaves and more densely flowered – it is a favourite plant in my own garden and a great late summer shrub.

    Villosa hydrangea,hydrangeas

    aspera Rosemary Foster – available from next year

    hydrangea Rosemary Foster, hydrangeas

    Villosa Group

    Paniculata hydrangeas really come into their own in September  when their masses of flowers are at their most impressive – on my recent visit to RHS Gardens Wisley, the part of the gardens known as Battlestone Hill was lined with a fabulous selection and I still can’t decided which is my favourite ‘Vanille Fraise’ ‘Limelight’ or ‘Ruby’.  They do need space to really perform, so I must confine myself to just one – I’m still pondering that one.

    hydrangea Vanille Fraise, hydrangeas

    Vanille Fraise

    hydrangea Limelight


    hydrangea ruby


    Hydrangea Early Sensation, hydrangeas

    Early Sensation

    I’m not sure that I had been aware of Serrata hydrangeas until I visited Maurice Foster’s garden.   They are a dwarf Japanese variety  and are ideal for a small garden, especially as they are more tolerant of sun than most other species and can be planted at the front of a border. They have a delicacy missing in most other types of hydrangea.

    hydrangeas,romance hydrangea


    Hydrangea quercifolia have, as their name indicates, oak leaf  shaped leaves,  and attractive cone-shaped flowerheads. Their main virtue is wonderful autumn colour when the leaves turn a deep, rich red.

    hyrangea Pee Wee, hydrangea

    Pee Wee

    hydrangeas, hydrangea quercifolia

    Quercifolia autumn tints


    Whilst hydrangeas will survive in  poor, dry soil, they shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘bung it in and leave it’ plant.  They benefit from being planted in  well-prepared soil enriched with compost and beig given plenty of water until they are established. An annual mulch of leafmould or composted bark will keep them growing well, but  don’t mulch right up to the stems though – they don’t like it.

    Pink or Blue – and what to do

    blue hydrangea,hydrangeas

    pink hydrangea,hydrangeaHuman nature being what it is, those with alkaline or neutral soil wish they could grow blue hydrangeas and those with acid soil would like to have some pinks.  With a lifetime of experience, Maurice Foster’s advice is to shun the colourants and just concentrate on growing your plants well and whatever colour they are they will look wonderful.