Hydrangeas are shrubs which were in gardens all around when I was growing up, but I never really had any opinion of them, they were just there. In fact I’m not sure I even knew their name; it was only when I went somewhere with a German friend who called them by their German name, Hortnesie, and that’s what I called them for quite a while.
The hydrangea I remember from my childhood were either blue or pink, and not particularly interesting shades so I didn’t pay them much attention or think they were beautiful… in fact I probably saw them as big round blobs. When I got married, my husband told me they were among his favourite flowers, I think because there were a lot in Cornwall where he spent an idyllic childhood. I began to pay a bit more attention to them and when I saw a fabulous climbing plant with tiny little white stars of flowers and discovered that it was a climbing hydrangea, I did pay attention.
We moved house and I decided I would love a climbing hydrangea along our back wall… in fact it was a bit of a mistake – it had masses of foliage but no flowers, so sadly after giving about ten years worth of a chance to bloom we cut it out… although it still tries to creep back. I really like hydrangeas now but because they are so vigorous we only have one,and it’s a rosy pink one, very different from those I remember.
They are native to southern and eastern Asia and the Americas and they are actually quite remarkable plants because of their colour – and how it can be altered and it can change. Actually not all hydrangeas can do this but mopheads and lace-caps can. This change is due to the pH factor of the soil, which apparently affects aluminium availability (I’m not scientific enough to know what this means) but I do understand that blue or pink flowers tend to be blue in acid soil condition, mauve in neutral soil and pink in alkaline conditions. There are also white and green flowers which don’t change whatever the soil conditions. Another reason for colour change is the season – in late summer blue and pink flowers fade and become a mixture of green and pinky red, whereas white flowers can change to a wonderful pink. It’s almost like magic!
So now I love hydrangeas!