Hydrangeas Turn Rust and Go Soon

I tell you the white hydrangeas turn rust and go soon.
Already mid September a line of brown runs over them.

― Carl Sandburg, from Chicago Poems, 105

Almost a week ago, I visited Heritage Museums and Gardens again, in Sandwich, Mass., on Cape Cod, to attend their “Cocktails for Cars” event, a dressy affair, full of Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes, and other vintage vehicles, hosted by a breathtaking garden in full hydrangea bloom.

If you’ve come here today looking for hydrangea species and variety names paired with photos, prepare for disappointment. I remembered only toward the end of my gaping and gawking to look at the identification tags, my eyes so dazzled by the flowers’ colour range and hues. The only thing I can say for sure along those lines is that there were representative plants from all four major hydrangea species

  1. the colourful Hydrangea macrophylla (mophead — like “Endless Summer” — and lacecap), which prefers USDA zone 8 but can grow to zone 5b with protection — I inherited a mophead in my zone 4 yard eight years ago and it lives still, though it did not bloom this year for the first time (on the other hand, it did grow larger and put out more leaves than ever); it is situated in a protected microclimate against the southeast-facing side of the house. I’ve seen them growing on the coast of Maine, too. This is what mine looks like, when it blooms:
  2. the white-to-light-green Hydrangea arborescens (‘Annabelle’ and family), which can grow in as cold a climate as USDA zone 3 (possibly 2), but it’s also happy in warm climates; some forms of H. arborescens are native to the eastern U.S.;
  3. the white-to-pink Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf), hardy to zone 4b, and unlike others happy with drier soils, but it needs a hot summer to bloom well. Here’s one at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania earlier this year:
  4. and the white-to-pale pink Hydrangea paniculata (PeeGee and family), another hardy hydrangea, to zone 3a, but also grows well in warmer climates. I have one of these, pruned to tree form, bought on the cheap at a local plant sale three years ago, and it is blooming profusely in the back border as I type (the first photo was taken today). There’s another, more shrubby,  growing in the rock wall garden, planted by someone else; it makes particularly beautiful dried flowers.
    My back border:
    My rock wall:


In fact, Heritage has two other types of hydrangeas as well, H. anomola (climbing hydrangeas), and H. serrata, which they characterise as ‘delicate but hardy,’ and which are offered mainly in a lacecap version, with a few mopheads, similar to the species macrophylla, but serrata are supposed to be more cold hardy (possibly to zone 5). More about those, and about pruning and caring for the hydrangea species, in a (9-page pdf) handout from Mal Condon, who spoke at Hydrangea University 2017 at Heritage in July.


The colours of the hydrangeas at Heritage, oh my, so startling, so vividly muted, so comforting somehow. And the shapes of the individual flowers, so varied and geometrically sweet.

First a few lacecaps. Not sure whether these are Hydrangea macrophylla normalis or H. serrata, but the bumblebees like ’em!:


See the sort of filament across each of these pink-red flowers?


And, judging from the white-green colour and the large round heads, I think this is a small hedge of Hydrangea arborescens:



And this may be H. paniculata (a PeeGee type), also in hedge form, with more pointy blossoms, turning pink:



Here’s a pink-reddish H. quercifolia (oakleaf) edging the walkway; see the leaves?:



I very neglectfully didn’t take photos of the H. anomola — climbing hydrangeas, as seen to striking effect at The Fells in Newbury, NH, and at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, MA, in the Berkshires — and I can only say it’s because my head was turned by the moptops, both H. macrophylla and H. serrata.


I mean, look at the colour and shape of this stunning blue-grey flower!
And this blue-green-grey with a ruffled edge!
Blue green grey pink!
This one is speckled, insouciantly.
I did check the label here. It’s H. serrata ‘Preziosa’
And this gorgeous nodding cluster is H. macrophylla ‘Frillibet’
The hydrangeas have been blooming on Cape Cod since the end of June but I actually prefer them distressed, browning, spotted, faded.
Blue, with bright blue centers, the petals speckled with red! This one is H. macrophylla ‘Europa’. Doesn’t it knock your socks off?
Another bloom on H. macrophylla ‘Europa’, with more pink.


This may have been my favourite shrub; I couldn’t get enough of it, but did I check for a tag? No, I did not.


A few other flowers blooming in late September at the gardens:

Stewartia flower
Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’
caryopteris, a late-summer favourite in my garden, too
the windmill with gomphrena and cleome blooming, and some Russian sage, too, I think




“Quinnipeague in August was a lush green place where inchworms dangled from trees whose leaves were so full that the eaten parts were barely missed. Mornings meant ‘thick o’ fog’ that caught on rooftops and dripped, blurring weathered gray shingles while barely muting the deep pink of rosa rugosa or the hydrangea’s blue. Wood smoke filled the air on rainy days, pine sap on sunny ones, and wafting through it all was the briny smell of the sea.”  ― Barbara Delinsky, Sweet Salt Air


Previous Heritage posts: June 2016 and April 2017.

This website, with microscopic views of various parts of the blue H. macrophylla ‘Blaumeise’, is instructive and beautiful.

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