Posted in plant pieces

Hydrangeas – the ‘Change Roses’.

Sunny June, the month most closely associated with the garden’s sunbathing divas and just as our English roses are budding, not far behind them are those plants that prefer quite different conditions. They are of course the hydrangeas, (from the Greek water vessel or ‘hydria’ which seemingly resembles the seed pods). Whatever the derived association, hydrangeas are renowned water guzzlers and abide in semi- shade. (And this latter part of June has provided such conditions!)

Plant hunted from China and Japan in the 17th century, their needs are well met there for June-July is the rainy season

“Many Japanese consider Ajisai (紫陽花, or hydrangea) to be the quintessential flower of this season, as they look just right when wet, and enshrouded in mistTsukublog

Since the Japanese name derives from ‘a gathering of blues’, the native soils must be acidic as well as rich in aluminium ions, the magic combination that turns most of the common varieties of pink/red hydrangeas to the blue spectrum. Whereas in my previous London garden of alkaline soil, all the H. macrophyllas, including the tiny florets of ‘White Wave’, were pinkalicious!

Potted in JI#3, H. macrophylla ‘apple blossom’ 2nd generation 07/20

Since I had previously gardened in shade, hydrangeas were an obvious plant choice, although the London soil was rather too well-drained and they quite often gasped in summer. However, the wet/dryish care they received is probably better than constant superficial watering as it encouraged the roots to reach further down, which is beneficial to these large, top-heavy shrubs.

I brought two cuttings with me from that garden in 2019 and both have flourished. The H. macrophylla I’d first picked up from a roadside plant sale as a cutting which the gardener had labelled ‘apple blossom‘ though no such name officially exists. It was no bigger then than this third generation one (striving to flower now despite its diminutive size) but the large leaf is a clue to its eventual size!

H. macrophylla ‘apple blossom’ cutting

The other cutting that I brought is actually a faux hydrangea – Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight‘, a climbing liana from the woodlands of Japan with bracts and infertile flowers similar to a lacecap hydrangea. It is a slow grower initially, but will eventually reach over 30 feet. For now it is a potted juvenile and flowering for the first time.

My current favourite hydrangea is a bi-coloured serrata – ‘Kiyosumi. More compact, hardier and with remarkable leaf colour in both Spring and Autumn. Serratas inhabit the mountain regions of Japan, and I’d like to collect more for my next garden in the Derbyshire heights. These hydrangeas have the added benefit of being edible as the leaves make a sweet tea called ama-cha, 甘茶.

I am forever grateful to the plant hunters who brought us these wonderful plants, and their history is entwined with romance too.

For Westerners, hydrangea can be seen as a symbol of silent devotion, as its scientific name, otaksa, appears to refer to Otaki-San, a woman from Nagasaki’s pleasure quarter, who was the mistress of the German naturalist P.F. von Siebold, who went on to introduce ajisai to Europe“. Tsukublog

Further Reading:
History of Hydrangeas in Europe
Hydrangea Colour & PH

Posted in plant pieces

Osmanthus – not to be overlooked

The very name should command our attention – from the Greek osme meaning fragrant, and anthos meaning flower. Not surprising given that is belongs in the Oleaceae family. Yet despite this, and perhaps because most of the time these are leathery evergreen shrubs, Osmanthus is not as well appreciated as it might be.

I first encountered this genus when gardening in London and needing something that would fill a difficult gap in a south-east facing dryish, shady border. And so I planted one of the Holly Olives or Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’. This variegated shrub hails from Japan and means ‘five shades’ as it does wander through the palette of cream-yellow-greens and throws in some Spring rouge and bronze.

shades of the Japanese holly olive

Although tolerant of the situation I’d forced it into, it would have preferred much more light, liking both full sun to part shade. It would then have flowered, in a barely visible but highly fragrant Jasminesque way from late summer.

Having left it behind in London, I wanted to give this shrub a second go, especially as it perfectly suits plans I have for my forthcoming Japanese garden. (Most Osmanthus are from eastern Asia and in Japanese are called mokusei. The flowers are added to tea.). Thus, a new one was purchased back in March and is enjoying much more light and attention than its predecessor.

One Osmanthus that certainly drew my attention was growing in Russell Square gardens. A dark-green, small-leaved plant with a smothering of tiny white very fragrant flowers that assailed the passer-by in late Spring. I eventually identified this also as an Osmanthus and could hardly connect it with the small holly-like shrub I had mouldering in shade.

Osmanthus burkwoodii vs heterophyllus

I think now it was Osmanthus delavayi but had added it to my wishlist as Osmanthus x burkwoodii. Not too far off with my guess as it is in fact a hybrid between O. delavayi and O. decorus raised by Burkwood and Skipwith.

So this Spring I also purchased a Burkwoodii (by mail-order as we were still in Covid lockdown). It was not in good condition and I’d evidently missed its flowering, but now the plant has put on much new growth and is starting to look like a serrated-edged privet. This may account for why it is widely used in hedging – something I may eventually plan to do in my new garden, after taking cuttings.

“An evergreen saved from ignominy by pure heads of sweetly fragrant white flowers in mid spring – good at lighting up a semi-shady corner behind ferns or glimmering white narcissi” Val Bourne – Garden Writer on Osmanthus x Burkwoodii