Above you see what I think of as Classic Hydrangea. A community, massed in uniform volume, vegetable origin a distant memory. Transmuted from plant to decor. All well and good. But there’s another mode of hydrangea to consider – the Shy Woodland Creature. And such I’ve come to love.
To set context, my backyard is a woodland. Well, in the same way as my front yard is a cottage garden, i.e. a Northern California remix of the archetype. One aging but stalwart 60-year old Chinese Evergreen Elm shades a very small gathering of woodland-ish plants. I use the “Ish” suffix advisedly, as you will see. This is an imaginary forest made up of plants from everywhere.
Here’s the forest-ish floor. Starting from the lower left-hand corner: ferns, hellebore, a path that needs new bark cover, native iris, Japanese anemones, a woody shrub whose name I do not know so sue me, phormium (AKA New Zealand Flax – I told you it was a global forest – of the yellow-leaved variety,) lacecap hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla normalis – why normalis we wonder?) and the branches of a rather young dogwood.
The hydrangea at left mingles with the dogwood foliage. Look to the right, and you’ll see there’s another Hyding behind Nameless Woody Shrub. Get it? Nothing like gardening to bring out the dumb humor.
Look closer. When the wind blows, both shrub and phormium wave, causing pink to flicker through the mostly green of my yard. I should note that my living area (kitchen, dining, sofa-intensive-comfort-zone) is lined with windows and this is the view. Excellent for general calming of the spirit.
I’ve read that nature’s patterns, like leaves in the sunlight and the waving of branches, do in fact settle our metabolisms. How about that.
In this garden, you have to wander to find the grace of complex flower heads. Set foot on a path.
I have two lacecap varieties by the way, one pink, one with variegated leaves and white and lavender flowers. There’s something about the similar but different patterning that feels right. Just enough visual commonality to say intent, just enough variance to suggest nature.
To be sure, these hydrangea are shy for good reason. You can see here how more low plantings just might be a good idea to disguise their short-comings.
- They’re deciduous, as in the leaves fall off after when the plant’s done blooming.
- They’re prone to legginess – i.e. lots of naked stalks – if you forget to cut them back.
- Their low flower to leaf ratio, charming in dappled shade, might reveal all kinds of browning and spotting were they planted front and center.
Perhaps I could do something about the biological fraying, but if it involves chemicals and fussing, no. Water, inspect, and subject to long chats is my plant care strategy.
You might think to collect some of the pink for a brief moment of shape and color, as I did here, but prepare to be sweeping up endless small floral bits. Shy creatures offer all kinds of joy from afar but may protest close quarters.