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Cape Cod is home to many hydrangeas. The landscapes of this historic and idyllic region of southern New England are adorned with spectacular specimens. The Cape Cod Hydrangea Society is a vibrant and caring organization that has educated the region on hydrangeas, what they call “the iconic flower of the Cape”. And the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts dedicate an impressive number of working hours and space to hydrangeas throughout the park, including an exhibit garden and a trial garden.
Mal Condon is the hydrangea curator at Heritage. He has been multiplying and cultivating hydrangeas for 45 years. It only takes a few minutes while chatting with Condon to realize that he is overflowing with knowledge about hydrangea and that his love for this culture is genuine. With all the hype around hydrangeas, Cape Cod is sort of a mecca for a crop that has become very valuable to the green industry.
“Hydrangeas are the # 2 shrub behind roses, and I think they’re so popular because of the gorgeous flower,” says Condon. “With different species, you can have sequentially flowering shrubs and a summer full of hydrangea flowers. These are plants that home gardeners can handle very well and take great pleasure in. I don’t see that changing.
At Heritage, the hydrangea show garden came first. With nearly 2 acres, the Exhibition Garden is a joint effort between the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society and the museum. The initial planting began in 2008 and continued until 2010 with relocations and expansions in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The show garden is home to eight species of hydrangeas and over 160 cultivars. It is maintained almost exclusively by the company.
“The exhibition garden is largely made up of macrophylls, but we have a decent amount of paniculatas and serratas, well, ”says Condon. “We also have a lot of inherited varieties that are generally not commercially available. I’m trying to locate some of the old ones arborescens cultivars.
An idea takes shape
The trial garden was designed by Dr. Michael Dirr, whose selections and breeding of hydrangeas helped catapult the cultivation’s popularity. Dirr brought up the idea at the Hydrangea 2015 conference at Heritage and by the time the event ended, a plan was in place to move forward. Dirr, Bailey Nurseries, Star Roses & Plants, the American Hydrangea Society and the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society have committed a total of $ 100,000 to start the trial garden.
“I helped Heritage get grants and asked people like Mark Sellew from Prides Corner, Tim Wood from Spring Meadow, Greenleaf and others to donate plants, and all of them responded positively,” remembers Dirr.
The trial garden’s mission is to test the latest hydrangea introductions across the species spectrum and report on performance, Dirr says. But there are a few “old standards” included in the design for performance comparisons, Condon adds.
The North American Hydrangea Trial Garden
Les Lutz, director of horticulture at Heritage, designed the test garden, which includes sun and shade conditions for hydrangeas, as well as hardscapes, ponds and complementary perennials, shrubs and trees. .
“Les created a beautifully designed garden, rich in horticulture and integrated with all kinds of plants, not just test rows with ugly road signs,” says Dirr. “The occasional visitor should sleepwalk around the garden and not come away with new ideas.”
The Trial Garden opened in the summer of 2016 with the goal of becoming the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the United States, Condon said. As of June 2020, 244 hydrangeas were being assessed, including: H. arborescens (35 plants and eight cultivars); H. macrophylla (136 plants and 21 cultivars);
H. paniculata (67 plants and 11 cultivars); and H. serrata: (three plants and 1 cultivar).
There is a strong emphasis on H. macrophylla in the trial garden as it constitutes the majority of commercial production.
“Macs are great – they’re still tough and they have a wide variety of textures and colors,” says Condon. “We talk a lot about macrophylls, But paniculatas and arborescens are bulletproof. These are my favorites, and once established they suit us so well.
the macrophylls are evaluated for their winter hardiness / buds, ability to bloom again, density of flowering, quality of flowering, general growth and size characteristics, sun tolerance and pest and plant pressure. diseases.
Emphasis is placed on the ability to bloom again in the trial garden because the market places a lot of emphasis on this characteristic. All the stem ends are pinched in July – an action Condon calls their “most critical test” – to assess the number of new inflorescences that develop in late August and September.
The Trial Garden is located in USDA Hardiness Zone 6a, while the rest of Cape Town is 7a. Land preparation is a critical step in gardens where the soils are a glacial marine composition with veins of stone, sand and clay, says Condon.
“We mix the compost produced on site with our inherent glacial soil. In the worst case, we examine them to remove the sometimes significant content of the rubble, ”he explains.
Pruning is a two-step practice in late winter and early spring.
“Aging stems are first removed for regeneration pruning in March and early April. All vibrant wood is left until retail pruning is complete in May, when the defective top stem wood is removed, ”he says. “This seasonal pruning approach maintained a very high percentage of vital wood while maximizing flower bud development.”
Plants are not treated with insecticides or fungicides once in the ground.
The Condon team applies a controlled-release fertilizer in the spring of just 3 to 4 ounces per established plant for all hydrangea species. The typical formulation of NPK is 14-3-17, he says.
All plants receive surface / drip irrigation. The garden installs transmitter rings around each plant and “connects them to create effective zone loops for absolute control of the volume of water applied and the frequency of application,” says Condon. “It has become our practice to install irrigation a few days after the end of any planting project. Overall, this irrigation approach had a very positive impact on plant vigor, uniformity of growth, and reduction of leaf spots.
It all comes down to helping breeders and growers analyze this genus to select the best performing and perfect new cultivars, says Condon.
In 2020, the test garden named H. macrophylla Summer Crush as the best performer.
“Summer Crush has excellent pigmentation, and heavily pigmented flowers are all the rage these days,” says Condon.
In 2020, the trial garden grew by about 30% and is now nearly 3 acres. A group of volunteers nicknamed the Diggermen dedicated more than 300 hours, including the irrigation work.
“It was amazing what we were able to do and I’m thrilled with the expansion,” says Condon.
Heritage hosted a smooth opening – with many security protocols in place – in August 2020.
For more: heritage museums andgardens.org
In search of the perfect H. macrophylla
Mal Condon says that if breeders could produce the ideal macrophylla for today’s market needs, it would measure no more than 3 feet by 3 feet at maturity with stiff stems and short node spacing. She is said to be cold hardy with excellent stem / bud survival for good growth in summer and another growth in fall.