Smooth Hydrangea: It Grows On You

My relationship with Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) can be likened to an arranged marriage. I didn’t choose this plant, it was there when we moved into our house 13 years ago. At first I found it mildly disappointing. But as we shared good times and bad, my attitude moved to one of quiet affection.

Smooth Hydrangea, underplanted with Bishop's Weed
Smooth Hydrangea, underplanted with Bishop’s Weed

I can’t speak to the Hydrangea’s attitude, we don’t discuss our feelings much.

I have an instinctively standoffish attitude towards Hydrangeas generally, for reasons I can’t really articulate. It may stem simply from the name “Hydrangea” itself, which sounds somehow fussy and Victorian.

However, I have come to appreciate the big, white (never pink or blue) flower clusters, covered with bees in early summer. The rounded, dark green leaves are also nice. These shrubs look good in the back garden underplanted with variegated Bishops Weed (Aegopodium podagraria).

Smooth Hydrangea is happy in light or part shade. Also, turns out it is a pretty tough plant. During the drought of 2005, there were a couple of Hydrangeas I didn’t water at all. They withered away over the summer. I thought they were goners, but they bounced back the following spring.

They will also bounce back from aggressive pruning, though you may lose a year’s flowers.

Similarly, the Smooth Hydrangeas on the west side of the house don’t seem to mind growing in soil that tends to be fairly dry, due to a rain shadow cast by the eaves.

And I should add that Smooth Hydrangea is native to Eastern North America, including southern Illinois.

I used to think that my Smooth Hydrangeas were of the cultivar ‘Annabelle’. However, I now realize they must be some other variety, possibly ‘Grandiflora’. ‘Annabelle’ has huge flower heads, so big that they often flop over in the rain. The flowers on my Smooth Hydrangea are definitely smaller.

I am linking this post to the Wednesday Vignette meme hosted by annamadeit at Flutter and Hum.

Do you have Hydrangeas in your garden? Do you find that you and your Hydrangeas are growing closer together or further apart?

61 Comments on “Smooth Hydrangea: It Grows On You

  1. I have to say I have a fondness for them – but not in my current garden. I’m far too stingy with the water for them to be happy with me, but I still have three that are limping along. They are good indicator plants, for sure! I do appreciate that their blooms last for months on end. That part has not been lost on me, and if I ever find myself in a place where there is ample moisture year round, I will definitely plant some more. 🙂

    • The H. arborescens seem to do ok without a lot of water in my garden, though the books and websites say they like moist soil. Of course, this year we are having a ridiculous amount of rain.

      • I wish… Anything with ‘arborescens’ as part of its name will outsize my little garden. If my garden was a credit card, it would be wrought with fines – it is totally maxed out!

  2. I do have a fondness for these blousy, old-fashioned plants….especially in the rubbishy shade where so much else doesn’t bloom.

  3. Funny that you should ask this question. I do have quite a few hydrangeas in my garden. I planted them some years ago. They grow well but they don’t flower well. At least the ones that are planted under the maple tree. I like them alright but they are a disappointment in their blooming or rather lack there of. I think they need more sun. One of these days I will move them to the side lot, where the unwanted or over grown gets moved, and then I will plant something more appropriate for the site. Annabelle has been floppy this year. We have had so much rain. Normally she stays upright. I have often wanted a start of Smooth Hydrangea. It grows in the park where we often walk. It is a pretty plant. I wouldn’t grow the Bishops Weed here again. It is too invasive.

    • I don’t recommend anyone planting the Bishop’s Weed. You’re right, it is invasive. In this particular spot, though, I can keep it controlled.

  4. My relationship with hydrangeas is long-standing. Oak leaf hydrangeas are stalwarts of my back garden in the shade of large trees. Some years, they dry to a pale pink color and give further pleasure indoors; other years, they dry to a not appealing shade of brown.

    • I don’t have the oak leaf ones, they can be beautiful and there are so many varieties now. I wouldn’t mind planting one if I had the right spot.

  5. My grandparents had a hydrangea tree planted in a prominent space in their front yard with adirondack chairs arranged in front. So, every time I look at any of my many hydrangeas, I smile with wonderful memories. 🙂

  6. Arborescens is a gem in my book. I have numberous cultivars in the ornamental garden around the house and the wild H. radiata in the woodland. The cultivars have flowers about 9 months of the year, as I cut them back in February and they are blooming again by May.

    • It seems that arborescens is somewhat neglected compared to other species, which is a shame. Ours bloom June into August, then we have dried flowers, which Judy likes to bring into the house. How far do you cut them back?

  7. Glad you’ve come to an understanding with your hydrangea. I love them in all forms and colors but don’t have much luck with them. Where I grew up they were ubiquitous. Much like azaleas and daffodils, every household had hydrangeas.

      • I’ve tried them in different parts of the garden. Currently my mophead hydrangea is in full sun, which I was told was ok, but it’s pretty sunburned. Lost almost all its buds in a late freeze so isn’t blooming. I tried Hydrangea arborescens Incrediball ‘Abetwo’ in a shadier spot but I think it was too dry.

  8. No hydrangeas at the little house in the big woods, but they are not on my crotchet list the way peonies are. (I will admit that I’m starting to soften my stance on peonies.)
    It’s funny what make it to the crotchet list and what doesn’t 😉

    • Is a crotchet list something like a blacklist? If so peonies used to be on mine, but my spouse wore me down, and now I kind of like them.

  9. I have one Hydrangea, ‘Limelight’, which is not fussy about pH nor sun/shade. It fills an odd corner that sometimes gets no sun, then at the height of summer, gets an afternoon blast. I gave it lots of room when I planted it, and yet I still prune it early spring. Re the name, it hides the electric meter and telephone box; when the latter required access, I told the technician it was behind the Hydrangea – he thought I said “tarantula”. LOL! It needs an understory, though. I will look into Bishop’s Weed – thx for the idea.

  10. I love my Annabelles and hard prune them every year in late winter. That keeps the blooms smaller and not so floppy. Unfortunately, the deer love them also. Nice native hydrangea selection.

  11. My grandparents had a huge Hydrangea next to their house. It bloomed blue every year — a great memory from my childhood. I would love to have one but they don’t seem to care for our heat (I’ve attempted them in the past). Yours is lovely.

  12. I love your comparison to an arranged marriage, it was the same for me – with the hydrangea we inherited. It’s gone now, but for awhile we put up with each other.

  13. Arranged marriage! What a wonderful choice of words! I love your hydrangea, I agree though, it is an old fashioned sounding name, the white flowers are lovely. I have a few climbing ones, only small as yet but they have white flowers too, I do hope they grow.xxx

    • Lots of people had climbing hydrangea in Toronto, there were some really big ones. I’m sure yours will grow, i’ve heard they’re just a little slow to start.

  14. When I lived on the west coast I had a huge blue hydrangea of unknown variety in my front yard. And when I saw huge I really mean huge. One morning I woke up to the sound of giggling. A group of elderly tourists had snuck into the yardand were standing in front of it taking pictures. hahaha They could have just rung the doorbell! But I suppose it was more fun to be anarchist gardeners.

  15. I grow hydrangeas because I live in the woods and they can take quite a lot of shade. They also remind me of my grandmother who always called them snowballs, whether they were or not.

  16. If you are ever in Montreal, check out the hydrangea collection at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. I fell in love with them there. Alas, my sandy soil doesn’t hold on to moisture, so no hydrangeas in my garden.

  17. I’m one of the ones that enjoy hydrangea…their blooms last so long. I had blue “endless summer” at our cottage in Maine. They were very hardy even though the plants would wilt in the afternoon sun but perk back up when they weren’t in direct sunshine.

  18. For many years I thought mophead hydrangeas were the only thing around since they seem to define many southern gardens. Then I discovered there were lace cap, oakleaf and smooth hydrangeas and fell in love. For the past several years I have been incorporated these hydrangea in our garden. I have one smooth hydrangea and look forward to the day it is as large as yours.

  19. I have two types of hydrangeas in my garden, the old ‘smooth’ grandiflora that was here when we moved in almost 20 years ago and the tardiva that I planted not long after. This year the winter was so harsh that I had to cut the tardiva almost to the ground. They are coming back slowly, thank goodness, since they form a tall curtain of green and white in an area of the Lower Garden where I need just that. I’ll be writing about this part of the garden in a week or two, with photos of the pathetic remains of the chopped back version.

  20. I love how quietly funny your posts are. 🙂 I don’t have the magical combination of shade/moisture required to keep a hydrangea happy so I am hydrangea-less. I tried to keep a few alive in pots but they died. Our relationship was one of high expectations crippled by the harsh reality of life in a pot.

  21. I admit to be rather fond of Hydrangeas – my favorite being Oakleaf – my attempts to grow it out here have been dismal. While my Oakleaf sports maybe 3 dinky branches about 2’ tall, the clematis I have twining through it is a healthy 5’ wide sprawling all over creation. NOT what I had planned!

    Alan Armitage has a great story of 2 gals on horseback that discovered Annabelle in southern Illinois. You would enjoy!

    And a big THANK YOU for introducing me to Wednesday Vignette!

  22. I have fallen in and out and in love with them. I would have to say that we are growing further apart, but only because they have been moved to the outer edges of the garden, where they provide a stunning backdrop against the woodland’s edge.

  23. I have had a hard time with hydrangeas. Often they have had only leaves and no flowers, as the frost has been too hard. My best hydrangea is Limelight, which flowers on new shoots. When they bloom, they look stunning.

  24. I just pulled five miniatures and sent them off to new homes. Still have two Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Bird’ that sulk every summer and they are in the shade. At least the mopheads never sulked and bloomed their heads off. Your hydrangea is far too big for my garden. Took up too much space, that is why they were removed.

  25. Your Hydrangea could be the straight species, which has smaller flower heads than ‘Annabelle’. According to Plants of the Chicago Region, Hydrangea aborescens is found in Jasper County in northern Indiana and is bountiful at Starved Rock in LaSalleCounty.

  26. I love my hydrangeas. I especially love them now that they are in a space that can accommodate them without being in the way.

  27. I used to be a bit snooty about Hydrangeas, associating them with seaside retirement bungalows and chemically induced colour. But I love them now, specially white ones like yours. Sometimes you have to take a new look at plants and throw away your prejudices. Yours are lovely.

  28. Hello Jason, I’m very particular when it comes to hydrangeas and I’m afraid smooth hydrangea doesn’t do it for me, though I can appreciate the appeal. I like climbing, the odd panicle and lace-cap hydrangeas but they still seem a rather old-fashioned plant in need of a modern make-over.

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