Hydrangeas have large blooms, which bring flamboyant colour to the garden in late summer and autumn. This year they are flowering very well with very large flower heads due to recent rain. Hydrangeas like lots of moisture. They are easy to grow, dependable and they improve with age. Hydrangeas can be seen grown in the vast majority of gardens. They are true survivors and can be seen flowering in overgrown or neglected gardens. With a small amount of care they will really do well.
Grow hydrangeas in fertile, moist but well drained soil with compost added. Hydrangeas prefer dapple shade against a north or west-facing wall with some protection from cold winds, which burns the new foliage in spring. The flowers are likely to scorch if exposed to full sun. They need plenty of moisture during the summer.
The flowers come in a range of colours that include red, white, blue and various shades of pink. The flower colour depends on the cultivar and on the availability of aluminium in the soil, which is determined by the pH of the soil. On acid soils (pH 4.5-5.5) flowers may achieve intense deep blue colour, this changes to shades of pink as the soil pH increases. The blue colour flowers may be enhanced by a weekly application of blueing compound (aluminium sulphate). It may take a few years before the flower colour changes. Nurseries can grow perfectly blue hydrangeas in lime free compost but many of these will change to pink when planted in garden soil with some lime in it.
Pruning is not essential but may be done each spring as new shoots emerge. Since most hydrangeas flower on the previous years growth do not remove all of these shoots. Remove about a third of the older, less productive stems, cutting them back to ground level to encourage new shoots to grow from the ground. Leave old flowers heads on the shoots during the winter to give frost protection to the new delicate growth in spring. The old flower heads look fantastic when their brown papery domes are covered in frost. The flowers heads can be dried and sprayed with colour for winter decoration.
There are many cultivars of Hydrangea macrophylla (common hydrangea) producing red, pink and blue flowers that are either mophead or lacecap. Hydrangea paniculata produces beautiful cone-shaped flowers that are mostly white. There are several varieties of this shrub or small tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall. If pruned hard in spring it never gets out of hand and is ideal for the small garden. Hydrangea petiolaris is a climbing hydrangea, which will cover a shady wall, even a north facing wall, using its self-climbing shoots that attach themselves to the wall like ivy. It produces small white flowers that only last for a few weeks in summer and does not flower until the plant has matured. Hydrangea seemannii is an evergreen climbing plant that produces white flowers in summer.
This week we harvested some of our beetroot crop. The beetroot was pulled and the green leaves were twisted off about two inches from the top. Wash well in cold water, be careful not to break the small roots or cut the skin, do not peel the skin.
Place the beetroot in a large pot and cook steadily in boiling water for 2-3 hours until tender. Test by applying pressure with your finger. Do not use a knife, fork or skewer to test for tenderness.
Drain the water, allow to cool and remove the skin from the beetroot. Cut the beetroot into slices a quarter of an inch in thickness or cut into large cubes.
Place a pint of vinegar, a cup of finely chopped onions, a bay leaf, some parsley and thyme, an ounce of butter and a half pound of sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently with stirring for about 30 minutes to infuse the mixture. Add the sliced beetroot and heat for a further 30 minutes. Place the cooked beetroot in sterilised jars for storage over the winter.
Boyce’s Garden at Mountrenchard, Foynes, Co. Limerick is open daily to the public. Tel. 069 65302