It’s no secret that climate change is wreaking havoc on our gardens but just in case you need a little refresher, let’s review the past few years. While we may be experiencing mild El Nino weather now (peppered with a short record-breaking cold spell), the last two winters have been extreme with sudden temperature drops, prolonged below-freezing temperatures and atypical thick, wet snow. This has resulted in the outright mortality of our rosemary plants and California lilacs (Ceanothus ‘Victoria’), and loss of overwintered flower buds on camellias, rhododendrons, and Pieris, as well as plenty of split stems and broken branches on our Japanese maples and magnolias.
The seemingly never-ending wet springs have delayed flowering and hindered essential pollinators for our plum, peach, and cherry crops, and even a casual glance at any member of the prunus family will reveal the "Swiss cheese" leaves of Coryneum blight on our flowering cherries, purple-leaf plums, and English laurels. Then Mother Nature decides to suddenly turn off the tap and leaves us nothing but a summer of drought with brown lawns, scorched trees, dead heathers, and a lot of gardeners who are very reluctant to replace anything in their landscape, and to be honest, I can’t blame them.
But it isn’t all bad news as some plants have been showing a degree of resiliency, much in part to the work of modern breeders. One genus in particular has been pulling its weight throughout these extremes, surviving the winters and blooming for months on end during the summer, and this genus is hydrangeas, in particular Mophead (Hydrangea macrophylla), PeeGee (Hydrangea paniculata), Mountain (Hydrangea serrata), Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia) and Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). Collectively, these are now my top-selling shrubs, surpassing even rhododendrons, which were once the backbone of our nursery sales. So here are just a few of the recently introduced, or 2024 hydrangea introductions, that we will be offering this upcoming spring, plants which can ride the roller coaster of unpredictable weather and still provide a long and reliable display of flowers.
Hydrangea ‘Let’s Dance Sky View’
(Hydrangea 'Let's Dance Sky View' | 📸 Proven Winners)
'Let's Dance Sky View' is a 2023 introduction from Proven Winners. It is a tough hybrid of Hydrangea macrophylla and Hydrangea serrata with great cold hardiness and the ability to overwinter those flower buds. Add to this the fact that it also blooms on new wood and you can expect colour from early summer through the autumn. Expect ball-shaped blooms of a pale sky blue (in acid soils) and individual florets accented with a white-ringed green eye. It is quite compact at only 3’ tall and is hardy to USDA zone 4.
Hydrangea ‘Dragon Baby’
(Hydrangea 'Dragon Baby' | 📸 Bloomin' Easy)
'Dragon Baby' is a sun- and drought-tolerant (once established) new variety. This Hydrangea paniculata cultivar is also uber compact and cold hardy, so it will fit in smaller urban landscapes and will even thrive in large patio containers. Because it blooms on new wood, flowering from midsummer right into the heavy frosts is assured, with the large cone-shaped blooms emerging a lovely lime green, shifting to white with hints of antique pink and finally fading to a rich rose-pink. It also makes for great cut flowers. This beauty only grows to 3’ tall and is hardy to USDA zone 3.
(Hydrangea 'Cherry Go Round' | 📸 Bloomin' Easy)
'Cherry Go Round' is a reblooming Hydrangea macrophylla with absolutely blazing cherry-red flowers that smother the canopy from late spring, through the summer and into autumn. Here’s the best part, this new variety only grows 2-3’ tall and wide, so this is a real contender in tight townhouse gardens and those foundation beds that we don’t want to overcrowd. The stems are also quite sturdy so cut flowers are also an option here. Hardy to USDA zone 5.
(Hydrangea 'Snowcicle' | 📸 Plants Nouveau)
'Snowcicle' is a full-sized beauty with something completely unique to offer in the flower department. This new Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) bears massive (12-14” long) double blooms of creamy-white, which fade to tones of olive green, rose red and cream – at which time the individual florets much resemble those of flowering oregano. Add to that the beautiful oak-shaped foliage that shifts to hues of burnt orange and deep wine, and you have a real showpiece that also tolerates partial shade quite well. The stems are also much sturdier than older varieties, growing 4-6’ tall and wide. Hardy to USDA zone 6.
Hydrangea ‘Little Fresco’
(Hydrangea 'Little Fresco' | 📸 PlantippBV)
'Little Fresco' is a new ultra compact panicle hydrangea that is rated at only 30” tall, so it will probably mature somewhere around 3’. Hard pruning can keep it to a smaller size and since it blooms on new wood, pruning would be done from late winter to early spring. Expect large cone-shaped blooms that emerge creamy-white tinged with green and fade to a rich peony pink. Ideal for containers and hardy to USDA zone 4.
(Hydrangea 'Eclipse' | 📸 First Editions)
Here’s a new mophead hydrangea with rich burgundy-black foliage that will rival any weigela or physocarpus. Not only that, but it does not fade to green by midsummer; it retains its leaf colour intensity throughout the growing season. Add to this the cranberry-red blooms with white-eyed florets that literally glow against the nearly black greenery. ‘Eclipse’ has also consistently overwintered its bloom buds in regions rated down to USDA zone 5. Grows 3-5’ tall and wide.
(Hydrangea 'Incrediball' | 📸 Proven Winners)
This improvement on the popular ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea has some of the largest blooms available -- up to 12” in diameter! -- and they also make long-lasting cut and dried flowers. The pure white slightly compressed balls fade to a rich emerald green and are held on sturdy stems that won’t splay all over the lawn after a rain. ‘Incrediball’ is also incredibly cold hardy (as well as heat tolerant) and blooms on new wood, so your summer flower display is assured. Grows 4-5’ tall and hardy to USDA zone 3.
(Hydrangea 'Starfield' | 📸 Plants Nouveau)
'Starfield' is another newer compact and repeat-blooming mophead hydrangea that is coming your way soon. The few plants I received already were literally smothered in large pink blooms (that may shift to blue in an acidic pH), but what really stood out for me were the doubled starry-shaped florets that gave the blossom a very lacy effect. Although very compact at only 2-3’ tall and wide, the flower power on this one will definitely be evident from afar. Hardy to USDA zone 5.
Given their popularity, we have decided to offer our hydrangeas for presale. You can reserve your favourites right now by clicking this link.