Many gardeners seem to have an in-built tidiness gene and go out armed with the secateurs to chop back things that they think look messy. This not only leaves you with precious little to look at during the winter, but can also leave plants vulnerable to harsh winter weather with frost penetrating pruning cuts to kills stems. Hydrangeas are a good case in point, the papery flower heads looking beautiful throughout the winter when rimed in frost and their huge resting buds prone to damage. They’re best left until the worst of the frost has passed, usually late March in much of the British Isles.
I have to admit that my taste in plants has changed. I’m quite surprised at the things I’ve come to love – and that includes hydrangeas. I’ve gardened since I was a child and grew up knowing the plants that my aunts and uncles had in their plots. Most of these I still love to this day, not only for the fact that they continue to be great, garden-worthy plants, but also because they remind me of some tremendously happy times spent with those close relatives as they gently cultivated my nascent passion for gardening: I owe them a great deal.
They all grew lots of shrubs – including weigela, philadelphus, buddleia, lavatera, viburnum, mahonia and hypericum, to name just a few – but there was no forsythia, flowering currant, winter jasmine or hydrangea in those gardens of my youth, because my aunts and uncles shared a similar repertoire. And that obviously had a deep influence on my taste in plants because none of the latter has made it into any of my own, home gardens.
Until now that is, for this year I’ve suddenly developed a passion for hydrangeas in all their glorious forms. Not only the more common mop-heads and lace caps, but the paniculata, aspera and arborescens species, in all their varieties. In fact, this autumn I going to dig out some of my roses and replace them with a few of my new loves. The hydrangeas will extend the interest in my garden through late summer and on into autumn, their papery flowerheads gradually becoming more parchment-like as the colour fades from them. It’s exciting when you find a new love!
And while I’ve also grown to appreciate flowering currant and winter jasmine (though they’ve yet to make it into my plot), the one shrub I can’t bring myself to like is forsythia. But then I suppose there’s still time…