Heavenly Hydrangeas (Part 2)

An unknown variety of lacecap hydrangea peeks through a fence in Washington DC

Last week I wrote about “mophead” hydrangeas that I grow in my garden. This week is let’s look at some “lacecap” varieties.  From a design standpoint, I love using this kind of hydrangea in woodland-style gardens for a more natural look; somehow the mopheads look out of place. Many clients I meet haven’t made the acquaintance of these  kinds of hydrangeas, and sometimes I gain a convert or two from people who didn’t think they liked hydrangeas at all.

Technically speaking, there are at least two kinds of lacecaps. Hydrangea macrophylla has two “sub-species,” the lacecaps (with “composite” styles of flowers) and the “mopheads” with globose-headed flowers. (A valuable guide to hydrangeas is the reference book Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide, by Toni Lawson-Hall and Brian Rothera, to which I am indebted in trying to explain this distinction).

Hydrangea 'Lanarth White'

The blooms of Hydrangea 'Lanarth White' in my garden

I’ll begin with my favorite. Hydrangea ‘Lanarth White’ is a stunning lacecap in my garden. I grow two of them in front of three dark, tall cherry laurels next to my deck. Except for this year, when the snows hit them hard, they have a fairly upright habit, since their flowers are lighter and airier than the big mopheads’ blooms. This hydrangea is more sun-tolerant than most, and easy to find in the trade. Its’ tiny fertile ‘true’ flowers, grouped in the center of the corymb, are blue in my soil and provide a nice landing platform for insects looking for nectar.

The other non-serrata lacecap that I grow is ‘Lilacina.’ This one tends to get tall and leggy so periodically I take out some of the largest canes in an attempt to keep it in scale.

Hydrangea 'Lilacina'Interestingly enough, its blooms begin as pink, then change over to the blue you see above. Here’s one of the initial flowers.

Hydrangea 'Lilacina'

The initial color of 'Lilacina's' blooms in my garden is pinkish.

Apart from the Hydrangea macrophylla lacecaps, there are the Hydrangea serrata varieties, native to the woodlands of Japan and Korea.( These are also sometimes listed as H. macrophylla subsp. serrata.) They stay smaller and are reputed to be more cold-hardy, although this is a matter of some debate among experts. My personal favorite in this group is ‘Blue Billows,’ shown below.

Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billows'

'Blue Billows' in my back yard, with ferns and a variegated boxwood in the background.

Hydrangea 'Blue Billows', Hosta 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake'

The blue color of its flowers is quite intense at the beginning. Shown with Hosta 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake' and autumn fern.

Finally, I have a few of the newer Japanese imports – one called ‘Purple Tiers’ and another called ‘Diadem.’ Their flowers are smaller and the infertile ones closer together. If you plant these in your garden, place them where their subtle, delicate beauty can be appreciated, for the flowers are fleeting.

Hydrangea 'Diadem'

The small, delicate flowers of Hydrangea serrata 'Diadem.'

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8 Comments on “Heavenly Hydrangeas (Part 2)”

  1. gardeningasylum Says:

    Melissa, great info – I didn’t know there were 2 types of lacecap – Blue Billows looks like a very nice one!

    • Melissa Says:

      I love it but have found it hard to find for clients, although you might be able to find it in a specialty nursery online that ships nationally. If not, look for ‘Blue Bird,’ which is a very similar serrata.

  2. Jean Says:

    Melissa, Heavenly, indeed! I adore lace-cap hydrangeas, and the blue and white ones are stunning. Love that hydrangea hanging over that white fence. Unfortunately, these hydrangeas don’t seem to really be cold-hardy here, so this is unrequited plant love for me.

    • Melissa Says:

      There’s always some plant we love that we can’t grow, no matter where we live, right? For me it would be meconopsis, delphiniums, and lots of other perennials that hate the clay soil and heat here.

      By the way, although I will officially announce it next week, you are the winner of the drawing for the custom header – congratulations!


  3. ‘Blue Billows’ is especially gorgeous! I am always on the lookout for blue flowers that look at bit turquoise, and to my eyes that one does, so I may have to add it to my collection.

  4. Sarah Snashall Says:

    Hi Melissa
    What lovely pictures. Are there any white lace cap varieties that you would recommend for a small garden. It’s really height I’m concerned about as I want something that won’t grow higher than about 2 to 3 feet. Am I being unrealistic?
    Best wishes Sarah

    • Melissa Says:

      Sarah, I personally don’t know of any white lacecap hydrangeas that stay that small. Even my Hydrangea Blue Billows, which are small, are now over three feet (although it took. Them a while to get that large). My Lanarth Whites are over five feet tall by now. Of course, if you’re willing to sacrifice a year of blooms you can always cut them back every three or four years when they get too high.

      • Sarah Snashall Says:

        Thank you so much Melissa for your suggestion. I think I’ll give the Blue Billows a try and see how I go. Pruning every few years sees like a good solution. Sarah


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