The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

The Back Yard: Not so Nanna

By Justin Newcombe

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It's time to take a new look at the old favourite hydrangea, writes Justin Newcombe.

Hydrangeas come in as many different colours and are a wonderfully showy addition to the garden. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Hydrangeas come in as many different colours and are a wonderfully showy addition to the garden. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

I would like to know who labelled the hydrangea the Nanna plant.

That's bull pucky, unless of course you mean Nanna is incredibly beautiful, soft, radiant, fresh, sophisticated, larger than life and downright spunky, because that's what you've got with hydrangeas. They come in piles of sassy colours, including deep burgundy, crisp white, pink, red and fresh granny smith tones.

The two main types of hydrangea are lace cap, which have a smaller understated charm, and mop top, which has bigger flowers and a more gregarious nature.

One fascinating thing about the hydrangea is that you can alter the colour depending on your soil type. This usually presents itself as a soil deficiency with the colours altering as the season progresses.

If the soils become alkaline, the blue-flowered varieties may lean toward pinker hues, while acid soils encourage pinks and reds toward blue tones.

In my experience hydrangeas, especially young plants, don't like full all-day sun, as they wilt, go yellow and flower poorly.

A semi-shaded cooler position is generally preferred with a free draining moist soil and plenty of mulch.

Hydrangea hype is always about the flowers, but the foliage also offers much, providing a fresh, lush background for your smaller plants and hedges. I also like them with Astelia silver spear (a silver flax). The contrast in foliage is really eye catching as the harder silver flax leaves highlight the softer, greener hydrangea foliage.

In sunnier aspects hydrangeas can flower early and this can be serious if you get a late hard frost, however for the most part they are problem free. Some folks shy away from hydrangeas because they need pruning over winter and you're left with a bunch of sticks poking out of the ground, but I would argue the hydrangea provides so much in a garden for nine months of the year that a three-month hiatus is hardly an unbearable burden when you're not in the garden during winter anyway.

As a general rule, cut your plants back 50 per cent to just above a new node or bud on the stem.

Your plants will look a little sad at this point but in a cultured "I know what I'm doing thanks very much" kind of a way.

The miniature varieties offer a lot for smaller gardens, which are usually walled and only have partial sun. In the right pot hydrangeas are a winner, just keep them well watered. The larger varieties, with their reliable, spectacular flowers, are etched into many childhood memories.

If you have a hydrangea looking a little sad, cut it back over winter.

Some of varieties' names are as spectacular as the flowers - my all-time favourite is the smoking jacket and carpet slippers-sounding "Geoffrey Chadbund".

Please don't label hydrangeas Nanna plants because you think they're boring and old-fashioned. Label them Nanna plants because they're colourful, beautiful and full of life, and because they're a la mode. If you don't believe me ask someone you can really trust. Ask your Nanna.

3 of the best: Garden snacks

1. Peas
The more you pick the more they grow, the more you eat the more you pick.

2. Strawberries
Between the kids, the birds and myself, not many seem to make the table.

3. Feijoas
Fruit of the gods - they're not so much a snack, more like a ripe savaging.

- NZ Herald

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