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.
Herbaceous plant of the week
Ligularia is grown for its large brownish green leaves that are deep purple underneath. In late summer the plant produces deep orange daisy like flowers on stems up to 3 feet tall. The plant will attract large amounts of butterflies. Grow the plant in moderately fertile moist soil in full sun with some midday shade. Ligularia ‘Desdemona’ is a popular variety. Slugs and snails may damage the new emerging leaves in spring.
Jobs for the week
In the greenhouse, plants like tomatoes, peppers, chillies and cucumbers will continue to produce a plentiful supply of fruit. Removing the ripe fruit will encourage the green fruit to ripen.
To help lawns recover after the dry summer, apply an autumn lawn fertiliser to give the grass a boost before winter starts. This fertiliser is low in nitrogen and will help to produce a good root system to the grass. If there are bare patches in the lawn, sow some grass seeds and cover with a mixture of peat and sand. Apply the fertiliser when the grass is dry and there is no wind. Fertilisers can be applied by hand but it is easier and more accurate to use a spreader.
Tomato and Courgette Chutney
Tomato plants are producing a bumper crop at the moment and the surplus tomatoes can be used to made chutney. Take 2 lbs of tomatoes and place in boiling water to remove the skin, then slice them thinly and place in a heavy based saucepan. Finely chop half pound of courgettes and a half pound of onions and add to saucepan with a teaspoon of the following : salt, ground coriander, ground cinnamon and half teaspoon of paprika and a quarter pink of vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 mins. Add a further quarter pink of vinegar and 6 ozs. of brown sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chutney becomes thick and there is no excess water on the surface. Pour into hot jars, seal and store for a week before use.
The Limerick Flower and Garden Club will hold competition in the following categories on Tuesday the 9th of September in The Greenhills Hotel, Ennis Road, Limerick:
Growers: (a) 3 Blooms Dahlias, (b) 2 Stems of Flowers from the Garden
Novices: “Over the Rainbow”, an exhibit, space allowed 45cm
Intermediate: “Tranquility”, an exhibit to feature a figurine, space allowed 60cm
Advanced: “September Song”, an exhibit, space allowed 76cm
In addition there will be a demonstration by Anne Slattery.
Abbeyfeale Gardening Course
A local community group are hoping to run a practical gardening class in Abbeyfeale parish community garden over six nights this autumn. Subjects covered will include fruit bush pruning, preparing beds for the winter, setting winter vegetables, seed harvesting, composting etc starting Wednesday, September 10 from 6-8pm. Please contact 087 6866450 to book a place. The cost will be €30 payable on the first night.