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Get Growing: Hydrangeas

Mopheads and lacecaps, PeeGees and snowballs — hydrangeas have captivated American gardeners for generations.

Blue hydrangeas are ubiquitous on Cape Cod and other coastal areas like Long Island. They are also found throughout the Midwest. But until recently they were difficult species for inland gardeners in New England because they bloom on old wood, that is, the buds were formed last summer to flower this year. Unprotected specimens would have their buds killed in harsh winters, especially open winters without snow cover. ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas were a great breakthrough in this regard because they bloom on new wood as well as old.

However, savvy gardeners have long been able to make the older blue varieties bloom by attending to the needs of the plant: part shade, abundant moisture in the growing season, and good mulch for winter. Ann Marie Kostecki has mastered the art of growing hydrangeas and you can, too. Carol Pope has a plethora of unusual hydrangeas purchased over the years from a variety of sources. She, too, knows how to meet their needs. And at Blithewold, the old estate garden in Rhode Island, granted a warmer hardiness zone, they grow a wide variety of hydrangeas, both traditional and modern cultivars.

Local nurseries and garden centers currently have a good supply of new cultivars such as ‘Little Lamb’ and ‘Pistachio’ with pink and purple flowers. By the way, it is more common to see blue-flowered hydrangeas in our area because they need acid soil, usually in abundance in the Pioneer Valley. To have pink flowers it is necessary to have limey or alkaline soil, so pockets of the Berkshires can grow these very well.

There are several good books available on growing hydrangeas: “Hydrangeas for American Gardens” by Michael Dirr, published in 2004; “Complete Hydrangeas” by Glyn Church, published in 2007; and the new handbook, “Hydrangeas in the North: Getting Blooms in the Colder Climates” by Tim Boebel. There is also an excellent guide to growing hydrangeas on the White Flower Farm website www.whiteflowerfarm.com.

LILY WEEKEND: This is lily weekend at Tower Hill Botanical Garden. The New England Lily Society is holding its convention there with a lily show and several workshops. The lily display will be on view 1-5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Learn to grow lilies organically tomorrow, 2-3 p.m. On Sunday, 2-3 p.m., there is a workshop on propagating lilies with scales from their bulbs. The lily show and the workshops are free with admission to the botanical garden: $12, adults; $9, seniors. For more information go to www.towerhillbg.org.

MEADOW GARDENS: Converting a lawn to a flower-filled meadow is popular these days but not as easy as it appears. Learn to do it properly in a workshop at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Deb Munson will lead a field trip to a 40-acre upland meadow planted with flowers a decade ago. Fee is $60. More information at www.berkshirebotanical.org.

BATH GARDEN WORKSHOP: Learn how to convert an old bird bath into a succulent garden on July 20 at Wistariahurst in Holyoke. Master Gardener Shari Petrucci will demonstrate modifying a birdbath as an elevated planter. Fee is $45, which includes a bird bath garden to take home. To register and for additional information go to www.wistariahurst.org.

WEEDS: Randy Prostak, UMass Extension weed specialist, will discuss solutions for common weed problems July 25, 7-8:30 p.m. at Elm Bank in Wellesley, the home of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Of 200 known weed species in Massachusetts, only 15 to 20 cause real problems to home gardeners. Learn how to prevent or eradicate them with the least amount of detrimental impact to the environment. Fee, $15; members, $10. Visit www.masshort.org.

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