Looking for a showy native shrub?
It seems that new hydrangea cultivars appear everywhere you look, but this old stand-by is tried and true. Consider Hills-of-Snow smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Grandiflora’) for your garden. It was discovered growing in the wild in Ohio around 1900 and is native to moist, wooded slopes and stream banks from New York to Iowa and across the southeast.
This lovely granddame is covered in large (2-6”) flower clusters from early June into the fall. Blooms emerge pale green, age to creamy white, and then dry to a tawny brown. While it is considered hardy to zone 3 or 4, it may die back almost to the ground in harsh winters. Since it blooms on the current season’s wood, this won’t affect its flower display and could even help it – pruning to 6” in late winter to encourage vigorous stem growth. Any pruning should be done before the growing season, so that flower buds aren’t cut off.
Hills-of-Snow smooth hydrangea wants consistent moisture, part shade and average, well-drained soil. It will tolerate full sun if it doesn’t dry out. In a good location, expect this shrub to grow quickly to reach a height of 6’ and easily spread 5’ or more. Expect its blooms to nod during a rainfall, but they’ll stand up again- they aren’t as big as those of their cousin ‘Annabelle’, and the stems can handle the weight pretty well.
Elegant enough for a formal courtyard of native plants with cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) and foamflowers (Tiarella spp.), Hills-of-Snow hydrangea also plays well with other wood’s edge natives like asters (Aster) and columbine (Aquilegia).
With so many excellent hydrangea options on the market, I could never pick a favorite, but this tough garden stunner is a great one to consider. (Okay, actually oakleaf hydrangea - H. quercifolia - is my hands down favorite, but that's for another post...)