old fashioned purple hydrangea
Image: Kate Bryant
Unknown cultivar of a fine, old-fashioned purple mophead hydrangea. Flowers start out pink, shifting to deep violet purple over a period of weeks in June and July

Whether you're hunting for the rarest collector's species Hydrangea or just a trusty old variety that will look pretty and thrive in your garden, specialty growers have it. And whilst roaming through fields and greenhouses is its own form of pleasure, even better is the opportunity to ask questions from someone who really knows their stuff. There's nothing a plant geek likes better than someone who wants to know more about the object of their own obsession.

Hydrangeas have a reputation for being old-fashioned "granny plants" but they actually run the gamut from commonplace to truly rare and unusual.

Most old Portland homes have a few blue mopheads (round flower truss) or pink lacecap (flat flower truss) hydrangeas growing around the foundations. If those aren't your cup of tea, look for some of the more unusual members of the genus: subtle pee gee and tree hydrangeas with creamy white flowers; furry-leaved Aspera hydrangeas that can reach 15' tall and wide; varieties with lemon yellow or cream-variegated foliage; burgundy-leafed forms; elegant climbing hydrangeas; useful evergreen hydrangeas; or, my personal favorites, the oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia). Oakleaf hydrangeas have gorgeous, lobed leaves; lovely cinnamon brown, peeling bark; and apple green buds that form creamy white, cone-shaped clusters of papery florets aging to tawny buff. There are adorable compact forms to just a couple feet high and large selections that can reach 6' tall and 8' wide. I'm partial to the frilly double flowered forms (Snowflake is my absolute favorite) but who wouldn't love Little Honey - an oakleaf with golden leaves? 

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'
Image: Kate Bryant
Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake,' a double form of the oakleaf hydrangea.

Still, in my opinion, it's hard to top a lusty gorgeous, purple mophead hydrangea in June and July. There's an immense, old-growth Hydrangea macrophylla with glowing, rich purple flowers, variety unknown, in front of my house. It inspires tremendous plant lust every year in June, when perfect strangers knock on my door to ask what it is.

Which is how I met Kristin VanHoose, the owner of Hydrangeas Plus. I called her a few years ago to pick her brain about which cultivar it might be. Being a hydrangea nut, she helped me figure out the closest facsimile so I'd have something to tell the hordes of enquirers knocking at my door. (She suggested Hydrangea macrophylla 'Oregon Pride', by the way, for its rich purple mophead blossoms.) And while the catalog pic shows a pink hydrangea, it should be noted that most purples start out pink: to lower the pH and change the color, add acidic fertilizer - the plant will develop more and more deep purple tones over the years. Not all hydrangeas' blossom colors will change, however... For more information about Hydrangea cultivation, including on changing the color of your hydrangea and more, read these Hydrangea Plus FAQs and check out some of the site's useful Hydrangea links.

Hydrangea paniculata Limelight
Image: Kate Bryant
Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'

She also carries some of my other fave hydrangeas - click over to the Hydrangeas Plus online catalog to see more. (Or order a luxurious Hydrangeas Plus color catalog for $5.) Order on line during the sale or stop by the sale to find killer deals on a range of hydrangeas, including some in larger sizes - big enough to heft up in your garden this very summer. 

WHAT: Hydrangeas Plus Annual Spring and Overstock Sale
WHEN: Saturday, April 27 and runs through Saturday, May 11, 2013, 10 am - 4 pm
WHERE: Order sale hydrangeas on line or call 503-651-2887 to arrange a visit: 6543 S. Zimmerman Road, Aurora Oregon 97002 / Directions here.

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