Scientists have improved on the durability of this garden standard over the years, and in 2003 new cultivars began showing up in Midwest garden centers. When horticulturist Michael Dirr produced plants that bloomed on new wood, hydrangeas were changed forever.
One of the first macrophylla (big leaf) was All Summer Beauty, followed by Penny Mac, Endless Summer and Dooley, named after University of Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley. With these new varieties we can change the flowers’ colors by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil. Hydrangeas experienced a coming-out party in the early 2000s.
Scientists are once again developing more hydrangeas that offer unusual beauty.
One of this year’s entries is BoBo, which provides a plethora of white panicles that bloom from June to September. The blossoms appear on new wood that emerges from the shrub that you pruned late last winter or early this spring. BoBos grow 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide; it’s a perfect shrub for a small garden.
Entries in recent years include Limelight (6 to 8 feet), which has exquisite panicles turning from light green to burgundy in the fall. Little Lamb and Little Lime are compact hydrangeas with petite white flowers. Pinky-Winky (6 to 8 feet), Pink Diamond (5 to 10 feet) and Quick Fire (6 to 8 feet) all need full sun and change from white blooms to pink in late summer.
My favorite is Vanilla/Strawberry (6 to 7 feet), which has ever-changing hues of creamy white to pale pink to rose. The flowers continue to open during the summer, going from standing erect to beautiful cascades in September. Some of the above dimensions may seem too large for your garden, but remember that all bloom on new wood, so you can keep them smaller by pruning each spring.
One more excellent hydrangea is the Oakleaf, which prefers some shade and moist soil. With its large oak leaves it offers beautiful flowers with rugged stems from August to October. Cultivars include Alice, growing up to 10 feet, and Munchkin, growing to only 3 feet. Everyone needs an Oakleaf hydrangea on their property.
“What a gardener needs is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.”
– Charles Dudley, 1871