In an area of Japan where the mophead or bigleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, grows wild along the coast line, there is something magical happening higher up in the chilly mountains. This is the home of the mountain hydrangea, Hydrangea serrata.
You might have been under the idea the mophead or bigleaf hydrangeas were from France, as they are most often called French hydrangea.
You might also be under the mistaken idea that you need a cool mountaintop to grow these extraordinary hydrangeas but this is simply not the case. Tim Wood with Spring Meadows Nursery has been breeding and selecting mountain hydrangeas, several of which are incredible and fall under the Tuff Stuff series of Proven Winners.
How tuff or tough are they, you ask? My friend Dr. Gary Knox with the University of Florida has been wowed by Tuff Stuff performance, habit and reblooming at the Gardens of the Big Bend in Quincy, Fla. He is also finding success with Tuff Stuff Red that is purple there by virtue of soil pH, and the Tiny Tuff Stuff that is more compact.
The Garden Guy has about 25 hydrangeas in his landscape in Midland, Ga. I have Hydrangea macrophylla varieties, H. paniculata selections, and a couple of H. arborescens but it is the Hydrangea serrata Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha that has completely blown me away with not only its beauty, but the size of blooms.
They are so beautiful I try almost every day to capture it in a photograph. It should be rather simple but nothing I do tells the story of my passion for this plant. I’ll keep trying. In the landscape they will need shade in the hot afternoon. Moist, fertile well-drained soil will give you the green thumb with this plant.
Recently I have created a winding river-like planting of variegated Shadowland Etched Glass hostas through the hydrangeas. The dark green and bright yellow variegation in combination with the Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha blue flowers is nothing short of a dream come true. I mentioned the re-blooming in the Florida trials and this is a hallmark with not only Tuff Stuff Ah-HA but all of the series. My first flowers are beginning to diminish and new blooms forming throughout the plant.
There is a large area of the country that can plant the Tuff Stuff mountain hydrangeas as they are recommended for zones 5-9. So, let the search commence now and this weekend, let the planting begin.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)