Hydrangeas give you so many choices for brilliant color when the days grow long and hot.

By Marty Wingate


When you think of hydrangeas, low-growing shrubs with big, dusky blue flower clusters usually come to mind. But the hydrangea family includes a diverse selection of options for your landscape, including an elegant climbing vine and a stately native shrub with large, oak-leaf-shaped foliage. These versatile plants rarely suffer from pest and disease problems, and they grow in a wide range of zones, which explains why they make themselves at home in organic gardens from Maine to Oregon.

Familiar, but Better
The bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as the French hydrangea, is the most familiar. This species encompasses two groups, distinguished by the type of flower they produce: the mopheads, also known as hortensias (H. macrophylla var. macrophylla), and the lacecaps (H. macrophylla var. normalis). Both types are hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 through 9 and grow from 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.

The well-known flowers of H. macrophylla turn pink or blue depending on the pH of your soil. Choose an uncommon variety, however, and you'll have more than the flower's color to admire. 'Nigra' (a mophead type) features black stems that set off the plant's green foliage long before any flowers appear. And 'Lady in Red', a lacecap that's new for 2005, flushes burgundy in the fall, but its red stems and red-veined leaves make it appealing all season long.

6 Exceptional Choices
'Bluebird' (H. serrata) balances delicate lacecap flowers atop a small shrub that only reaches 3 feet.

'Alice' (H. quercifolia) adds drama to large shady areas with its supersized oak shaped leaves and delicate flowers.

'Nigra' (H. macrophylla) sets off large blooms with striking black stems that pop out of the landscape in winter.

'Limelight' (H. paniculata) illuminates the garden for months in the summer with its unusual pale green blooms. Choose this extremely hardy shrub to fill in a large, sunny section of your yard.

'Endless Summer' (H. macrophylla) blooms for a long period and in very cold zones, making it the perfect choice for Northern gardeners.

The climbing hydrangea (H. anomala subsp. petiolaris) adds a surprise element with lacy blooms that cover the vigorous vines. For gardeners who want the unexpected.