August 30, 2011

Worth the wait: Oakleaf hydrangeas in bloom!



Oakleaf hydrangeas in bloom in a Toronto shade garden

It's late August now in Toronto and things seem to on hold in the garden. Temperatures, humidity and mosquitoes have mercifully dropped to more humane levels for working outside. My clients S. and D. often have a coffee while enjoying views like this one in their backyard. This oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has annually confounded me and S. due to its reluctance to bloom on new or old wood. We accepted with chagrin that the shrub would provide a fine fall show of deeply lobed plum/wine/russet-coloured leaves and interesting winter peeling bark, which it did unfailingly. Maybe it took a terrible spring (remember the rain/snow/sleet in April?) and that torrid week of plus 40 humidex to spur this fellow to bloom.

Who knows? 

oakleaf hydrangea sum and substance hosta against white paper birch by garden muses: a toronto gardening blog
Varying texture and form with hostas and oakleaf hydrangeas


We are simply enjoying the heavy cone-shaped panicles and the contrast between the shrub's leaves with those of the in-your-face "Sum and Substance" hosta. The paper birch in the back doesn't hurt the composition either.



This shot was taken two weeks ago and when I returned yesterday, the blooms already faded to tan and brown. The large sterile cream-coloured sepals have a light pink blush while the inconsipicuous fertile flowers are set in the background. We'll probably leave them on over winter for further interest. The snow should clump on them nicely.



oakleaf hydrangea flowers in detail by garden muses: a toronto gardening blog
Oakleaf hydrangea detail of flowers


 I find oakleafs need a little more protection in our zone compared to H. macrophylla  and H. paniculata and bloom less-reliably; nevertheless, they definitely merit a spot. You'll likely find cultivars like "Alice", "Snowflake" or "Pee Wee" in better stocked nurseries. I remember seeing a grove of 6 feet plus high oakleafs covered in blooms at the Columbus (OH) Zoo and Aquarium several years ago. I know Columbus is a couple of zones warmer (5b) than us but we should give this hydrangea a try more often. You might be pleasantly surprised or shocked when (if?) they bloom.