Sandy’s Garden ... Hydrangeas Reward Summer Watering

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I am certain that I have spent more time relaxing in my garden during the past summer than I have ever done before in the entire 45+ years that my wife and I have lived in our present house.

Day after mild day … and even when the sun has not been shining, it has often been pleasantly warm … we have enjoyed sitting on the patio, relaxing and just enjoying being together with nothing in particular demanding to be done. We have also been known to indulge in the occasional gin and tonic … well, one must not allow oneself to become dehydrated … and even to have forty winks, although we hardly ever do this together at the same time, for it is not a good idea to sleep for long unconsciously unaware of how much solar radiation your body is absorbing. Don’t forget, too, that light cloud cover which conceals the actual sun does not offer much protection against the sun’s rays.

Our plants do not enjoy the facility to choose how much sunlight they will be exposed to. They must stay where they are planted or, in the case of plants in containers, pots and troughs, must stay where we choose to locate them. Nor do our plants have the opportunity to pour themselves the occasional gin and tonic or even the odd glass of water. And this thought brings us nicely to a short quotation from one of many books and websites which offer similar advice: ‘Water is an important factor when you care for hydrangeas. They enjoy deep watering at least once a week, especially in dry weather.’ Mindful of this sage counsel, I have been careful to ensure that the several hydrangea plants in my garden have never gone short of water; and I have dutifully attended to their needs in this regard, regularly ensuring that they had the opportunity to imbibe as much water as they wanted.

And now I have my reward; large, showy pink, white and blue flowers now adorn my bushes, pleasing to the eye and adding splashes of vibrant colour … and yes, I call white a colour … to the more subdued autumnal shades that are gradually infusing the garden. Hydrangeas originally came from China, although the vast majority of those which are cultivated in many parts of the world nowadays belong to the large-leaved species called Hydrangea macrophylla … macrophylla means ‘large-leaved’ … and have been developed by plant breeders. (The flowers of the wild hydrangea are quite insignificant.) The family name ‘hydrangea’ is made from two Greek words, ‘hydor’ meaning ‘water’ and ‘aggos’, which means ‘jar’: but the name does not refer to the hydrangea’s liking for jars of water but to the cup-shaped fruits which follow the flowers. The colour of the flowers can vary according to the acidity level … the pH … of the soil in which the shrub is growing, pH being a scale of acidity from 0 to 14, telling how acidic or alkaline the soil is. More acidic soils have a lower pH; more alkaline soils have a higher pH; and soils that aren’t acidic or alkaline (that is, neutral soils) have a pH of 7. Soil with a pH level of 5.5 or less will encourage some hydrangea species to produce blue flowers and soil with a pH level of 6.5 or more will encourage some species to produce pink flowers. Hydrangea cultivars which produce white flowers always produce white flowers regardless of the pH level of the soil, for they have no colour pigmentation; and some cultivars have been bred specifically to produce blue blooms while others are bred to be pink or red and are unlikely to react to the pH level of the soil in their garden habitat. Adding natural materials like coffee grounds, ground eggshells or the peel of citrus fruits will lower the pH level in the soil, and garden centres stock chemical products which will raise or lower the soil’s natural acidity. But my hydrangeas are left to produce whatever colour of flowers they want; after all, they have very few choices in life. And I enjoy them, no matter what colour they reward my efforts with!