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In Borders or Containers, the Dramatic Hydrangea Takes Center Stage

April 11, 1999|SUSAN HEEGER

Who can blame a hydrangea for bragging? Its nature is to flaunt what it has--enormous puffs of bloom or sugary lacework that floats atop wide green murmuring leaves. From summer to fall, when early showoffs have stopped performing, hydrangeas shine in full sun or part-shade, in flower borders or containers. Which is why this old bloom has made a comeback and is now available in a range of cultivars our grandmothers only dreamed about.

Native to woodlands in North and South America and East Asia, hydrangeas include more than 80 species of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and vines. Probably the best-known--and the most suited to Southern California--are Hydrangea macrophyllas, classified as either lacecaps or hortensias, depending on the composition and appearance of their flower heads. If these fluffy blooms are pink or blue, they might surprise you: In acid soil, pinks turn blue, but make it alkaline and the reverse is true. White hydrangeas aren't affected by soil pH.

Victorians loved these dainty beauties in many forms--from the eager climbers that decked their porches to the snowy peegee, a small tree that needs warm summers and winter chill to thrive. More at home in mild L.A., H. macrophylla, planted now before the heat of summer, is a snap to grow in rich, well-drained earth with plenty of water and annual cutbacks. Snip its blooms for the house or dry them for fall bouquets. Whatever you do, don't eat them, though. However winning, those flower buds are poisonous.

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