Magnolia macrophylla ashei foliage
There is no other way to say it: Ashe’s Big Leaf Magnolia is boldly beautiful. Folks often grow Magnolias for their early spring bloom, but you will want to seek out Magnolia macrophylla ashei for its large green foliage (up to 2+’ in length) which is undersided in a lovely shade of silvery celadon. (Floral designers take note: the foliage is gorgeous when cut and dried for winter arrangements.) Early summer flowers are sweetly fragrant with white petals accented with a red brush stroke and are large as well, up to 1′ across.
Magniolia macrophylla ashei, a Southeastern US native, forms a large shrub or small tree. It’s tropical appearance belies its hardiness as it is easily grown in zones 6-9 (with reports of it also growing in zone 5 with protection). The form ashei is a smaller tree than the straight species, and is often seen as a multistmemed shrub but can be pruned to form a small tree, growing to 15′ tall in its northern most range, and up to 25′ tall in milder climates. Big Leaf Magnolia prefers a sunny or partially shaded place in a border with rich evenly moist soil that has good drainage. Very windy spots are not recommended, as the gorgeous foliage will get damaged. Another positive note…Big Leaf Magnolia is deer resistant.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Kiyosumi’
More subtle and nuanced than the big mop heads, the species H. serrata hails from the higher elevations of Japan and Korea and is considered more reliably cold hardy than most H. macrophylla. What caught my eye about this particular selection H. ‘Kiyosumi’ , even before the blossoms developed, was the attractive brick red tint to the new foliage. The 4-6″ lace caps are composed of tiny rose tinted fertile flowers, accented with a skirt of larger florets colored white to pale pink with a rim of brick red. This compact selection grows 4′ x 4′, and is hardy to -10F without stem dieback. H. serrata ‘Kiyosumi’ does bloom on old wood, and I can vouch that it survived the winter of 2014-15 quite admirably.
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’
An old favorite for the shade garden is the double form of Oakleaf Hydrangea, H. ‘Snowflake’. The bold oak leaf shaped foliage is handsome all season, but in early summer it bears long (10-15″) panicles of exquisite double white to celadon green florets which age beautiful to shades of pale green and rusty rose. It’s grace and beauty never ceases to draw compliments.
Like all H. quercifolia, ‘Snowflake’ blooms on old wood, so care should be taken when pruning so you are not sacrificing too many potential blossoms. H. quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ grows 7-8′ tall and wide, but the weight of the blossoms gives it an arching habit. Although this particular form can be grown in full sun if it has evenly moist soil, it has always been happier in our cooler, shady border. It is hardy in zones 5-8.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’
I was recently alerted about the new Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’ from my gardening friend Barbara Smith, who suggested it as a great Hydrangea for cut flowers. (Didn’t need much convincing; I bought 3). This new patented selection is a sport of the all white cultivar H. ‘Schneeball’ (German for Snowball) and is distinguished not only for its 3.5-5″ trusses but for its very dark green foliage and almost black stems. I hear the flowers age to a wonderful pale green. Plants form compact shrubs 3-4′ tall and wide. I suspect that this form will only bloom on old wood, so I am trialing one in a protected area and the others in a more open spot in the garden. The literature says it is hardy to zone 5, but we’ll see if that means bud hardy, won’t we?
We were walking through the nursery with a couple of friends, observing which plants displayed the most exciting autumn color, when this Hydrangea stopped us in our tracks. The fall foliage on the panicle Hydrangea, ‘Quickfire’, was spectacular! Its chunky lacecap type blossoms were fading to a lovely shade of mauve rose, but it was the warm red to amber coloring of the leaves that stopped us in our tracks. Interestingly, blocks of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’were grouped nearby, and their foliage was just an ordinary shade of green. We checked online, but the literature on ‘Quickfire’ didn’t glorify its fall color. Hmm…was this due to the weather this season, or perhaps our magic touch? Upon further investigation we learned that indeed this selection was an autumn star.
‘Quickfire’blooms on new wood, so there is little danger that you will be without blossoms after a severe winter. The large panicles (to 12′) of white sterile and fertile flowers form early in the season, and will develop rosy red tones as they age. The stems have a dark red tint, which further accentuates the blossoms. Plants grow 6-8′ tall and 8-10′ wide. Pruning can be done in late winter or early spring. ‘Quickfire’ prefers full sun or partial shade and is not fussy about soil or moisture, although plants will be happier if irrigated during dry spells. Hardy in zones 3-9.
Hayes Starburst Hydrangea is a floral arranger’s dream. This chance discovery, by Hayes Jackson of Anniston, Alabama, differs from the species by its showy display of clustered greenish white, multi sepaled star shaped flowers. It is a form of Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea or Hills of Snow, and although native to the southeastern U.S., is cold hardy into zone 4.
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’ blooms on new wood, so there is little danger of winter damage to flower buds. We recommend cutting back the woody stems to 12″ in early spring to keep the plants tidy. Hydrangea arborescens prefers to grow in full to half day sun and in a well drained soil that still gets adequate moisture. If there is a common complaint about this species it would be that the flower clusters are so heavy that they weigh down the supporting stems. Some consider this an addition to the plant’s charm, and if it is sited on a slope or above a retaining wall, you could take advantage of its cascading habit. If an upright habit is preferred, situate a large tomato cage over the cut back stalks in spring, which will lend support. The height and spread of this shrub can remain a manageable 3′ x 3′, if pruned annually.
First, we fell in love with the foliage. The new foliar growth is a delicious shade of caramel pink, gradually becoming lime green as the summer progresses. As the July heat intensifies, 4-6″ panicles of white pearly buds burst into creamy Astilbe like plumes. Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ is a compact growing False Spirea, growing only to 48″, unlike the species which can reach 8′ or more. ‘Sem’ will give you moderate height without obscuring your view. Yes this form will sucker and form a thicket…but that is why you should use this shrub as a low hedge, or for filling a space that you don’t want to fuss over.
Here are the other pertinent facts: Sorbaria ‘Sem’ grows in full sun or part shade, is deer resistant and is hardy to minus 35 degrees F. Pretty and tough, don’t you think?
Gardeners in northern climates have been disappointed by Hydrangea macrophylla in the past….lots of healthy foliage, but few or no blossoms. This recent introduction of Mophead Hydrangea truly blooms on both old and new wood, and is being marketed as ‘Forever and Ever Red Sensation’ ( Tra-la-la…those clever marketers read a lot of fairy tales).
What you really need to know is that this vigorous selection produces lots of blooms on new growth, making it a great candidate for colder zone 5 and 6 gardens. In hot climates the large trusses of blossoms will be in softer shades of rosy pink when grown in neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Colder temperatures will cause the flower color to deeper red shades. If your garden soil happens to be more acidic, ‘Red Sensation’ will change color and thus need a new name, as it will take on bluer tones. The flowers age to smoky violet. Stems and fall foliage color have a dark burgundy cast.
‘Red Sensation’ grow 2-3′ tall and 3-4’wide, and require full sun or partial shade. Hydrangea macrophylla appreciate a moist, rich and fertile soil. May we suggest combining ‘Red Sensation’ with the always attractive Periscaria ‘Golden Arrow’?