By Naomi Slade
Published by Pavilion Books 9th July
RRP £25.00 hardback 239 pages
Photography: Georgianna Lane
Photo: my i-phone photo of Hydrangea Bluebird from Naomi Slade’s new book.
Having a beautiful book to read has helped me cope with the Covid Lockdown. Learning about favourite plants, and how to grow them, has given me something positive to focus on. And there is nothing more colourful and wonderfully inspiring than ‘Hydrangeas’ by Naomi Slade.
Photo: Hydrangea Polestar.
Naomi brings the subject of hydrangeas right up to date by focussing on the very latest plant breeding successes. Polestar, for example, only grows to a height of 50cm and is compact enough for a container. It’s one of the earliest to flower, and in my garden it’s in bloom from early June and continues right through to October. Even in winter, the papery, dried flower heads hold interest, as snow and frost settle on them. Truly, if you can have only one hydrangea, this would be the one. It would even fit in a window box or balcony garden.
Photo: Runaway Bride Snow White.
Runaway Bride Snow White, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant of the Year in 2018, produces flowers at the tips of the stems, like most other hydrangeas, and also from every leaf node along the stem. Naomi describes it as “airy and graceful, the modest green shrub adorned with pearls and strewn with confetti; a vision of purity that starts off a fresh, green-tinted white, and blushes to pink as maturity takes hold.”
I’ve always wanted to know the background to all these lovely varieties. Naomi selects the best hydrangeas and reveals how they were developed. Runaway Bride is the work of Japanese breeder Ushio Sakazaki who created many bedding plants, including the popular Surfinia petunias. He turned his attention to hydrangeas when he found a remote Asian species in the wild and, seeing its potential, crossed it with common Hydrangea macrophylla. The resulting plant produces wispy ‘lacecap’ flowers from late spring until Autumn. It makes a striking container plant, or would happily cascade over the top of a low wall.
As well as showcasing the latest hydrangeas, Naomi highlights heritage varieties such as the beautiful pale blue Otaksa. This cultivar dates back to the 1820s and was, rather romantically, named by Philipp Franz von Siebold after his Japanese wife. It is suggested the variety might have been naturally occurring and was discovered while Philipp worked as a physician and scientist for the Dutch East India Company in Japan. The couple had a daughter, Kusumoto Ine, who also became a practicing doctor – thought to be the first Japanese woman to have received medical training at this level.
It’s fascinating to learn then, that one of my favourite sky blue hydrangeas, Generale Vicomtesse de Vibraye, is a hybrid of H.m. ‘Otaksa’ crossed with H.m. ‘Rosea.’ Bred by Emile Mouillere in 1909.
The back story of how hydrangeas were discovered, hybridised, and sent to Britain as early as in the 1700s, adds interest to a plant that I’ve always loved, but rather taken for-granted. Naomi’s easy-to-read writing style carries you along and takes you on an international journey from North America, Japan, Korea, China and through Europe. And along the way you’ll learn that in Victorian times, a bunch of hydrangeas left on your doorstep implied the sender thought you a braggart! A rejected suitor might similarly send hydrangeas as a floral slap in the face and accusations of frigidity. Nothing surely would rescue the breakdown in that relationship!
Naomi captures the very essence of hydrangeas and what makes them special. I shall look at my own plants and appreciate them all the more, knowing where they have come from and what work has gone into growing them for today’s gardeners to enjoy.
NOTES: The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected by Pavilion Books.
Naomi Slade is a writer, broadcaster, author, consultant, speaker and photographer. A biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and with a lifelong love of plants, she writes regularly for national newspapers, magazines and other gardening media.
Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published internationally in books, magazines, calendars and greetings cards.
Hydrangeas features 50 of the most beautiful varieties from the elegant and airy to the bold and brilliant. There’s tips on growing in pots, hydrangeas as houseplants, feeding, propagating, pruning, and dealing with pests and diseases.
These are i-phone photos of pages of the book for the purposes of the review and, as such, do not do justice to the quality of the photography. Copyright of original photos: Georgianna Lane.
Naomi has a web book shop where there’s signed copies of all her books. There’s a 20 percent off offer on Hydrangeas at the moment, and books are available ahead of the 9th July publication date : http://www.naomislade.com/shop