Saturday, August 20, 2016

Shade, Shells and Slime

In her latest post Jean Godawa writes about slugs and snails. 

I'm lucky to live in a part of the city with many large mature trees. The fall colours on my street rival those of any picturesque country lane. So much so, that visitors and passers-by often stop to take pictures. As grateful as I am for the autumn beauty and summer shade that this canopy provides, I envy gardens filled with blooms of all textures, shapes and colours that only a sunny or partially sunny area can sustain. Thankfully, the previous owner of our home had a talent for creating visual interest with several varieties of hostas which thrive today.

With all those hostas in my Jurassic-looking garden however, comes an open invitation for snails and slugs (Gastropoda). The wide, sturdy leaves and low positioning of hostas make them perfect hosts for these slow moving, shade loving members of the mollusc phylum.

The brown-lipped, or grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) is an introduced species found in the north eastern U.S. and southern Ontario. It varies in colour and number of stripes with the opening lip of the shell typically dark brown in colour.

The white-lipped snail (Cepaea hortensis) has a light coloured band around the shell opening.

Snails and slugs have two pairs of antennae-like appendages - one small pair is used for smelling while the larger, upper pair holds the eyes.

Gastropods require a moist environment to survive. The common amber snail (Succinea putris) lives near water sources and feeds on strong aquatic reeds and grasses.

You may rarely see these nocturnal creatures but you will know they are around. They feed at night to avoid both predators and the harsh, drying effects of the sun. They spend the day sheltered under the shade of plants, decaying plant matter, mulch or garden structures. A slime trail, along with holes or jagged edges on leaves indicates a snail or slug problem.

Slugs vary in size with some species growing up to 25 cms (10 inches) in length. They can range in colour from light yellow to dark brown or grey. Their feeding behaviour and habitat preference is similar to snails. The obvious difference between the two is the slug's lack of shell.

Most snails and slugs that you encounter in the garden are hermaphrodites, with both male and female reproductive organs. Despite this, they do not self-fertilize - they must mate to reproduce. Eggs are laid in a sticky secretion in a damp protected area of the garden. After about a month, the immature creatures hatch and begin feeding. Warm humid conditions speed up their development.

Being fascinated, as I am, with all kinds of crawly and slimy things, I have a hard time getting rid of creatures that are just doing what is natural. If plants are hardy and growing well, they can usually tolerate a bit of damage from a snail or slug. When pest numbers increase and I start to feel the crunch of shells under my feet as I walk in the yard, then I know it's time to act.

Cleaning up debris around affected plants and trimming off any leaves that touch the ground helps protect plants from snail and slug damage. Remove overturned pots, fallen branches and if you're not squeamish, handpick the creatures off the plant and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. Go out after dark with a flashlight or early in the morning to find and remove the pests.

Barriers, such as copper strips or diatomaceous earth, and traps, with or without bait, can also eliminate snails and slugs. Be sure to check and clean traps frequently at first for the best results.

For every plant we bring into the garden, there will be some creature that needs it for food, shelter or reproduction. Whether it's an owl living in a tree, a deer eating tall lilies or slugs munching on hostas, if we accept that we share our space with many other creatures and we arm ourselves with knowledge about those creatures, then it's easy to maintain healthy, vibrant gardens.

About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.

Many thanks to Ken Sproule for providing the images for this post.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs: Review & Giveaway

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I first opened this book. This had everything to do with my expectations and nothing to do with the book itself. When I ordered it, I imagined a cookbook full of herb-based recipes, but when it arrived, I saw it wasn't that type of book at all.

But I put my original expectations aside, dived in and got reading. Any initial disappointment I felt quickly vanished. What I found was a lot of helpful information about how to grow, harvest and preserve herbs. And there were even a few of the recipes for herbal vinegars, butters, pastes and syrups I was originally looking for.

Summer salads are such a great way to use herbs! Chopped Salad with Parsley 
and a Tahini Dressing

Following a general introduction, The Culinary Herbal: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs offers profiles for a wide range of herbs. Each profiles begins with a description of the herb's smell, taste and its culinary uses. Then there are quick tips for its cultivation and propagation. The profiles end with pointers on harvesting and preserving the herb in question.

The profiles are followed by a big chapter with useful information on growing herbs.

My herb garden.

Harvesting Herbs:

Herbs can be harvested repeatedly during a growing season. Pruning them once a month will encourage new growth and the potential of a fresh yield.

Each of the book's herb profiles recommends a specific harvest time for that herb. Generally speaking, the authors advise that you harvest most types of herbs just before the plants form flower buds. Basil, for instance, becomes bitter when the essential oils are concentrated in the flowers. Exceptions would be herbs with woody stems, like oregano or thyme, that produce essential oils when in the midst of flowering.

Sage in my garden.

Choose a sunny day to pick your herbs. Herb oils are more concentrated in sunlit leaves. If you plan on drying your herbs, pick them after the morning dew has evaporated. Wet herbs will inhibit the drying process.

Drying Herbs:

Herbs can be dried in a number of ways. You can hang them in bunches or lay them flat on screens or in shallow baskets. When hanging them to dry, the book cautions you to keep the bunches small. Three to seven stems per bunch is ideal. Our old house is dusty, so I like to wrap my herbs in a piece of parchment paper and secure them with an elastic band.

The book counsels that you choose a well-ventilated place away from sunlight to hang your herbs. Depending on humidity and weather conditions, it may take from a few days to several weeks for bunches to dry. Herbs can mould if you pack them into jars when the aren't completely dried. Here's a good way the authors suggest you test for dryness: a dried herb should crumble when rubbed between your fingers.

To prepare your dried herbs for storage set out a bowl or lay down a piece of parchment paper and strip the leaves from the stems. Try not to crumble the leaves as this will release their essential oils to early (crumbling herbs into a dish you are preparing is the better time to release their oils).

You can find more tips on drying herbs in the book. When stored properly away from light and heat, dried herbs should easily see you through to the next growing season.

Thyme blooming a few weeks ago.

The Master Recipes:

The final chapter of the book offers some of master recipes for making syrups, vinegars, herbal pastes and butters.

It wouldn't be a proper review if I didn't try out a few of these master recipes. Most days it has been 30+ degrees, so to be honest, I was a little reluctant to stand over a hot stove even for the few minutes necessary to try out a few of these recipes. Once I got going however, I found I was having fun.

Freezing Herbs:

Have you seen the pins suggesting that fresh herbs be frozen in water using ice cube trays on Pinterest?

I was surprised to read the authors don't recommend this method for preserving herbs. Apparently freezing herbs in water breaks down the cellular structure turning the leaves mushy and watery. Freezing chopped fresh herbs in oil offers better results. Oil preserves the color and taste of herbs much better.  

Freezing herbs in oil is easy! Simply chop your herbs and fill each quadrant of an ice cube tray. Two-thirds herbs to one-third oil is the ratio you are going for.  Pour virgin oil oil over the herbs.

You can also use melted unsalted butter, if you prefer.  Cover the tray with plastic wrap and freeze. When the contents are frozen, remove the herbs from the tray and store them in a freezer bag.

The book made mention of parsley butter, so I decided to give making it a try. It will be great to pull it out these buttery herb cubes on a cold winter evening and dress up some otherwise ordinary mashed potatoes.

Flash freezing whole leaves is yet another way to great flavour. The thin leaves of annual herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil work best. Harvest and clean your herbs as if you were drying them. Place the leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them into the freezer for 20 minutes. When the leaves are stiffly frozen, remove them from the sheet and store them in an airtight container or freezer bag. Don't forget to label them. The authors recommend adding the leaves directly into recipes while still frozen. The bright green will become darker when thawed.

Capturing the Essence of a Herb by making a Simple Syrup:

Simple herb flavoured syrups can be used to make beverages, flavour fruit or can be drizzled on ice cream or baked goods. One day soon I'd love to try out the book's suggestion to use a herb syrup instead of water or milk in a cake. That might be interesting!

The syrups recipes in the book call for equal parts water and sugar. To make these herb syrups the authors prefer organic cane sugar. They advise that darker sugars, honey and maple syrup can overpower the delicate taste of the herbs.

Lavender at Dalhousie University's Agricultural College in Truro, N.S. They have a lovely ornamental herb garden on the campus.

The quantity of herbs or flowers needed to make a syrup varies, so I was glad to see a quick guide with recommendations as to quantities. A lavender syrup, for instance, only requires a tablespoon of flesh flowers.

I decided to try making a mint flavoured syrup to sweeten freshly squeezed lemon juice. 

The glass of lemonade didn't last much longer than the time it took me to take this photograph. It was wonderfully refreshing on a hot afternoon!

You can find the recipe and full instructions in the book.

Making a Herb Paste:

As well as freezing or drying herbs, the authors suggest you can make a herbal paste. The paste will keep for 10-14 days in the fridge or can be frozen to brighten winter sauces, soups and baked goods.

As long as you leave an inch of head space for the paste to expand in the freezing process, you can use pint or quart canning jars to store your herb paste.

Pots of flowers and herbs in a private garden.

Basil loses its distinctive flavour when dried. The authors prefer the simplicity of a paste over a basil pesto for the freezer. Garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese don't freeze well. It's better to add these ingredients as you prepare the dish.

Not all herbs make a good paste. The book recommends drying woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary and sage for best texture and flavour.

Herbs like tarragon, which loses its flavour when dried, are better used to make herb flavoured vinegar. Herb vinegars are another master recipe you can find in the last chapter.

Making a Herb Butter:

Savoury herb butters can used in so many ways including adding flavour to vegetables, breads, and sauces. Before reading this book I hadn't considered using sweeter herbs to add interest to pancakes, muffins and biscuits. I'd like to try that sometime.

When it comes to making herb butters, the authors caution that less is more. Don't mix more than one to three or as many as four different herbs, if you absolutely must. With too many herbs mixed together, individual flavours becomes muddled. The authors often add a clove of garlic, a little lemon or lime zest and a finely minced shallot to their herb butters. Herb butters can be refrigerated or they can be rolled into a log for the freezer. They freeze really well.

I have to warn you that making a herb butter is a bit messy process (the ice cube tray was easier in my estimation). I made dill flavoured butter, which will be nice to pull out of the freezer when I am cooking a fresh salmon fillet.

As well as herb leaves, edible flowers can be used for an interesting bit of color. You can find the full recipe for herb butters in the book.

Tomatoes with chopped chives and salad cream

Using herbs to add flavour to dishes was not something I grew up knowing. I don't think my mother, who was never particularly interested in cooking, ever used herbs. Discovering how to grow and use herbs is therefore, something I've had to learn as an adult.

Slowly I have been expanding my herb garden and experimenting with the different herbs in my cooking. The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs is going to be a helpful reference. I think you might enjoy the book as well.

Timber Press has kindly given me a review copy of the book, which I am going to give away. If you would like to enter, please leave a comment below. It's a heavy book to mail out, so for this draw I will have to limit a winner to North America. The draw will remain open for the next seven days.

More Information and Links:

About the Authors:

Susan Belsinger is a culinary herbalist, food writer and photographer. She is also the co-author of several best-selling, award-wining cookbooks. Her latest book, co-authored with Dr. Arthur O. Tucker, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs was published in January of this year.

Arthur O. Tucker is a botanist specializing in the identification and chemistry of plants of flavour, fragrance and medicine. He is the research professor and director of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium and an emeritus professor at Delaware State University.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Photographer's Shade Garden

When do I feel rather anxious about showing photographs of a garden? When the gardener in question just happens to be a very accomplished photographer!

 Maggie Sale has traveled to some far off places and her photography is quite amazing. If you have a minute, go take a look at some of the photographs from her 2012 trip to Iceland. Maggie has managed to capture the austere beauty of the Icelandic landscape quite masterfully her black and white photographs. I love the images of glacial ice reflected in the mirror-smooth surface of the sea and a huge rock formation that almost looks like it is floating on the surface of the water.  

There are also lots of colorful photographs in the galleries on Maggie's website. I think the series of pictures of brightly painted fishing boats from a 2016 trip to Morocco are just wonderful. 

Here's a link to the main gallery, so you can pick out your own favourites.

A tapestry of shade plants in the front garden

A container planting at the entrance to the backyard.

Six years ago Maggie and her husband Julian (also a photographer) moved from a townhouse in Toronto, with a postage sized garden, to a much larger property in Guelph, Ontario that backs on a public park. 

At the front of the house Maggie created a boulevard garden and a rock garden with local quarried stones. In this post we are going to head down a paved path at the side of the house and have a look at the shade garden in the backyard.

Veronica, Speedwell

A deck off the main floor of the house overlooks the garden which slopes gently down from the house. Large trees, which skirt the back of the property, make this a shade garden.

Along one side of the property a chain link fence has become a living wall of green.

Covered in Virginia Creeper, it makes the property's boundary all but disappear and blend into the surrounding landscape. 

At the back of the yard, there is a cozy dining area framed by a lattice fence. Again, large trees blur the edges of the suburban lot and make it feel as though the garden sits on the edge of a secluded woodland.

I want to draw your attention to the Lamium at the foot of this hosta. Lamium is such a great groundcover! You can read more about Lamiums in this post (great varieties, as well as one to avoid). Here I will feature the two seen on the right:

Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' has silver leaves with a green edge and mauve-pink flowers. It forms a spreading clump, but isn't invasive. Average garden soil is fine for this evergreen perennial. Part to full shade. Height: 15-20 cm ( 6-8inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenway' (on the bottom right) has green foliage streaked with silver and edged in gold. 'Anne Greenway' has mauve-pink flowers in spring and will continue to flower off and on, if you deadhead it. Once established, it is fairly drought tolerant. Again, average garden soil is fine for this evergreen perennial. Part to full shade. Height: 15-20 cm ( 6-8inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Maggie has one other Lamium in her garden that I want to bring to your attention: False Lamium, Lamium galeobdolon 'Herman's Pride'. Even though you see a big patch here, this is not an invasive plant. The silvery-green variegation makes it a terrific companion for hostas or any other shade perennial.  

Lamium galeobdolon 'Herman's Pride' has small yellow flowers mid-spring, but you really want to grow it for the foliage. This Lamium can be easily grown in a range of garden soils. Part shade to full shade. Drought tolerant once established. Height: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

A couple of container plantings punctuate the garden and add a hit of color.

This container planting incorporates Sweet Potato Vine, Begonias and Wandering Jew, Tradescantia albiflora or Zebrina pendula (a houseplant) among other plants.

A second container planting next to the dining table and chairs.

Two more shade plants: Canadian Wild Ginger (left) and Brunnera 'Jack Frost' (right).

Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense is native to the woodlands of Eastern north America. It bright green, heart-shaped leaves and insignificant brownish flowers that are largely hidden by the foliage. It will colonize an area and tends to be more vigorous than European Wild Ginger (Asarum europaeum), but is not considered to be invasive. Part to full shade. Sandy or clay soil are fine. Average to moist soil suit this plant best. Height: 10-15 cm ( 4-6 inches), Spread: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

1. Lungwort, Pulmonaria 2. Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa 3. Variegated Sedum 4. Astilbe 5. Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis 'Goldheart' (Maggie also has Common Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis) 6. Blue Star, Amsonia 7. Hosta 8. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris

Ostrich Ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris are a native ferns that are easily grown in average, medium to damp soil. They are happiest however, in rich soil with constant moisture (the drought we are experiencing here in Southern Ontario have turned my Ostrich Ferns crispy brown). They spread by underground rhizomes and can form dense colonies when grown in favourable conditions. Ostrich Ferns prefer a cooler climate and don't fair well in the hot, humid summers of the southern States. Part shade to full shade. Height: 3-6 ft, Spread: 5-8 ft. USDA Zones: 3-7.

I asked Maggie for the story behind the ceramic owl that presides over the planting in this section of the garden.

"Until last spring we owned a cottage in England near my family in Cumbria in the N.W.", Maggie says,"Every year there was a pottery festival at one of the stately homes nearby. Simon Griffiths was a artist who had many birds, animals etc. in his stall there. They were so life-like that I knew it would be a wonderful garden ornament for our cottage, so we bought the Tawny Owl... When we sold the cottage, we brought it back to Canada...We found a post in a local wood and erected it in our garden here."

This end's today's tour. I hope you enjoyed seeing Maggie's shade garden.

More Information and Links: 

Maggie Sale is originally from England, but has lived in Canada for over 40 years. Most of her photography is done outdoors, and often involves travel, which she loves. Maggie is a member of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society, as well as Canadian Association for Photographic Art. The book "Facing Death-A Companion in Words and Images" by Linda Watson, for which Maggie contributed photographic illustrations, won a number of awards including the prestigious Benjamin Franklin award.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hydrangeas: Care Basics/ Old & New Varieties

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave' in the Heritage Garden, Annapolis N.S.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you'll know that I like hydrangeas. Not only do the bloom for ages, it's interesting to watch the flowers change in color and appearance as they age. Even when the blooms fade to tawny-brown and are covered in frost crystals or white winter snow, they have a certain melancholy beauty.

So many shrubs bloom in the spring, but hydrangeas offer flowers that look attractive from mid-summer well into fall. Given the appropriate conditions, they are also pretty easy to grow. A range of sizes and flower colors means there is a hydrangea for almost any garden.

A few key Hydrangea Terms:

Lacecap (Hydrangea paniculata 'Quick Fire')

Lacecap refers to the arrangement of florets that make up the flower. In a lacecap hydrangea, there are a large number of smaller florets surrounded by an outer ring of showy florets. 

Mophead refers to big, round, ball-like hydrangea flowers.

Mophead (Unknown cultivar)

The two flower types combined in a Mississauga, Ontario garden

Key Terms for Pruning: Old wood simply describes growth from the previous season. Big leaf (H. Macrophylla), Mountain (H. Serrata), Oakleaf (H. Quercifolia) and Climbing hydrangeas (H. Petiolaris) all flower on old wood. 

New wood describes the growth that a hydrangea has in the current season. Smooth (H. Arborescens) and Panicle (H. Paniculata) hydrangeas both flower on new wood.

Six Basic Types of Hydrangeas:

There are six main types of hydrangeas grown here in North America. 

Hydrangea Macrophylla (seen on the left) also known as Big Leaf, Florist's Hydrangea, Mophead or Lacecap
• Hardy to USDA zone 5.
• Blooms on old wood: Do not prune!
• Old wood needs protection in winter
Varieties: Endless Summer Series, Cityline series, Abracadabra series of hydrangeas

Hydrangea Paniculata (seen on the right) also known as Panicle Hydrangea or PeeGee Hydrangea
• Hardy to USDA zone 3.
• Blooms on new wood: Prune in late winter or early spring
Varieties: 'Bobo', 'Firelight', 'Limelight', 'Little Lime', 'Pinky Winky', 'Quick Fire', 'Little Quick Fire'

Hydrangea Arborescens (on the left) also known as Smooth or Annabelle Hydrangea
• Hardy to USDA zone 3.
• Blooms on new wood: Prune in late winter or early spring.
Varieties: Annabelle, Proven Winner's Incrediball series, Invincibelle series, and Spirit series

Hydrangea Petiolaris (on the right) also known as Climbing Hydrangea
• Hardy to USDA zone 4.
• Prune right after it flowers.

Hydrangea Serrata (not shown) also known as Mountain Hydrangea
• Hardy to USDA zone 5.
• Blooms on old wood so, do not prune.
Varieties: Proven Winners Tuff Stuff series.

Hydrangea Quercifolia (shown above) also known as Oakleaf Hydrangea
• Hardy to USDA zone 5 with some winter protection.
• Blooms on old wood so, do not prune.
Varieties: Proven Winners Gatsby series.

Private Garden Niagara-on-the-Lake

Selecting a Hydrangea:

Generally we tend to think one plant/one set of growing conditions, but hydrangeas are quite varied in both their attributes and their preferences. Most hydrangeas like morning sun (4 hours of sun) and a little shade in the afternoon, but some hydrangeas will cope better with sun and dry conditions than others. Hydrangea Paniculata are the most sun tolerant and can even take full sun in a northern garden zone.

Hydrangeas have shallow roots so generally they like plenty of water, especially when getting established. That being said, hydrangeas offer varying levels of drought tolerance. For example, I have a Big Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea Macrophylla) that mightily resents the dry summer we are experiencing this year. It wilts even in the morning sun, unless I pamper it with water. A little closer to the house is a Hydrangea Paniculata 'Quick Fire' that is dealing with the lack of rainfall like a real trooper. 

The best thing to do when selecting a hydrangea is to carefully read the plant label, or even better, do a little research with regard to each hydrangea's compatibility to your garden's growing conditions before you head to a garden centre or nursery to make your purchase.

Private Garden Niagara-on-the-Lake

Planting a Hydrangea:

Hydrangeas can be planted in the spring or the fall. Once you have chosen your location, dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. When it comes to soil, hydrangeas like moist, well-drained soil, but never wet feet. If your soil is poor, amend it with some compost or leaf mold. 

Set the hydrangea in the hole. You want the top of the root ball to be level with the soil. Backfill and water well until it is established. (Tip: Laying down a layer of mulch after planting will help the soil retain its moisture.)

Private garden, Glen Williams Ontario


If you are confused about when and how to pruning a hydrangea, you aren't the only one! 

But here's the thing: Many hydrangeas don't require regular pruning. Hydrangeas that flower on old wood (Big leaf, Mountain, Oakleaf and Climbing hydrangeas) will do so with little more than the removal of spent flowers and any dead wood in the spring. 

Hydrangeas that flower in new growth (Panicle and Smooth hydrangeas) can be pruned in the spring, just as the new growth begins to appear. 

Why isn't my Hydrangea Blooming?

Proven Winner's has a great little chart with some suggested reasons as to why your hydrangea is failing to flower: Why isn't my Hydrangea Blooming?

A quick look at Cultivars both old and new:

Every year there are new introductions. It's hard to keep track of them all! Here's a quick look at some old classics and newer cultivars.

Patrica & Loren's Garden, Mississauga, Ontario

Larger Shrubs:

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' was discovered in the 1960's. It was the first smooth hydrangea with mophead flowers. 'Annabelle' prefers sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. It is easily grown in average soil garden soil. Annabelle blooms on new wood, so prune it back hard in late winter/early spring. Height: 3-6ft, Spread: 3-6 ft. USDA zones: 3-9. 

'Invincibelle Spirit' was introduced to the market in 2010. I found it took a few years to get established and look like anything special in my garden, but now I find I like its small, delicate looking rose flowers. The flower stems are a little thin for holding up such big flowers, but they don't seem to require any extra support. Blooms appear mid-July and carry on into the fall with the flowers fading in color as they age. 'Invincibelle Spirit' prefers full sun, but will tolerate part shade. It blooms on new wood, so prune in late winter/early spring. Height: 4-5ft inches. Spread: 4-5ft inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

'Limelight' has flowers that emerge celadon green and age into shades of rose and burgundy in the fall. 'Limelight' prefers sun in more northern gardening zones and a little protection from afternoon sun in warmer regions. To prune it, cut back your shrub by one-third its total height in spring.  Part sun to sun. Height: 6-8ft, Spread: 6-8 ft. USDA zones: 3-8.

'Quick Fire' in my garden

'Quick Fire' blooms a bit earlier than most hydrangeas. Mine has been flowering for a few weeks. Already the flowers are shifting from white to a deep fiery rose. With a summer as dry as the one we've experienced, I am glad that it is drought tolerant. This is a big, upright shrub, so set aside a good sized space for it. The only pruning I have had to do so far is to remove the spent flowers in the spring. If you do need to prune a 'Quick Fire', do it in late winter early spring. Part sun to sun. Height: 6-8ft, Spread: 4-6ft. USDA zones: 5-9.

Hydrangea 'Pinky Winky' in the garden of Marion Jarvie

'Pinky Winky' This is a tall, upright shrub with white blooms that turn pink at the base of the flower in the fall. These two-toned flowers can reach up to 16" in length. This hydrangea is drought tolerant and adaptable to a variety of soils. Prune 'Pinky Winky' in late winter or early spring. Part sun to sun. Height: 6-8ft, Spread: 4-6 ft. USDA zones 3-8.

Of all the cultivars of Hydrangea paniculata, Hydrangea 'Phantom' has the largest flower clusters (approximately 15" in size). The flowers emerge pale green in early summer, mature to be white in summer and then turn rose by early fall. This cultivar needs moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic (pH 5.6 to 7.5) and full sunTo ensure large flower heads this hydrangea needs to be pruned hard to about 1 foot above ground level in early spring (March or April depending on your zone). Height: 6-10 feet if left unpruned and 4ft if pruned in spring, Spread: 6-10 ft if left unpruned and 4 ft if pruned. USDA zones: 3-8.

Smaller, More Compact Cultivars: 

These have become a huge favourite of mine because they stay relatively small. I find the compact size of these hydrangeas make them very versatile. I start with 'Bobo' which is a brand new introduction that is getting a lot of hype.

'Bobo' forms a low rounded mound of green foliage and has white flowers that turn pink in the fall. Bobo adapts to a variety of soil conditions and requires a moderate amount of moisture. It blooms on new wood, so prune it in late winter or early spring. Part sun to full sun. Height: 30-36 inches. Spread: 36-48 inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

A little size comparison of a Big Leaf hydrangea (foreground) and an Annabelle Hydrangea.
Private Garden, Burlington, Ontario.

Hydrangea Macrophylla 'Blushing Bride' has white semi-double florets that mature to a blush pink or blue depending on your soils pH. The shrub's shape is rounded and growth upright. This hydrangea likes, moist, well-drained soil and part-shade. Height: 3'6", Spread: 3'6". USDA zones: 4-9. 

Hydrangea Macrophylla 'Cityline Vienna' has pink or blue flowers depending on your soil's pH. This hydrangea likes moist, well-drained soil that has been amended with a little peat moss, leaf mold or compost. Pruning is not generally needed, but if you need to do some pruning, do it immediately after it flowers. Height: 1- 3ft, Spread: 2-4 ft. USDA zones: 5-9. (may need winter protection in more northern garden zones.)

'Little Lime' is the little sister of popular 'Limelight'. It has greenish-white flowers (see image on the left) that turn deep rose-green in early fall (see image on the right)It blooms on new wood, so again, prune it in late winter or early spring as needed. Part sun to full sun. Height: 36-60 inches. Spread: 36-60 inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

Companion planting:

What makes a great companion plant for a hydrangea? 

Anything that blooms mid-summer. If your hydrangea is sun/part shade dayliles and ornamental grasses are a nice choice. In the picture below, a blue hydrangea is combined with red and orange daylilies. I have also seen more greenish hydrangea flowers combined nicely with peach and cream daylilies.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave' in the Heritage Garden, Annapolis N.S.

Climbing Hydrangea paired with a range of hosta in Joe's Brampton, Ontario garden.

Astilbe with a hydrangea in behind it.

If your hydrangea is a cultivar that likes more part-shade conditions hosta, phlox, ferns and astible are a few of the many options.

Two different varieties of hydrangeas mixed with hosta and Astilbe.

A picture of my garden in August from a few years back.
Phlox, Rudbeckia Tiger Lilies with a hydrangea standard in the background.

After looking at all this inspiration, I think you'll know why I like hydrangeas as much as I do.

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