Dahlias from seed: my first years experience

Over last year one of my biggest gardening successes was growing dahlias from seed. I’d heard mixed reports on how successful this method was. With the addition of slugs and snails eating the young dahlias I had low expectations of how many if any, plants I would get. But despite low expectations, I ended up with a mass of dahlia plants. So many in fact we had to give them away. Even the window cleaner got some. So while I am no expert with one-year growing knowledge here is what I did.

I grew Bishop’s Children Dahlias bought from Sarah Raven. I had looked into a few types, some varied in germination, some varied in end results whereas these were meant to be easy. They looked to produce a variety of colours that I was happy to have in my garden.

I lack for a greenhouse or a cold frame. I also live up North in the UK so the winter frosts could have potentially caused a problem. Traditionally these are started in a heated greenhouse to give you a headstart to get the most out of them across summer. If you have access to these things that is great. I’m envious but even without they can still be managed. The seeds are little thin seeds. I used one large seed tray filled with peat-free compost. The seeds were pushed in upright so they were poking out a little. The tray was given water and a lid went on. They had to be kept inside, so initially, they went on the windowsill in our North facing spare room. The light is low in there but I have a couple of IKEA grow lights I put on in the evenings to lengthen the daylight. I don’t know if this was necessary but the IKEA lights are LED types, they don’t get hot like the old fashioned ones so I don’t think they will have done any harm.

I didn’t expect many to germinate having heard about mixed success rates. Just about every single one did and they put on growth rapidly. The seedlings initially grow their rounded leaves before they put on their true more jagged leaves.

From the seed tray, they were moved into 10cm pots to grow on. I grew these in Dalefoot clay breaker compost. At this point, it was still mid-April so there was still a chance of frost. As I wasn’t sure what to do I kept some in the spare room where I’d kept the seed tray. Some went outside in the shelter of a plastic box. The majority went in a really useful box. I moved it out during the day and in on a night until we got into May and the nights were looking warmer.

At this stage, it was tempting to put them in the ground. But I resisted and potted them into a mix of larger pots. Most were 3-litre pots. I reuse the plastic pots, as most can’t currently be recycled, from plant purchases so the size varied. I did this to get them nice and strong before going in the ground. As already mentioned dahlias are slug and snail favourites. The best defence for most plants is to ensure they are healthy enough to survive attacks. While they were in plastic pots on the patio they were less likely to be attacked. The young growth needed pinching out every so often. By nipping off the leading growth you encourage bushier growth and more flowers later on. As they put on growth I fed them with a mix of slow-release fertilizer on the soil surface and a weekly fed of liquid tomato feed. I kept as many of the pots as I could in trays as I was watering every few days to stop them getting too dry.

Once they were up to about 30cm and had filled out I spread them around the border and grew a few in pots on the border. With regular deadheading and more tomato feed, they have given me a mass of flowers through to late October and some hanging on in November. The variation in the packet was great: reds, orange, yellow, pink. The foliage of bishop’s children is rich and dark making for a nice contrast with many of the other late summer plants.

Once the frost’s started hitting I emptied out the ones in pots first so I could get on with planting spring bulbs. Then I’ve dug some out from the border for storing over winter. Opinions vary on whether lifting is necessary but I have clay soil and I think mine would rot. Many people had told me by growing from seed without a greenhouse they wouldn’t have enough time to form decent tubers but I can report they look good. Some are the size of a decent jacket potato. Advice suggests putting them I dry old compost or sand and storing them in a frost-free shed or greenhouse. Mine have gone in the loft. I don’t know that this is a good idea but I’m lacking other spaces.

If they do rot it isn’t a big issue though as I’ve got more seed to try next year. I’m also trying a cactus variety that claims to also be good for pollinators. These will hopefully add a few more colours to the mix and add some variety in shape.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my recount. I am indebted to many people who have advised me through the blog, Naomi Slade’s beautiful book and Twitter about how to grow them and would heartily recommend giving them a try.

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Six on Saturday: 14.12.19

The weather continues to get colder. The car is needing time to warm up in the morning. The garden is looking a bit bare after shuffling plants. The bulb planting is slowly going down. Alice helped plant two pots of tulips last weekend making that the last of the tulips. We planted some iris harmony in the top layer. The idea being we get a nice layer of blue irises, the tulips are planted deep so will flower later. I’m now down to a mass amount of alliums and the crocus for the front garden. The forecast this weekend is for a bit of rain this morning and then moderate breeze tomorrow. I’m still not feeling that well so I’m not sure I want to brave moderate breezes to plant the last bulbs. Moderate breeze round me means facing Northern sea winds. Not nice.

1. Cleaning the feeders

Currently, the birds have become particular about which food they want. The seed is going down fast and the fat balls are disappearing but the suet is getting left and going mouldy. The feeders are needing regular cleaning to stop the build-up of gunk to help prevent the spread of disease.

It is a grotty job but it brings plenty of rewards. Lots of visitors have come.

2. Primula

The existing primulas in the border are flowering but have been well chomped, though I don’t particularly mind. They were a gift that has spread out a little bit. They grow under the dogwood where I couldn’t put much else as it is too thick with leaves in other seasons.

I picked up a few more from the florist a few weeks back to bulk out the existing patch. I’ve stuck to the basic white as I quite like that basic colour set up in winter.

3. Hellebores

The hellebores are doing a good job showing the key major issues with hellebores. The flowers consistently look tatty and get eaten. Even when they do flower well the flowers aim down somewhat taking the joy out of them and making it awkward for a photo. But still, I persist in trying to get them to perform in the way I picture in my mind with stunning white flowers shining out in winter.

4. Patio

As well as reworking the border at the back on the left side I’ve also been shuffling the patio around. I’d built one log store a few months back. However the wood delivery was slightly more than one store so we got another one delivered which had been sat in the utility room for weeks, but I got pushed into getting it made so it was out of the way for Amy’s birthday a few weeks back. The two look smart together, though I’d have liked one on the other wall but we are still waiting on the builders to finish jobs. I figure they’ll act as a little bit of a windbreak fo some of the plants I’d like to grow. Alice is excited to be jumping, not about the log stores.

I’ve had a lot of the pots sat on the lawn while the builders have been working but now they have done this wall I’ve moved a few back. I’ve made a small platform out of a tile sample and breezeblocks. Not the smartest setup but it only intended as temporary displaying some of the winter foliage plants next to Alice’s mud kitchen.

5. Christmas lights

We have a handful of battery-powered lights out on the trees now we are into December. Hard to photograph but they add a bit of cheer in these dark months.

6. Rose

The pink rose has had a bit of poor performance this year. It has flowered several times but the wet weather has meant a lot of the flowers have been pitiful when they have bloomed. It is going through its last burst of flowers for the year. Impressive that it’s still flowering in December but unless it manages a few better flowers next year it may face the chop. In a small garden, you have to be ruthless. I don’t mind going the way of Lloyd and removing the rose from my garden for more foliage.

As mentioned already still not that well, so only managing short bursts in the garden doing quick jobs. Combined with the weather I’m not sure I’ll manage that many job this weekend, but I hope you all have good weekends. Might be winter but the jobs don’t stop.

Check out the six on Saturday guide if you fancy joining in the fun.

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Sunday shuffle

Having removed the white beam to replace with a holly tree this has left this border feeling a bit crowded. I’d planted the holly about a metre away from where the white beam was. It’s had a knock-on effect of making the surrounding plants feel a bit untidy so I’ve been slowly working over the last few weeks on redistributing the plants to make this border feel more cohesive.

Here we have the holly planted in place. The white beam is still leant against the fence until I have time to saw it up. Then it will be added to one of the woodpiles.

Here is the holly view from the path. The pink hydrangea in front of the holly seems to be a small variety. It came with the garden and hasn’t put on much growth, but that’s fine as it should work well there as the holly grows bigger. At the front of this section of the border are two large geraniums. They would spread and take over the world if I let them but I keep them to mounds of about a metre spread. I’ve given the area a bit of a mulch with some compost to put some goodness back into the soil now the tree has gone. The aim for this area is to fill with a number of shade-loving foliage plants to mirror the opposite border under a cherry tree. There is a climbing hydrangea you can just make out along the back planted earlier this year. They are slow to establish but it will eventually give nice glossy leaves and a burst of flowers. The opposite border has a well-established climbing hydrangea and it is stunning. All of this should start bringing the garden together into a cohesive whole. Starting out I made the mistake of planting too many single specimen plants and now I’m cutting back to limit my palette and have more repeated combinations. My love of foliage plants has been well documented and has proved effective in the front garden, so I’m bringing more of that to the back garden.

The Buddha’s head is a recent addition. It probably won’t stay there as I’d like it engulfed partly in foliage. The fern in front is a Japanese tassel fern. This was a reduced fern as it isn’t in the best state but as it was a variety I didn’t have. They form shuttlecocks of fronds. It is supposedly evergreen, so may serve the purpose of Matteuccia for the whole year. Not in the best state right now but should recover.

The addition of the holly has made the hydrangea paniculata limelight look a bit squashed so this has been dug up and moved along about a metre along to the other side of the bug hotel. It should have enough space here to fill out better.

Surrounding it there are a couple of cheap hellebores and heuchera. The straggly leaves at the front are ox-eye daisies. These self-seed all over and I redistribute them to gaps in spring. To the side of the hellebore is a Blechnum fern. This should grow to about 40cm creating another evergreen block of foliage over the next few years.

In between the limelight and holly I’ve planted another discount fern, a Christmas fern. This is named because it should stay looking good till Christmas. As you can see it isn’t in the best state but like the tassel fern it should recover. It should fill out to be an undemanding patch of ground cover. This is a US native making my fern collection a truly international affair.

Moving the hydrangea limelight along had a knock-on effect of needing to move the Acer Palmatum ‘going green’. This has gone along about a metre from where it was, leaving about 2 metres between the Acer and hydrangea. In between is a currently tiny Buxus plant that I plan to allow to form a small ball to keep some structure through the year as this section of the border has ended up bare each winter. There are a few more of the Blechnum ferns dotted around that that will spread and give a nice bit of foliage cover around the Acer. In the top right corner is a second climbing hydrangea planted this year. It’s put on a bit of growth this year and I reckon should claim the fence over the next two years. Right at the front of the border are two geranium x oxanianum. These are a short geranium with small pretty veined flowers.

The Acer itself should thrive in spring providing bright green leaves. This year it has put on a bit of growth but not been exceptional. I’m unsure whether I have the right conditions for Acers, but I like them enough to persist. As the other shrubs and climbers establish it will gradually become more sheltered and hopefully, it will manage to tolerate my sea winds. The stems are bright green. These photos don’t really do them justice. The plant label tried to use this as a selling point as winter interest. Currently, though it’s too small for it too have any major impact. Hopefully, in a few years, it will fill out well. The log pile at the back is frequently visited by the neighbourhood frogs. The half-buried teapot providing another shelter.

As I’ve been going along I’ve realised I have a few too many fine-leaved plants in this section and similar colours. So to add to the contrast and textures I’ve picked up two half-price hostas. Come winter garden centres want to get rid of hostas taking up space. They look like empty pots but will return in spring. These are very large pots and the plants look decent with roots out the bottom. Both are blue with quite large leaves. One is Hosta ‘Elegans’. This is a giant blue leaved variety. I’m thinking that this one can go to the back of the border. The other is Bressingham blue which grows slightly smaller. Blue varieties are generally more slug tolerant but only time will tell.

I’d also bought a pinus mugo mughus. This is a dwarf pine. My trips down to Dorset had given me an urge for a pine but I can’t fit a decent sized one. This is a slow-growing tough plant that will grow about a metre. I thought it would fit well with what has ended up being quite Japanese in nature. I have no intention of having something as carefully managed as a Japanese garden but I have got a lot of Asian plants in the mix. I’m not sure that I can fit it in the border though so I may look at placing it elsewhere or in a pot.

The overall look of this section of the border is a bit bare currently but give it a few years and the plants will fill out. Maybe half are evergreen so there should be more year-round colour. The Acer and hydrangea will establish over a few years whereas the holly will be many years to reach full maturity. But it should still look good even as a small shrub. It might not look that amazing right now but I like my blog to show a record of progress.

While I’ve done the heavy shifting Alice has filled the last two pots of tulips. Tulips have gone low down, then a few spare iris have gone higher up. The aim is for the iris to flower followed by the tulips coming through but we’ll see if this works.

But she was keener to strike a poise than be helpful asking for photos in front of each plant.

This section of the border has a lot of slow growers so it’s going to be a while before it really establishes but it’s good to have these blogs to look back on. I have an image in my head of how it will come together but I’m sure the reality won’t match my image. The planting should be fairly low maintenance and provide a decent home for a variety of wildlife. Now I just need the patience to wait for it to grow.

Six on Saturday: 7.12.19 Frost

Over the last week, we’ve seen another drop in temperature. The warm hats, scarfs and gloves are out for the duration. With this, the colour has faded with the dahlias shrivelling up, but many of the plants have taken on a new beauty in the frosts. If you are willing to brave the chill to venture out into the garden there is still lots to take pleasure in.

1. Hydrangea

The colour may have faded from the hydrangea but the mopheads still look good with the morning sun on the frosted heads. I leave the heads on through winter then cut back in spring when the new growth starts. This protects the new growth from late frosts. Then I thin out a few of the older stems. This seems to keep it at a size where it doesn’t block the path and it flowers well each year.

2. Hebe

The hebe flowers still providing little bursts of colour in the garden. The thin dark green leaves look like they’ve got a variegated edge rather than the layer of frost it actually is.

3. Sempervivum

This particular sempervivum pot has suffered in the frost and isn’t frost-proof as it’s cracking a bit. The sempervivum looks lovely with the layer of frost. They seem to have survived over the last few years from cold but don’t like to get too wet so I may shift them to a sheltered spot. The pot has plenty of drainage and the soil mix is heavy on the sand and grit.

4. Heuchera

The frost seems to make the various heuchera in the garden stand out more with the heavily veined varieties looking particularly spectacular.

5. Grass

The lawn has been decimated this year with builders, rain and having to leave things off the patio on it. But it is rather a pleasant feeling that crunch underfoot as you walk across the lawn.

6. Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens ‘black mondo’

The ophiopogon remains a stalwart plant throughout the year with its evergreen black leaves. The edging of white frost has only added to its beauty.

I started the work last week shifting a few plants around where I’ve planted the new holly tree. I’m looking after Alice on my own today while Amy is out so probably won’t get a chance to do any more today but I may brave the cold tomorrow to try and finish tidying the area. The shrubs all need moving slightly along to give them all space to spread to their full size eventually. I hope you all have good weekends whatever you are up to and don’t forget to check out the Propagators blog if you fancy taking part in six on Saturday.

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Front Garden update 3

Having returned from holiday I have got back out to continue with my front garden revamp. While we have been away the front path has been taken up. The crumbling concrete path has been replaced with smart pavers. Last time I wrote about the front garden I was leaving off planting part of the garden as there was still the path to complete. Now I’ve been able to get out and planted up a bit more of the space.

The view from above

The views from above shows the right side where I started planting has started to fill out well. The plants closest the path went in yesterday. I’ve given them a good soak in to help establish them. I’ve been sticking to ferns, hostas and heuchera so far. I’m aiming for a mixture of foliage with different shapes and colours. The garden is North facing thus all the shade lovers but luckily I like foliage plants. I’m keeping the flowers minimal and getting the colour through the leaves.

The view from above shows there are still some gaps to fill. I’ve used some coleus and alchemilla to fill gaps while the other plants fill out. I’ve bought stepping stones for half the circuit. They lead to the water butt, then back round to the path. The idea being I can water all the areas from the stone to limit how much I step on the ground. Alice does a circuit round each time she comes out the door which is quite useful for stopping her running out onto the road. The stepping stones in the bottom part of the photo are just temporary until next month when I’ll buy stepping stones to complete the circuit. These were log cookies we had spare from the wedding.

The wall where the bins are was on the point of collapsing so we’ve had it replaced with a fence similar to the other side. It’s odd but the bins feel tidying for having a fence taller than them. We are planning long term to build a bin tidy out from the fence to hide them. Next door has started tidying their garden. They said I’d shamed them into tidying, though they did say it jokingly rather than edged with venom. They are looking to plant something in the middle of their circle, then put fresh weed matting and gravel down. I’m trying to encourage them to continue the hydrangea love. But I think that would suit the spot: shaded, minimal effort, long period of interest.

Front door

The supports over the front door had partially rotted and we were considering removing. The gaps were filled with expanding foam, then the edge with wood filler. It’s had the first layer of primer. We are deciding whether to paint white or to go dark grey to contrast with grey of the bricks. The path looks much improved for the new pavers.

On either side of the door, I have placed these planters. They were intended to be used as window boxes but I can’t support them well under the window and they aren’t really big enough. I think they are looking smart here though. The coleus in front of the planter was grown from seed and is adding some temporary interest. I’m planning to add some snowdrops or crocus to the planter for some Spring interest. The hostas will die down for winter. The ferns are evergreen but will brown off to be replaced by fresh fronds in Spring.

The hanging basket was looking a bit dry from us being away so I’ve cut back some of the trailing plants. I think it’ll grow back with a bit of care.

Stepping stones

I have selected concrete steppings stones in the shape of log cuts. They aren’t the fanciest but they will gradually be surrounded by the plants. Each is slightly different so it doesn’t look too uniform.

Now I have an idea of where the stones are going and the path is done I’ve added some more plants. The hostas are mostly hosta fortuneii. These were bought for £1 or £2 in Winter on sale when they look like a pot of dead growth. I’m also taking a chance on placing the aspidistra outside. This has come from my classroom but I don’t have space for it in my next year’s classroom. I’m hoping close to the house it will have enough warmth to survive. My China Moon aspidistra in the back garden survived last winter so hopefully, this will too.

Ferns

A few more ferns have been added. These are mainly wispier varieties like Dryopteris and Polystichum. I’m not sure how these will cope with the sea winds so I’m going to need to keep them well watered initially and we’ll see how they go. So far I’ve mainly planted varieties like Asplenium with wider fronds that can cope with the winds.

Waterbutt

The water butt has proved invaluable since installing it. I have been able to manage the majority of the watering over the Summer from just this saving me carrying water through the house. We have had quite a wet Summer, but still very helpful while I’m getting plants established. Even small downpours have helped fill it back up. It has been a bit smelly a few times so I’ve added an antimicrobial disc to see if that helps.

The frogs have been sheltering under the bricks and tile the butt is resting on. A well-shaded spot for them. They’ll hopefully return the favour by eating the slugs to protect my hostas.

Hydrangea

The limelight has filled out nicely over its first Summer. It is a bit floppy but it will start to thicken out over the next few years. The flowers have been great and far more than I expected in this first year. Not as spectacular as the paniculata hydrangeas we saw at Exbury but a good start.

It is starting to gain the pink tinge before it browns off.

The help

Alice helped briefly before she lost interest. She enjoyed herself until she got her dress wet then she wanted to go in. Amy and Alice returned to supervise later and check I wasn’t doing anything stupid.

There is still more work to go and it will be a few years to fill out but I’m happy with the progress so far. The next big job will be edging the path to stop soil going onto the path. Then I have some ophiopogon to plant along the edge to keep it smart. Then I’m probably going to put bark down to improve the soil conditions, suppress weeds and help moisture retention. For months I’ve had plants sat on the patio at the back but now they’ve largely been planted I can set my mind to arranging the remaining pots.

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Six on Saturday: 17.8.19 Exbury Gardens Hydrangeas galore

We have returned from our holiday down in Dorset having seen some lovely gardens. It’s interesting travelling down South. The difference in climate makes a massive difference to what is grown. Cordylines tower over roundabouts. Camellias look healthy rather than windswept and it feels like everything grows that little neighbourhood taller with pines common across the county. Visiting gardens gives me a chance to see specimens I wouldn’t necessarily see locally.

This weeks six comes from Exbury Gardens which we visited earlier in the week. Exbury is located on the edges of the New Forest. It is owned by the Rothschild family famous for mass wealth made through banking. It is known for its rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias which I imagine were spectacular earlier in the year when the majority will be in flower. It holds two national collections: Tupelo and Oxydendrum. With a small steam railway and 200 acres, it has a lot to offer visitors. I may have gone overboard on the photos but believe me I could post a lot more.

1. Hydrangea paniculata

We enjoyed this spectacular walk, which I think was from the Jubilee Pond. My love of hydrangeas has been discussed a lot recently. This stretch was largely made up of hydrangea paniculatas of different varieties. They were clearly well positioned and well established as they were thriving. One of the great advantages of hydrangeas is the long season of interest and these I’m sure will be looking great for a good while to come.

I spotted this variety great star that was a bit different from any I’ve seen before. I was quite taken with it, but then I was quite taken by the whole row. Earlier today I saw a quote from Vita Sackville-West that seems relevant here.

“In some gardens the hydrangeas were making a great display, but they look their best in large clumps, I think, not as a single specimen for which a small garden has only room; and in any case they always remind me of coloured wigs” Vita Sackville-West

The hydrangea were massive. Here are photos with family for scale.

2. Hydrangea walk

Further round there was a dedicated hydrangea walk made up of lots of varieties but mainly the dome mopheads of macrophylla. In my neighborhood, the soil largely creates pink hydrangeas. It was interesting to see a mix of colours along one walk.

Alice wasn’t so taken with the Hydrangeas. She only allowed us to continue as we’d told her it was the route to ice cream. Though she did enjoy playing hide and seek.

3 Steam train

The little railway gave us a tour of the gardens Alice couldn’t manage on foot so we got glimpses of the rock garden and the dragonfly pond. At Halloween, it transforms into a ghost train and at Christmas offers Santa Steam Specials which sounds great fun. Alice enjoyed the train ride even though it wasn’t her favourite colour red.

4. Ferns

The sheltered conditions of the dense woodland and sheltered slopes combined with the milder Southern climate gives ideal tree fern conditions. I have given up on my tiny little specimen. It’s either been too cold or too dry and it’s going to be years to form a trunk.

5. Rhododendron

While the majority of the rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, the gardens are famous for, are past their best there were odd flashes of colour. Alice liked this vibrant red.

6. Ice cream

Alice eventually got her promised reward. She enjoyed it lots. She did well walking good distances. She almost got ice cream for dogs before I realised what I’d got. There were a lot of options for dogs around the area with many of the pubs and restaurants we visited offering snacks and drinks for dogs. Quite a dog-friendly part of the world. Unusually Alice went for strawberry ice cream rather than her usual chocolate but she enjoyed it lots.

We barely covered a fraction of what Exbury has to offer but was more than satisfied with our day out. I could happily visit again at a different time of year or even the same season as there was so much ground we didn’t cover. If I lived close I’d be buying a pass.
We’ve had a great time away and I’ll be posting more about our trips out over the next few days. Check out other sixes through the propagator’s blog.

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In defence of hydrangeas

Recently I’ve seen a slew of comments dismissing hydrangeas. They are often seen as the reserve of old fashioned shrubberies, seen as old fashioned, blousy and a bit tasteless.  Madonna famously showed her dislike for them when a fan presented her with a bouquet. My current garden came with three mopheads (hydrangea macrophylla) and a climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). Initially, I disliked the vibrant neon pink of the mopheads and barely noticed the climber buried at the back of the border. However, I’ve come to appreciate them for many reasons over the last few years and carried on adding more.

Vibrancy

These mopheads frame the path. They open up as green bracts and develop into a bright pink before fading and drying as brown flower heads. They frame the steps down to the garden perfectly. Hydrangeas require a lot of water and these are situated perfectly. The run off from the patio ensures they get plenty of water. I feed them with banana peels and veg peelings. This gives them both a mulch to keep water in and gives them nutrition.

Alice framed on the lawn by the hydrangeas 2018

The bright colour shows well from above and fills a large space for minimal effort.

The view from above 5.18

Low maintenance

Apart from the already mentioned watering requirements, I don’t have to do very much to my hydrangeas and I get rewarded with a reliable burst of colour each year. I leave the flower heads on over winter, then prune back just behind the flower heads in Spring. Then I thin out a few of the older stems. This seems to work well for me as I’ve had great displays several years running. If you want to change the hydrangea colour you can mess with the pH of the soil to change them from pink to blue or blue to pink, but this seems a futile venture as they will gradually revert. But otherwise, these are a minimal effort plant. They grow well in shade or in sun so long as they are well watered.

Seasonal interest

The various hydrangeas in my garden almost all have long flowering periods. I keep many shrubs in the garden for maybe a week or two return in terms of flowers. The hydrangeas give months of pleasure.

In the initial stage of most the bracts open giving a pleasant green before shifting to the flowers colour.

In Autumn the flower heads brown off and if left remains a solid structural element in the garden.

They then look gorgeous in winter with the frost on.

Wildlife benefit

Hydrangeas are continually rated as low benefit for wildlife. I’ve always found this strange as the mopheads are always covered in different insects. Last year they were covered in the influx of silver Y moths.

Peacock butterfly
Dragonfly
I’ve found ladybird larvae regularly on hydrangeas, although I’m unsure why as aphids don’t generally bother with hydrangeas.

But according to the literature, the mopheads are largely infertile so the flowers aren’t offering many benefits to the pollinators. The fertility of the flowers varies with each type. Maybe mine as higher value as it certainly has a lot of life on it. But my suspicion is that I should probably be feeling a little guilty that insects are wasting journey to these for little or no return.

This has been at odds with my desire to encourage wildlife into my garden. I love the hydrangeas but they aren’t adding much benefit to the wildlife while taking up quite a bit of space. However, a bit of research has shown some types do still offer wildlife benefits. The RHS Plants for pollinators lists Hydrangea paniculata as beneficial with Kyushu, Big Ben, Floribunda and Brussels Lace having more fertile flowers. Unfortunately, I have limelight where only the flowers at the tip are fertile. That said, I’ve seen many butterflies stopping for good periods. I doubt they would stop so long if they weren’t getting some benefit. The RHS trials list more details of fertility.

I also discovered that many of the lacecaps have fertile flowers. The outer ring of larger flowers offers no benefits to pollinators, but the smaller inner flowers do.

The thin stems, lack of height mean hydrangeas don’t offer many benefits for birds. Sparrows perch on mine to survey the garden, but they aren’t suitable for nesting. However, the understory of my hydrangeas show lots of life. I keep a few logs under to provide homes for woodlice and beetles. Few plants can grow underneath as the the leaves stop the light to the ground. But the mass watering they receive means the ground is moist for frogs. I’ve needed to remove builder crud a few times recently and each time I’ve disturbed a horde of frogs. While I can’t argue that hydrangeas are high value to wildlife they aren’t devoid of benefits.

The climbing hydrangea is one of the few exceptions. It provides a good level of cover for many creatures and the small florets are great for small bees and hoverflies.

Variety

For many people when they think of hydrangeas I think they just imagine the rounded balls of the mopheads but there are many more types on offer. The paniculata offers cones in lime green, white pink and purple. The climbing hydrangea offers a reliable climber that can cover fences or house with a stunning layer of foliage without much hassle supporting as it largely finds its own way. The lacecaps offer more delicate flowers. The oakleaf offers stunning large-leaved foliage and gorgeous white flowers. The more recent developments with the award-winning runaway bride offers a variety with a mass of flowers suited to a pot for a display with a long season of interest. There are choices for everyone and many different situations.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my exploration of hydrangeas and if nothing else found some pleasure in the photos.

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