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Hydrangeas: Uncommon Varieties for Your Garden

  • July 03, 2020

Daniel J. Hinkley grew up in Michigan, a place with serious Zone 4 winters and a repetitive palette of two white-flowered varieties of hydrangeas.

In many front yards, you could see Hydrangea paniculata Grandiflora, known as the peegee hydrangea and often trained like a small tree, or a wider-than-high mound of Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle, with its large, rounded flower heads.

But a guy can dream, and Mr. Hinkley did — and traveled, too, becoming a modern-day plant explorer. Botanical travel, he said, has made him a better gardener, informed about plants’ use and care by seeing where and how they grow in nature.

“Hydrangeas are wild plants,” he said, “and part and parcel of ecosystems all over the place.”

In the wild, though, hydrangeas don’t look much like the ones he grew up with, or like the big-leaf pink- or blue-flowered mopheads, Hydrangea macrophylla, that gardeners in more forgiving climates than the Midwest think of as synonymous with the genus name, and crave. That’s because the ancestors of those cultivated varieties weren’t created for curb appeal, guided by human hands, but to attract and sustain pollinators, guided by evolution.

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