Native Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Cape May, NJ -   Our oakleaf hydrangeas hypnotize me each June.  Huge cones of white flowers more than a foot long sway with every sea breeze.  In the evening, the white flowers glow, holding onto the light even after dusk.

Hard to believe these seven foot shrubs, dancing delicately in the wind, are native plants, distant cousins of the more familiar blue and pink mophead hydrangeas. They don’t fit the scrappy, native plant image.  Yet oakleaf hydrangeas grow wild in the woods down south. That’s their home.

I wasn’t anywhere near a woodland when I first saw masses of Hydrangea Quercifolia in bloom in June.  I was in Manhattan, on the Battery Park City promenade.

When I got back home, I visited Cape Island Home and Gardens in West Cape May and Cindy fixed me up with three nice specimens of Snow Queen – a popular oakleaf hydrangea cultivar.

Our oakleaf hydrangea family started to grow. The tall Snow Queens eventually led to several taller Alice cultivars. Then came the children – a half dozen shorter Sikes Dwarf shrubs were planted on the east side of the house. A Ruby Slippers and an Amethyst finished out the family.  For now.

I try to get in as much hydrangea gazing time as possible, while the shrubs are still fully in flower. Once the white blossoms start to fade, the flowers turn a delicate pink. Still very pretty.  In the fall, the broad oak leaves become the most beautiful crimson. In early spring, the emerging new leaves catch the light and herald the start of the new season.

Perhaps the best feature of these natives is that, once they’ve settled in, they’re drought tolerant. Considering our fickle weather these last few years, that is no small thing at all.

I don’t want to sound too gushy, but if there is a more perfect shrub for our Cape May garden, I don’t know what it is.

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About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak - a journalist, gardener and Cape Island resident - is writing a book.