Ask any of my family or friends what Emma’s favourite flower is and they will unequivocally tell you: hydrangeas. Without doubt. Every time. My penchant for the ‘Nanna flowers’ knows no bounds – our wedding was laden with white blousey balls of hydie love, and I have grown them in every ramshackle farmhouse garden we’ve called home. Sometimes I’ve struggled to grow my beloved hydies, sandy soils of the Limestone Coast and 47 degree South Australian Summer’s nearly did me in. But I’ve learnt a thing or too about growing them in the process, and one of the most commonly asked questions regarding our garden here at Brindabella is undoubtedly about growing hydrangeas (I have ten plants in at the moment!) So here are a few pointers if you want to up your Nanna factor and have bursting blooms like I did next Summer…
+ Position, position, position! Hydrangeas do not love full sun. They can be sensitive little souls when it comes to harsh hot afternoon sun. But, they also need a bit of sun to bloom beautifully, so don’t put them in full shade either. Most of my hydrangea’s are positioned on south or east facing walls, to capture some morning sun but not get too hot in the afternoon heat. They tend to do well in dappled light too, so under big trees or larger shrubs (although well established hydrangeas will grow quite large also!)
+ They do like to be protected from wind. I find them perfect in little odd nooks and crannies against the house or shed where you’re not quite sure what to put there. I have three of my biggest hydie’s in an alcove/corner garden created by Eleanor’s bedroom and our lounge room – facing south/east so protected from not only the north/west sun but also our wind and weather generally comes up the hills from the west. These hydrangeas get little to no wind on them, keeping them happy as clams and their blooms in place a bit longer.
+ You can adjust the colour of your blooms. It’s true! In our acidic soil we grow fairly blue hydrangeas (much coveted to some) but I used to grow quite hot pink ones in our alkaline soil in Murrindindi. When I planted my hydrangeas here at Brindabella they were bloomed pink, this year they have bloomed a softer lilac/pinky purple, with a few bluer tinges. Next year I expect them to be the true blue of Thorpdale hydrangeas. You can change the colour of your hydrangeas by changing the pH of your soil: acidic soils grow blue blooms, alkaline grow pink.
+ White hydrangeas are generally just that: white. They are a different varities and will only ever flower white, despite changing the pH of the soil. I have two white only hydrangeas.
+ There are dozens and dozens of hydrangeas varieties – mopheads, lace tops and even climbers. I have all traditional mopheads, but my mum has a gorgeous vivid purple flowering lace top.
+ Cut back hard…but be careful as to timing. Hydrangea blooms start to form in the early Autumn and further develop in late Spring, flowering throughout Summer if you’re lucky. If you prune your hydrangea’s too late after they’ve flowered (into Autumn/March) then you will probably damage the forming buds and will not get blooms this Summer. I have just deadheaded all my hydrangeas as the blooms were spent. It’s currently early February.
+ Patience and timing. Just like when to cut them back, timing on when to plant them involves patience. I know everyone sees hydrangeas blooming in nurseries in the height of Summer and wants to buy them, take them home and have beautiful hydies in their gardens. I warn people to wait. Chances are you’re still going to get a spell of hot weather throughout Summer, and your poor newly transplanted hydrangea will be quite stressed about it all. Wait until Autumn, until the last of the heat has gone, or even Winter. Like all plants, hydrangeas are best dealt with planting or moving when dormant.
+ Water. Just like they don’t like sun, they don’t like getting dry and crisp, although if you’ve got the position right you shouldn’t have too much of a problem with your hydrangeas drying out. Over Summer I will water my hydrangeas every night if it’s been over 30 degrees. As my hydrangeas get more established though I won’t need to do this as often. I have lost many a small hydrangea plant to heat stress, water is essential, they like it a bit wet. But you will see their leaves turned a bit black if you have over watered them. Pay attention to them, they’ll tell you what they need. You will think that your poor hydies are dying a horrible death some days, wilting and shriveled. Soak them well and see how they pick up overnight. A hydrangea in the morning versus a hydrangea after a long hot Summer’s day are a different beast! Similarly, if you have wilting cut hydrangeas in a vase, throw them in the sink or bath with ice cold water and watch them come back to life magically!
Growing bushes and bushes of hydrangeas is one of my great gardening joys. They will always be my favourite. And once you have a bumper crop every Summer they make for fantastic (and impressive) gifts for friends! Arriving for dinner with a bottle of wine and an armful of hydies is a very ‘Emma thing’ apparently.
And don’t forget to talk to your plants, they love it and will love you right back after a bit of conversation.