Hydrangeas in the Hamptons
Answers to questions about one of the most popular plants in the Hamptons.
C&G: Hydrangeas are the unofficial flower of the Hamptons. Why are they so beloved?
PAIGE ST. JOHN PATTERSON, garden writer, consultant, and plant specialist at Marders: Hydrangeas are low-maintenance flowers that bloom beautifully as long as they have good growing conditions. Pick the right one for your garden, and you’ll be happy.
C&G: Which hydrangeas do plant collectors gravitate toward?
PAIGE ST. JOHN PATTERSON: I wouldn’t recommend the very rare ones, but then again, I have 125 at my home! This year one of the rarest I have is an H. paniculata that looks like a ‘Tardiva’ on steroids. Called ‘Passionate’, it has a much bigger truss, which is the technical term for the flowerhead. It is off-the-hook gorgeous. And I’m just planting a new one called ‘Summer Crush’, from the Endless Summer series. In terms of basic hydrangeas, those from the Let’s Dance series have good, deep color and grow three to four feet tall. Endless Summer hydrangeas bloom on old growth and new growth in the spring, so you get two waves of flowering, whereas those from the Let’s Dance and Forever and Ever series bloom on old wood with multiple points on one stem, starting from the tips down to the lower branches.
C&G: Does putting a nail in the ground really make hydrangeas bluer?
PAIGE ST. JOHN PATTERSON: Nope, and not copper pennies, either. You’d have to be a really bad carpenter and spill your whole toolbox! But sulphur in the soil does the trick. If you want to make them pink, use lime or plant them close to your house’s foundation, since concrete leaches lime. But this will only change the color of the macrophylla [big leaf] and serrata [serrated leaf] hydrangeas. White is going to stay white. Blues can go to pink and pinks can go to blue, reds to purple and purples to red. Color is determined by the soil pH, but its intensity is determined by plant genetics. In other words, a ‘Nikko Blue’ will never go dark blue, but ‘Mathilda Gutges’ will go from dark blue to dark purple or dark pink.
C&G: What’s the best way to use hydrangeas as cut flowers?
PAIGE ST. JOHN PATTERSON: Wait for the flowers to age a little bit on the stem before cutting them. If a bloom resists like a wet sponge when you give it a gentle squeeze, it’s ready to cut; if it collapses in your fist, it will collapse in your vase. To make them last longer, fill a vase to the top with hot water. Then let the water dry out if you want to dry them. You can also hang them to dry if you have hooks in the ceiling. I happen not to, and if I did, my husband would kill me.
HYDRANGEAS: 5 HELPFUL TIPS
- Don’t prune macrophyllas or serratas. If a plant is too big, then move it, rather than prune it.
- ‘Annabelles’ and paniculata types should be pruned in March before they start greening up. Cut back just the deadwood on other plants at this time, too.
- Feeding plants just once a year will suffice. If you want to change the color on the macrophyllas and serratas, use Holly-tone to turn them blue and Plant-tone to turn them pink.
- Watering should not be an issue if you plant a hydrangea in the right location. Macrophyllas need lots of water if you plant them in the sun.
- If you have deep shade, consider planting ‘Bluebird’, a lace-cap serrata.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Holy Hydrangea!