Collectibles from Peta Trahar's richly planted garden at Woodgreen

21 Nov 2013

Falling in Love Again…with Hydrangeas

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This article appeared in Spring 2013 edition of 'Our Gardens' magazine. If you are interested, go to Garden Clubs of Australia website to subscribe. The magazine is good value, reasonably priced and can be posted to you.

To see your garden through another’s expert eyes is enlightening. My visitor was Mal Condon, owner of The Hydrangea Farm, Nantucket Island, USA and naturally we were focussing on the hydrangeas here in the garden at ‘Woodgreen’, Bilpin. Thanks to Mal’s valuable advice I now realise how very important some of my plants are. Mal pointed out that my beautiful Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Green Mantle’ is almost certainly extinct in the USA and unlikely now to exist in the UK. It was last exhibited at the Chelsea flower Show in 1949. Guess who has taken cuttings and is nursing them carefully! ‘Green Mantle’ is not a strong grower, as is often the case with varieties that have faded away. What a treasure it is! Jewel like green and blue blooms turn a rich purple in Autumn, together with the foliage.

 Hydrangeas have drifted in and out of fashion. The problem is that when plants are ‘out’ we can lose them altogether. If gardeners lose interest, nurseries stop propagating them. With tighter quarantine laws, plants that exist in Australian gardens are ‘like gold’, to quote Don Teese of Yamina Collectors’ Nursery.

 Mal spotted another treasured variety, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Prince Henry’. Both the leaf and bloom margins have sharply serrated edges as if trimmed using pinking shears. The effect is charming.

There are over 23 species of hydrangeas native to East Asia, North and South America. They can be shrubs, small trees or climbers. The good news for gardeners in humid, coastal Australia is that the macrophyllas – the mop heads and lace caps – do brilliantly well. They grace courtyards, balconies and gardens from Summer to Autumn and containers suit them.

 To quote ‘Our Gardens’ editor, Pat Prior: “I love hydrangeas. In Summer my mother had buckets of them on the back verandah in hot water waiting to be arranged or taken to a friend. Rose Bay wasn’t great for gardening, particularly on the ridge where we were, but deep pink hydrangeas flourished.” Hot water you ask. Apparently yes, but only for a short time. It helps get rid of the sticky white sap that could otherwise block the stems, prevent water uptake and cause the blooms to wilt.

 My Bilpin neighbour grows hydrangeas for the Sydney Flower Market. I love to see the bunches in Summer ready for early morning delivery. Bridal bouquets need only a couple of his exquisite whites. One morning I stopped to admire creamy Hydrangea paniculatas with huge blooms like ice creams. “These are off to a reception at Government House,” he said. Of course!

 To learn from the expert, come along to the Collectors’ Plant Fair on 12 and 13 April 2014 at Clarendon. Mal Condon will be flying out specially from Nantucket to be keynote speaker. To further inspire you, on display will be flowers from the Australian National Collection. Remember there is always room in the garden for one more hydrangea.

 Peta Trahar MAIH MAILDM contributes regularly to “Our Gardens”

Peta is also convenor of the 9th Collectors’ Plant Fair to be held 12/13 April

Walk peacefully, smell the roses and be touched by the hand of Nature
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