I happen to really like hydrangeas. These shrubs come in all different colors and shapes and work in my shady garden. I have the space and enjoy having several types of hydrangeas.
One of my favorite summer shrubs has just now coming into bloom – the oakleaf hydrangea. I planted ‘Snow Queen’ Oakleaf Hydrangea (quercifolia). It grows 4-8’ tall and is native to North America. We planted in front of a white stucco wall and thought that the oak leaf would be able to show itself off against all that white stucco.
The oakleaf hydrangea really is a shrub for all seasons – though now is one of the most glorious. In summer it bears conical clusters of single petal white flowers that are unlike most hydrangeas. And the leaves that give this bush its name are large and lobed like an oak.
In fall those leaves turn a beautiful blood red and are striking next to the dried and faded blooms, which become kind of a mottled tan colored. In winter/early spring the bark is cinnamon colored and hangs loosely – kind of exfoliating to give it interest before it leafs out.
This hydrangea does well in afternoon shade so that it can escape the intense sun and heat. They prefer a humus rich, moist, and well-drained soil though an established oak leaf can tolerate drier conditions than most hydrangeas.
Unfortunately my bushes suffered some snow damage when a large pile of snow slid off of our roof and resulting in some unwanted “pruning”. But it is a resilient shrub and looks none the worse for wear.
Some of my friends have asked me to help plan their garden beds for them and I always steer them to this magnificent specimen – ‘Snow Queen’ Oakleaf Hydrangea! It is a stately, all-season bush and distinctive from other hydrangeas.
‘Lady in Red’ Hydrangea
We planted our ‘Lady in Red’ near the ‘Snow Queen’ oakleaf several years ago. Back then the spacing seemed adequate. But plants grow as a gardener hopes they will and now the ‘Lady’ is becoming crowded out. She will be moved to another partial shade location where we finally removed some old lilacs that have never bloomed since we moved to our house 14 years ago.
‘Lady in Red’ has lacecap flowers that open a pinkish white and turn a lush burgundy rose as they mature. Lacecap flowers are a combination of sterile and fertile flowers.
The showy sterile flowers form a loose ring around the smaller fertile ones giving it a delicate, lacy appearance. The foliage is rich reddish-purple in the fall with distinctive red stems and veins throughout the growing season. Again, a very attractive shrub against a white backdrop.
‘Lady in Red’ is always a heat/moisture indicator for me. It droops whenever there isn’t enough moisture, but it also droops whenever temperatures exceed 90 degrees. Kind of like me – this lady can’t take the heat too well!
This shrub is hardy in Zones 6 – 9 but with good winter protection, it survives Zone 5 (which is what Chicago is in). Protecting the shrub is easy – put 2 – 3 inches of mulch around the base. My shrub is planted next to a wall and has survived at least 3 winters. And last year was a very hard winter. So if you are on the fence, I say give it a try!
One of the most popular types of hydrangea is ‘Nikko Blue’. It is part of the Hydrangea macrophylla species. Macrophylla means big leaf in Latin. We planted three ‘Nikko Blue’ shrubs several years ago as replacements for a raspberry patch. (We miss the raspberries, but don’t miss their ragged appearance). This shade shrub bears the flower heads that are often used in summer wedding bouquets. It is classified as a ‘mophead’ flower – globular, snowball-like shape. ‘Nikko Blue’ is also the hydrangea that changes color depending upon soil pH.
Many folks get a kick out of having vibrant blues next to vibrant pinks. They accomplish this with the addition of aluminum sulfate or lime to the soil. In alkaline soil the blooms turn pink and in acid soil the blooms turn blue. The acidity of aluminum sulfate allows the aluminum to become readily available in the soil. Since my soil tends to run alkaline, I tend to get pink blooms.
This spring I actually spread some aluminum sulfate around all my Nikko Blues. I thought I would get a pretty mix of colors – pink/white/blue. And I was successful!
Endless Summer ‘Blushing Bride’
I do enjoy having these shrubs in bloom and thought the name ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea was really promising. I planted the ‘Blushing Bride’ variety several years ago and will verify that it lives up to its name. The mophead blooms started several days ago, mid-late June, and will go until frost. The blooms are white and gradually mature to a pink blush. I do enjoy having flower bouquets throughout the house, and this old fashioned favorite works for me.
Since hydrangeas are amongst the showiest shade shrubs with summer interest, I would encourage you to try a variety or two. They are generally not very expensive and offer the gardener summer ‘eye candy’.