How to choose and plant hardy hydrangeas

Frankie Flowers explains why these bold flowers will make your garden pop.

By Frankie Flowers

Hello hydrangeas
White globes settled among deep green leaves and set against the red-brick backdrop of the classic Canadian farmhouse – hydrangeas are a local favourite with a rich North American history.

The hydrangea was discovered in 1730 by John Bartram, an English-American botanist and explorer who became King's Botanist to George III and is regarded as the father of American botany. Bartram brought the flowering plant back to England, and it soon became popular throughout Europe.

Today hydrangeas come in a rainbow of varieties and colours. The name comes from the Greek words hydro (or "water") and angeion ("vase") – "water vase." It's a fitting name for a garden plant that always enjoys a good watering. As a potted plant, hydrangeas also need frequent watering and wilt quite easily without it.

The most popular varieties of hydrangea include those from the macrophylla and paniculata families. All of these are perennial when planted in appropriate hardiness zones. Some bloom on new growth, others on last year's growth, and some bloom continuously throughout the season. The general rule is hydrangeas should be pruned after blooming.

For our Canadian climate, these are my favourite hydrangeas:
• 'Annabelle' – The classic Canadian hydrangea. Mid- to late-summer blooming with huge, white globelike blooms. Prune to the ground in the spring. Blooms on new wood. Hardiness zones 4 to 9; full to partial sun.

• 'Limelights' – Sturdy stems hold huge cone-shaped chartreuse green flowers. Flowers midsummer to late fall. Hardiness Zone 3; full to partial sun.

• 'Endless Summer' – A new addition to the hydrangea family, so the verdict is still out on its overall performance in Canada. However, when it grows well, this is a continuously blooming garden plant that starts flowering in midsummer and has blue or pink flowers (blue with acidic soil, pink with alkaline soil). Hardiness Zone 4; partial sun.

Frankie’s fab 5 drought-tolerant plants
1. 'Autumn Joy' sedum. A very hardy fall-blooming perennial with deep pink flowers. Hardiness zones 2 to 9. Height, 30 cm; width, 45 to 60 cm.

2. Shasta daisy. A big, bold white-and-yellow sun-loving perennial. Hardiness zones 4 to 9. Height, 90 to 105 cm; width, 45 to 60 cm.

3. Lamb's ears. Soft silver foliage, with small spikes of pink flowers in early summer. Hardiness zones 3 to 9. Height, 30 to 45 cm; width, 30 to 60 cm.

4. Purple coneflower. Daisylike flowers bloom from late summer into fall. Hardiness zones 3 to 9. Height, 70 to 120 cm; width, 45 to 60 cm.

5. Black-eyed Susan. One of the best maintenance-free perennials around, with gold to yellow petals and a dark centre. Flowers in late summer and early fall. Hardiness zones 3 to 9. Height, 60 to 75 cm; width, 45 to 60 cm.

This story was originally titled "Hello, Hydrangeas" in the July 2010 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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