The Martha's Vineyard hydrangea.


There are lots of wonderful July blooming shrubs that you can choose from when it comes to adding color and excitement to your yard, but probably the most popular one of all is the hydrangea — in all of its many variations.  There are options for full sun to full shade, some with big globes of flowers and others with delicate lace-cap flowers, climbing ones in both evergreen or deciduous models — in short, pretty much a hydrangea for any location in the garden.  Until recently, they all came with green leaves.  Now that has all changed.

I have never quite understood what is wrong with good old-fashioned green leaves, but breeders have spent countless lifetimes searching the wilds for those one-of-a-kind exceptions.  There are dark-leaved nine barks, yellow and purple smoke bushes, sumacs, elderberries, and of course a gazillion flavors of barberries, but until recently not much to get excited about in the hydrangea world. 

Years ago, I planted a yellow-leafed hydrangea called ‘Lemon Daddy’ — which never bloomed worth a darn and no matter where I moved it, it seemed to always burn.  I also tried a yellow-leaved oak leaf variety called ‘Little Honey’, which also turned out to be a dud (at least in my garden.)  I do have a very nice yellow and green variety that a close friend gifted me from her garden called ‘Lemon Wave’ that is quite happy sitting in morning sun and afternoon shade.  I have no plans to relegate it to the compost pile like the others.

As for hydrangeas with dark purplish leaves, several new introductions are now available to try out that are looking to be keepers.  Monrovia Nursery, a large national grower, has introduced two varieties in their Seaside Serenade Collection, ‘Fire Island’ and ‘Hamptons’, that sport dark bronze foliage early in the season that turns to a dark rich green later in the summer.  Monrovia has also introduced a different species of hydrangea (Hydrangea aspera) called ‘Plum Passion Improved’ which they describe as follows: “A delightful, densely branched hydrangea with green-purple new foliage that ages to a deep purple with rosy purple undersides and is contrasted nicely by bicolor lace cap summer blooms. Captivating fall foliage develops golden topsides, while retaining its purple undersides. A wonderful accent for shady borders and cottage gardens.”  Needless to say, I am looking for a spot to try one.

One other dark-leaved variety that has come to my attention is ‘Miss Saori’, a Plant of the Year winner back in 2014.  It was bred in Kyoto, Japan by a young horticulturist named Ryoji Irie, who named it after his then-fiancé and now current wife (it’s always nice to have a good story with a plant name).  In addition to striking dark foliage, it has double flowers with creamy centers and shocking pink margins.  ‘Miss Saori’ also has a nice compact growth habit.  It is for sure a candidate for my “favorite plants” list.

July is the perfect time to check out all the wonderful variations of hydrangeas that are currently on the market, many of them are now coming into full bloom.  The ones I’ve described should be available as well and ready for taking home to be planted in your garden.  July is a good time to plant, just remember to water them in thoroughly.  Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, and can be reached at

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