Pop culture comes up in the world of horticulture and landscape architecture about as often as Madonna injects herself into that world, or hardly ever. This week we all learned of Madonna’s contempt for Hydrangeas, as seen in this viral YouTube video. But if Madge would take the time to see how similar the maligned flower is to her chameleon-self, she may actually come to appreciate this long-loved garden treasure.
A top-selling shrub, hydrangeas are extremely versatile, thriving in sun or shade with appropriate moisture. The more refined of the two most popular Hydrangea species is the Bigleaf Hydrangea (H. macrophylla) which can be found in hortensia (mop-head) or lacecap varieties. These pink and blue hydrangeas bloom on new wood and can change color over time in relation to the soil pH (acid=blue, alkaline=pink); ‘Nikko Blue’ is a popular Bigleaf variety.
The Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia) has coarser textured leaves, can grow much larger (up to 8’ tall and wide) and has considerable fall color. Typically, Oakleaf blooms develop a pink hue with age. ‘Snow Queen’ is a popular Oakleaf Hydrangea variety, all of which bloom on old wood. A good rule of thumb is to prune all Hydrangea varieties directly after flowering; they make fantastic cut and dried flowers for arrangements.
There are more than a handful of species outlined in Dr. Dirr’s Hydrangeas for American Gardens, and that is a wonderful resource to learn more about them and their care. To be sure, there is a Hydrangea for every gardener and landscape architect regardless of sun exposure, hardiness zone, and design style much in the same way there is a Madonna album or phase we can each remember fondly and relate to.
As Madonna revives her image and career time and again, Hydrangeas continue to appeal to new gardeners taking shape as vines, shrubs, small trees, and even perennials. Indeed, they are the ‘Madonnas’ of the woody plant world, constantly being reinvented and always in the spotlight. Hopefully both the flower and the pop-diva will interest us for generations to come.