As with roses, lilies,, and many others, whole books have been written about hydrangeas. Mr. Michael Haworth-Booth is one of the leading experts on hydrangeas and anyone wishing to make a study of this plant should either purchase.or take out of the library any of his books on the subject.
Unlike iris, lilies and some other plants, hydrangeas grow so abundantly, especially in areas close to the sea that one might think that there are no cultivation problems relating to them.
I think that generally they are easy plants to grow, especially once they have become established in a well drained soil. In the dry weather hydrangeas need extra care over their water supply, perhaps because their large greenneed a good deal to drink. However, they seem to stand up to gales remarkably well and their flowering season means that there is no worry on account of frost.
One of the hydrangeas specially recommended is H. paniculata grandifiora which came originally from Japan where it grows to an immense height.
It is impossible to over estimate the value of hydrangeas for large flower, for whatever one may feel about the themselves (some people prefer smaller, more individual flowers) there is nothing to compare with them when a solid mass of colour is required in a large area of space. Church decorations spring to mind immediately.
Hydrangeas, like rhododendrons, are large flowers with enough splendid foliage to stand alone. They can be impressive, arranged with their own clear green, well shaped, in a mixed colour group of pale pink, rose-pink, deep blue and lilac-blue, cream, white and soft green. On the other hand, if one colour only is required, they can produce enough differing tones and shades to make a splash in that colour. Hydrangeas also have amazing lasting qualities, as long as their water supply is well provided for and looked after.
They can provide the focal point of colour in a mixed arrangement—either a large group for a party or a wedding, or in a smaller one for the house. A blue colour scheme was built up around three heads of blue hydrangeas, arranged with delphiniums, scabious, globe thistles, anchusa, and love-in-a-mist, with a touch of purple in stocks and gladioli. Again, they can be used as a contrast in a mixed colour group, for example ; blue hydrangeas with Ophelia roses,of all colours from palest pink to deep purple, scabious, Dr. Van Fleet (or New Dawn) roses, summer jasmine and the silver-grey of garden ragwort.
The bunchiness of their flower heads sometimes presents a difficulty owing to their likelihood of being top heavy on the, especially when they are the true ‘mop head’ hydrangeas. It is sometimes also a problem to arrange other, smaller and more delicate flowers around them so that these flowers are seen properly and that there is not too much contrast between the heaviness of the hydrangeas and the lightness of the other material. It helps, I think, to try to arrange the more solid flower shapes next to the hydrangeas, — for example. Scabious, which is in itself a definite shape and easily seen. On the other hand the summer jasmine arranged immediately next to the hydrangeas could well be too much of a contrast.
foliage is useful almost throughout the year. The leaves are a good green and an excellent shape. They seldom seem to be afflicted with insects or bugs to bite or spoil them and so are usually in good condition. The leaves come in some quantity and by them, one is not in any way denuding the shrub or making the remaining flowers look bare or unsightly. They will often provide a solid background for a large arrangement, and the only time when one has to be careful that they do not droop at the tip is when they are still young (this is something to watch with all young shoots, especially globe artichoke leaves, peony leaves, wild arums, etc. and poppy leaves are both usually reliable soon after they appear but this is unusual and most foliage has to have time to harden up for cutting). Even then, if they aregiven a good drink before being arranged, they will usually strengthen and produce straight again.
The large mop heads can also be charming and useful for smallif they are cut off into segments, like a cauliflower, and then arranged with other small flowers. They can look enchanting when cut like this for a narrow trough like , or else for a low table arrangement with rosebuds, (Iceberg buds or grootendorst flowers) silver grey foliage of one of the artemesias (southernwood) or sprays of Helichrysum splendidum.
Now we come to the use of hydrangeas as dried flowers. Even if they were of no use in any other type of arrangement they would be worthwhile to grow just for drying. I do not think this is too big a claim to make for them, having seen their dried flowers used on so many different occasions and in such a great variety of colourings. (One of the big London stores completely decorated their windows one late autumn with dried hydrangeas.)
They are invaluable throughout the winter to give substance and colour to more fragile and less colourful dried material.
There are various opinions about how best to dry them. I myself have found that usually they will eventually dry themselves off if left long enough in water. (It is easy to tell when they are quite dried by touching the flower and feeling that it is brittle and not soft to the hand.) Otherwise, I am told that they may be hung in bunches in a warm atmosphere or treated in the same way as beech leaves, that is given a mixture of glycerine and water to drink. I have not experimented with either of these methods. Usually I cut the flowers rather late, if possible, as I incline to the theory that those cut early on, without having felt the touch of frostlike celery—do not dry as successfully. Then I put them into a vase in water and leave them to drink as much as they need, after which they dry off. Nothing could be more simple, and it would be difficult to find lovelier colours than the deep wine shades, soft apple green, buff or deep rose into which they turn.
One of the most difficult of these colours is the green, which often turns to brown if left too long on the plant, and which may flop if sprays are cut off for drying. However, it is worth experimenting to get the particular sweet shade of green which they often produce. So far I have found white hydrangeas impossible to dry, but intend to go on trying as this rather creamy white shade would be useful to contrast with many other dried materials, especially dark brown dock, artichoke heads or blue and white delphiniums.