Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Wave’

This is not, I am afraid, a shrub for every gardener, for it needs a rich, moist, acid soil and a woodland site, or perhaps a wide shrub border, but it can be admired by visitors in many large collections. A great dome of a shrub, with a height and spread of 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m), or even more in a mild climate, it bears flat lace-cap flowers of pure sky-blue in a very acid soil, but lilac or pinkish in a neutral soil. Very alkaline soil is unsuitable. Technically, the lace-cap flowers, some 4 inches (10 cm) across, consist of tiny fertile florets in the centre circled by conspicuous blue sterile florets which give the flower its beauty and colour. ‘Blue Wave’ flowers over many weeks in late summer and early autumn, and looks best in a natural planting under tall trees, perhaps cypress or pine, though space for a single plant could be found in a sheltered shrub border. It is a bit sprawly for pots, where mophead hydrangeas are perfection. Some gardeners, disappointed with a pinkish tinge in their flowers, dose the plants with alum to increase the acidity, but I view such chemical gardening with distaste. A mulch of peat might blue the flowers in a more natural way.

As a companion in woodland or shrubbery, the male fern, Dryoptens felix-mas, is highly compatible. Drifts of bulbs which need acid soil, like erythroniums or trilliums, might be grown for interest in spring. ‘Blue Wave’ revels in many gardens in Devon, Cornwall, the west coast of Scotland and Wales, Brittany across the English Channel, and other districts with peaty soil; one nearer London is Wakehurst Place, in Sussex, the beautiful country annexe of Kew Gardens, where pools and streams in woodland empty into a large lake. It is open, generously, nearly every day of the year.

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