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Evergreens in the Border

Holly "Blue Princess"

Thinking that they were too tender I avoided hollies for many years, but I finally decided to give them a try. I planted “Blue Princess” and “Blue Prince” about ten years ago. They are said to grow slowly, so I don’t know if I am too impatient, but they have grown very slowly.  They are growing in full sun, and there is no question that they are in acid soil. No need for Holly Tone fertilizer here.

Holly "Blue Prince"

The male plant, “Blue Prince” is growing even more slowly than his princess. And he didn’t even suffer from kids sliding down the hill and over the princess a couple of years ago.  The obvious point being made here is that hollies require male and female plants, whether evergreen or deciduous.  One male plant can pollinate several females.  My Princess has had berries, but not this year for some reason.  Once the berries have been frozen a few times they soften up and birds find them quite delicious.

Weeping Hemlock

Right next to the Prince is this Weeping Hemlock, planted at about the same time.  This has proved to be even slower growing than the hollies. It has spread out, but is still only about six inches tall. Maybe there is something going on with my soil. It is heavier, more claylike in this area.

Gold Threadleaf Cypress

At the other end of this border is the Gold Threadleaf Cypress, actually a chamaecypris. The deer have left it alone, which was a happy surprise for me.  The bright color is beautiful in every season, and I love the graceful way it falls. If the soil is limiting the speed of growth of the hollies and hemlock, it is having no effect at all on this shrub. It is growing just as vigorously as promised.

Fountain Juniper

The Fountain Juniper is also doing well in this bed. I bought it from Lilian Jackman at Wilder Hill Garden, along with a big pot of Northern Sea Oats. After two years both are thriving.

It is funny that I don’t realize how many conifers I have in the garden until I really took stock.  Now we are thinking about a BIG conifer project.  Just thinking.  I’ll keep you posted.

On Little Cat Feet

My friend's pussywillows

Spring is creeping in slowly on little cat feet. When I drove past my friend Paul’s house I saw the fat pussies on his willow by the side of the road. I dashed home to see if my pussywillow was blooming.  Both of us have bushes growing in a wet spot, and both produce fat soft  pussies.

My pussywillow

Alas, my bush is just beginning to bloom. Why the difference?  Micro-climate?  Very different variety?

Hydrangeas for All

My White Moth hydrangea

I haven’t always liked hydrangeas. As a child living in the Bronx, I saw a number of houses on our street wirh tiny yards that held a blue hydrangea or two. In spite of the interesting color and flower heads that everyone called ‘snowballs’ I did not like them.  Who can explain dislikes? And the things a child takes against are even more mysterious.

Though I rarely saw hydrangeas in gardens as a new gardener,  over the past years they have become very popular. Decorating magazines started showing hydrangea blossoms in summerl bouquets and dried  flower arrangements. Hybridizers became very busy creating new varieties. I started paying attention.

Years ago, on a garden tour, I saw a huge oakleaf hydrangea. It was enormous, resting and spreading itself in a fence corner reminding me of a granny with a generous lap. The flowers were not snowball mopheads, but had a tall conical shape I found very attractive. The oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has a lot of advantages. It is native to the United States and so supports the local food web for birds, butterflies and insects. It is very hardy, to zone 3, and it tolerates drier and sunnier conditions than mophead varieties. In the fall the foliage turns beautiful rich colors.

New Oakleaf hydrangea

Last summer I bought an oakleaf hydrangea from Nasami Farm Nasami Farm in Whately. It serves several purposes for me. First, it is a native shrub. Second, it will grow very large and spready so that I can mulch underneath it and eliminate some lawn. Third, I will have large conical flowers for a long season that I like much more than the mopheads. Like most white hydrangeas these flowers will become tinged with pink in the fall. There are smaller oakleaf hydrangea hybrids like Pee Wee for those who limited space. Pee Wee will only grow about four feet tall and as wide, instead of having a six foot spread.


Having planted the oakleaf variety I thought that a hydrangea hedge would do away with more lawn  than a single shrub so I planted Limelight, a hybrid that I bought on sale. Limelight (H. paniculata) can easily get more than six feet tall and have an equal spread. Just what I need for reducing lawn. Limelight is very hardy and has chartreuse flowers from summer into fall when they will become paler and then shade to pink.  Soil pH which changes some mopheads blue or pink depending on soil acidity, has no effect on this variety with its elongated blossoms. Like the oakleaf, it is tolerant of drier conditions and should be pruned in the fall or very early spring because it blooms on new wood.

Pinky Winky

By the time I planted Limelight my plant account was empty, but I need one more hydrangea to complete my hedge. Pinky Winky is a very popular hydrangea because of its large flowers which can be as much as 16 inches tall. They are pink at the bottom but keep opening white at the top. These are large hardy shrubs like Limelight, with equal tolerance for sun and dry soil. I should emphasize that any new tree or shrub should be kept well watered during its first year while it is becoming firmly established.

If you’d like a rich red flower early in the season,  Quick Fire is for you. It blooms earlier and the flowers turn red quickly – as suggested by the name.  The flowers are airier and less dense than mopheads.

Last summer I attended my cousin’s wedding held in a friend’s garden that was planted with masses of white Annabelle hydrangeas. The bride even carried a single hydrangea for a bouquet. I found these mopheads more appealing than I had before. Annabelle has been a hardy standard for a number of years, and for those who do like mopheads, a new variety is being introduced this spring. Incrediball (H. arborscens) has creamy white flower heads that can be 12 inches across. It is similar to Annabelle which has been such a favorite, but Incrediball has sturdier stems making it less floppy. It makes a good cut flower.

The surest way to succeed with any shrub or tree, is to plant it carefully. Begin by digging a generous hole.  Hydrangeas like a rich loose soil so take this opportunity to mix in a bucketful or more of compost. Check the roots when you take the shrub out of the container and if they seem compacted at all, loosen them, by raking through with your fingers or garden cultivator. Make sure that you don’t plant too high or too deeply. You can use a yardstick across the top of the dug hole to check placement.  Water the plant and hole generously when you have replaced half the soil, and again when all the soil is replaced and firmly tamped down. Keep all new plantings well watered for the first season, even those that are drought tolerant. Many plants will need less fussing in future years if they are well and healthily established.  Mulching will help prevent the soil from drying out rapidly.

It’s easy to see why you will find many hydrangeas marketed in the familiar green Proven Winners containers at garden centers. They are hardy, dependable, and give a long season of bloom. Just what we all desire in a plant. Photos of Limelight and Pinky Winky courtesy of Proven Winners.

Between the Rows   February 13, 2010