Gardening Glimpses


What do grown-up gardeners do, in this typical “Fair Week” cool spell? If they’ve outgrown a yen for riding roller coasters, or have no grandchildren at the right age, they maybe ought to do something else somewhat foolish.

Like go to a nursery (and for this it will take a real nursery, not the usually quite sufficient garden sections of the big box stores), and buy a big plant, or two, or three.

What you ought to be looking for, if you have any planting space at all, is an oakleaf hydrangea. Meghan Shinn, currently editor of Horticulture magazine, terms this plant “the shrub for all seasons.”

It is a Southern native, but can be grown, with proper selection of the right cultivars, throughout most of the gardening area of the U.S., up through the edges of Zone 5.

I have a special yen for things that do not grow well for me, and the oakleaf hydrangea somehow fits this category, though I do not understand why.

And a couple of years ago, at this time of year, I was mightily tempted, and I fell, for the new “Limeade” hydrangea with green flowers.

One reason for my difficulty with the oakleaf hydrangeas is that I want them to grow with my regular hydrangeas, because I have the space there, because I like the look of the contrasting leaves and flowers.

And I’m willing to deal with the extra watering they require.


What I overlooked, for a tiny moment of inattention that is enough to prove fatal, is that deer, which do not munch on the regular hydrangeas, love the oakleaf ones, or this might be the only one.

One visit from a flock of new fawns, and the once-thriving plant was history.

But if you are willing to water if and when it doesn’t rain, (which this year has been mostly a matter of marking your calendar about the amount of daily moisture), and if you have accepted the fact that deer spray, store-bought or homemade, is a basic fact of life, go to the various nurseries and just look around. Or, you could ask generally.

What the oakleafs bring to the total hydrangea picture is colors, mostly the autumn hues in contrast to the spring blues, pinks, and purples of the regular hydrangeas. Which suits the gardener who wants some bit of everything in one big border. And by all reckoning, they ought to be through with their season right now. But this has not been a year to reckon on.

They will need a good mulch through the year, but then, doesn’t every bed and border in our climate. They are Southern natives, which is always a plus. And the coloring is built in, not asking for all the fuss and bother of making spring hydrangeas blue when they’d rather be pink - they are going to be whatever they have in their plant genetics.

I’ve been thinking lately (a series of pictures popping up on the screen saver recently, at first by accident, and then by intentionally returning to the location, of a trip Mary Price and I made, probably a dozen years ago, to the Hydrangea Festival in Alabama. Since it was June, there were no oakleaf hydrangeas in bloom. But I’m wondering now, if I’d known a bit more, I could have found specimens hiding their promise of late summer glory.

So if you have the yen for a bit of adventurous gardening, and somebody at home to dig the planting holes, if growing older and wiser also means you don’t dig planting holes very handily anymore, go look. It isn’t picky about sun or shade, but will probably color better (next year) if you give it some sun.


And a late-season shopping hint for me:

While you are searching the rows of this well-stocked nursery, be sure to get several more three-gallon black pots filled with hostas. Whatever kind appeals to you - most of them do superbly and all of them are gorgeous. And I’ve found that they winter over right in the pot, at least in the shady location I prefer for them, and can provide a space for all sorts of creative seasonal touches carefully inserted in between the fading leaves. My current choice would be sprigs of berried shrubs, the leavings from indoor decoration, and the friend who usually has a generous amount of berried foliage has reported that this looks like a good season.


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