Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

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When you think of Hydrangeas, do you think of the blue or pink poofy flowers growing in your grandmother’s garden?  Those mop-head Hydrangeas are still popular with many, and we have a few left by a previous owner.  But there are many other sorts of Hydrangeas available that offer a bit more character and a longer season of interest.

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The oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is native to the Southeastern United States.   It is a tall, woody deciduous shrub; hardy, drought tolerant, and somewhat deer resistant.  I say ‘somewhat’ because we have had newly planted ones grazed in our garden.  But there are other, more tasty shrubs the deer prefer!  Once established, these Hydrangeas will only rarely be touched by deer.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea in early June

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The oakleaf Hydrangea was first noted by Pennsylvania botanist William Bartram as he explored the area now known as the Carolinas, south to Florida, in the 1770s.  It is one of the plants he collected and exported back to England for the nursery trade.

This is a tall, understory shrub with coarse foliage.  The flowers are white, sometimes fading to cream or pink as they age.  The flowers are good in a vase fresh or dried.

I like the oakleaf Hydrangea because once its huge, cone shaped flowers emerge in early May, they remain beautiful for many months.

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Even into winter, the flowers dry on the shrub and add interest.  Once the leaves finally fall, the remains of the flowers cling to the woody frame of the plant.

The oakleaf Hydrangea’s large, interesting leaves turn vivid scarlet and remain vibrant for many weeks before they eventually fall.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea in October

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There are several interesting cultivars of the native species, and we grow H. ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which is a dwarf variety with pinkish flowers, and H. ‘Snow Queen.’  Most Hydrangeas are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, by digging up a new shoot with roots attached, or by layering.  Oakleaf Hydrangea looks good as a specimen, a hedge, or even as an alle’e, on a large property.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea December 2017

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There are a number of beautiful species and cultivars within the Hydrangea genus, and all have great character.  I’ve grown many of them over the years, including the H. macrophylla that bloom in pretty pinks and blues and purples.  Some are quite fussy and challenging to grow, requiring plenty of moisture and shade to thrive.

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But the oakleaf Hydrangea is as tough and sturdy as its name implies.  Hardy to Zone 5, it can adapt to a variety of soils and light.  Happiest in partial shade, growing under the canopy of mature trees, it can manage with full sun, too.  You can even grow a new shrub in a pot for a year or two before moving it out into the garden, as it grows larger.

If you’ve not yet grown Hydrangea quercifolia, you might consider adding this elegant, hardy shrub to your garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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WPC: Weathered Flowers

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Flowers have survived on our Hydrangea quercifolia shrubs longer this season than ever before.  From buds to these weathered remnants, we have enjoyed them daily over their season.

This is the longest they’ve ever lasted, as some years the flowers  are eaten off of our oakleaf Hydrangeas by hungry deer before the flowers fully mature.

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I see these winter wilted leaves and weathered flowers as a small sign of victory in our ongoing struggles with this garden.  Like an elderly person, a story of survival is told in every detail of their countenance.

Winter teaches us to find beauty in all stages of life.  It shows us the dignity of strength and tenacity, and serves as

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Allium flowers, gone to seed, and now with the seeds mostly blown away.  Their structure and grace remains.

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“…a reminder that there’s beauty to be found in the ephemeral and impermanent.”

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

Sunday Dinner: Grateful

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“I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.
It is surprising how contented one can be
with nothing definite –
only a sense of existence.
… I am ready to try this 
for the next ten thousand years,
and exhaust it …
 My breath is sweet to me.
O how I laugh when I think
of my vague indefinite riches.
No run on my bank can drain it,
for my wealth is not possession
but enjoyment.”
.
Henry David Thoreau
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“Be thankful for your allotment in an imperfect world.  
Though better circumstances can be imagined,
far worse are nearer misses
than you probably care to realize.”
.
Richelle E. Goodrich
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“You have to be able to slow down enough
to switch your focus away from
all the ways things could be better,
to know how good they already are.”
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Katherine Ellison
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“One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness
has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”

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David Steindl-Rast
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“It’s a funny thing about life,
once you begin to take note
of the things you are grateful for,
you begin to lose sight
of the things that you lack.”
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Germany Kent
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“Behind every creative act is a statement of love.
Every artistic creation is a statement of gratitude.”
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Kilroy J. Oldster
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“The single greatest cause of happiness is gratitude.”
.
Auliq-Ice
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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Don’t ever stop believing in your own transformation.
It is still happening
even on days you may not realize it
or feel like it.”
.
Lalah Delia

Fabulous Friday: The Napping Bee

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I was trecking through the garden a bit earlier than usual this morning.  Thank the doe I spotted strolling in the lower garden, for that.  The cat and I were enjoying the best of early morning on our dew dampened deck when she strolled into view, gazing up at us way too innocently.

Not yet dressed for the garden, at least I had on some old jeans and a pair of deck shoes.  I took off for the back door, grabbed the long baton we keep there for such activities, and headed out to inspire her swift departure.  Since my camera was right there on the kitchen counter, I grabbed it too, and headed down the hill in pursuit.

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Mrs. Doe knows us well.  And she soon realized that since it was just me, she could lead me on a merry chase.

Across the bottom, back up hill, through the perennials in front; she thought she had found refuge by lying down under our stand of Mountain Laurel.  But I still saw her, still as she was in the shadows, and let her know it was time to go.

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Once she had leapt the fence back to the neighbor’s yard next door, I hung out for a while, taking photos and listening for her to try to sneak back in.

And that is when I spotted the napping bee.  These bumblies don’t have hives, like honeybees.  And it isn’t unusual to find them, sleeping still, in the cool of early morning, clinging to the same flowers they visited last evening.

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Breakfast at the Agastache…

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A few of its mates were lazily slurping their breakfasts nearby.  Perhaps their night time perch had already been warmed by the sun.

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Allium, Verbena bonariensis and Coreopsis all delight hungry pollinators.

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Our sunny perennial beds are planted to attract as many pollinators as we can. The Agastache, in its third year, has grown into a gigantic mass of nectar rich flowers.  It will bloom steadily now until frost.

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Agastache with white mealy cup sage, white Echinacea, purple basil, thyme, dusty miller and a calla lily offer plenty of choices for our pollinators.

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Looking around, the feast is definitely laid for the wild creatures who frequent our garden.  There are ripening berries and abundant insects for our several families of birds.  There are plenty of flowers beckoning bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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And, there are plenty of ants marching along in formation to feed the skinks who sun themselves on our porches.   A huge rabbit, maybe even bigger than our cat, was munching grass on the front lawn at dusk last night.  And we’ve found several box turtles, who eat most anything, sheltering among the perennials.

And how could the deer not look in through the fences, and use every brain cell they’ve got to find a way into the garden?  Sadly, unlike our other garden visitors, their munching harms the plants and destroys the beauty of the place.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, although native in our region, is still loved by hungry deer. This is our first year to enjoy more than a single bloom or two. I keep it sprayed with Repels-All.

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The doe who called me outside this morning was the third deer in two days, and she returned with a friend just an hour or so later, while I was brewing coffee.  By partner and I teamed up to help them both find their way back out.  That was a respectable work-out for both of us!

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The summer blooming Crinum lily is poisonous. This is one of the few lilies we dare grow, as it isn’t grazed and the bulbs won’t be disturbed by rodents. Hardy in Zone 7, this lily is long lived and the clump expands each year.

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When I went back outside, a bit later, to begin my day’s tasks in the garden; my partner took off to Lowe’s for a fresh bag of Milorganite.   Inches of rain, earlier this week, must have washed away what was left.

The Milorganite really does work.… until it doesn’t.  It’s not hard to tell when it’s time for a fresh application.  It might last as long as a couple of months, unless we have a heavy rain.

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I ended my morning’s gardening by spreading the entire bag of Milorganite, making sure to also cover that sweet spot under the Mountain Laurel where the doe believed she could hide.

By then, the sun was fully warming the front garden.  Our napping bee had awakened, and gotten on with the serious business of sipping nectar and collecting pollen.

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When I was young, I collected bumblies just like her in a glass jar with holes poked in the lid, just to observe the bees up close.  The delight in watching these creatures go about their work has never faded.

Now, it is fabulous to watch our June garden host so many wild and beautiful visitors.

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“The keeping of bees
is like the direction of sunbeams.”
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Henry David Thoreau
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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Wednesday Vignette: Peace

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Peace begins with a smile..”
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Mother Teresa

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness:

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate:

only love can do that.”

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Martin Luther King Jr.

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“The day the power of love overrules the love of power,

the world will know peace.”

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Mahatma Gandhi

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.

If you are attentive, you will see it. ”

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Thich Nhat Hanh,

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path,

I walk in peace.

With each step, the wind blows.

With each step, a flower blooms.”

.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Still Optimistic….

One of the beautiful Oakleaf Hydrangea, "Snow Queen",  in early June, soon after it was purchased.

One of the beautiful Oakleaf Hydrangea, “Snow Queen”, in early June, soon after it was purchased.

By birth and early training, I am an optimist.  Born in that magical era of the early 60’s, when the Kennedy presidency was young; after Korea and before things exploded and went to rot in Vietnam; I grew up to the sound track of the Beetles, Joan Bayez, Arlo Guthrie, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.  John Denver saw me into adolescence in an era when I still thought he was singing about enjoying the hike.

My dad never failed to encourage me to give people and situations “the benefit of the doubt”, and his perennial optimism, having survived the Great Depression and World War II intact and educated, is ingrained in my character.

By mid- July, this Oakleaf Hydrangea still looks good, although its neighbor has already been grazed.

By mid- July, this Oakleaf Hydrangea still looks good, although its neighbor has already been grazed.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always taken a moment to read the latest “how-to” articles in the popular press.  From learning “how to” dye fabric with roots and berries as a teen, to “how to” clean the house with only fresh lemons, baking powder, and vinegar prior to Y2K; I’m still a sucker for good advice to do the impossible with almost nothing.  My friend and I are still talking about the recent article in the “prepper press” about how to build a year round underground greenhouse garden for $300.00 or less.

Another of the new "Snow Queen" Oakleaf hydrangeas planted this season, has had only very light grazing despite its position near the street, just inside a deer fence.  I hope the Rosemary planted nearby is protecting it.

Another of the new “Snow Queen” Oakleaf hydrangeas planted this season, has had only very light grazing despite its position near the street, just inside a deer fence. I hope the Rosemary planted nearby is protecting it.

So, when a respected neighbor and garden professional recommended Hydrangea quercifolia,  or Oakleaf Hydrangea, “Snow Queen”, as a beautiful, hardy, deer resistant shrub to grow in our neighborhood gardens, I determined to give it a trial.  These beautiful shrubs attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  They are drought tolerant, need little care once established, and will grow into large plants perfect to enclose and screen an area.

I decided to use them in the lower corner of the garden, near the ravine, where I wanted a living barrier against the Bambies.  These shrubs grow quite tall, fill out to nearly 10’ wide, and will be beautiful in all seasons from their sculptural branches in winter, through their white summer blooms, to their scarlet foliage in autumn.

June 12 garden at dusk 020

These “deer resistant”, native hydrangea shrubs are planted against the “deer fencing”, where our yard goes into a wooded ravine. Fig trees grow on either side.

Our friend, Joel Patton, owner of the Homestead Garden Center in Northwestern James City County, already had a crop of H. quercifolia, “Snow Queen” growing in his greenhouses this spring; so when they came ready for sale, I purchased a half dozen with high hopes for their success.

These shrubs were healthy and beautiful when I first planted them.  They were about 2.5’ tall,  growing in gallon pots.  I planted them with plenty of compost and gravel to protect their roots from voles and get them off to a fast start.

Grazed to the stem several weeks ago, this Oakleaf Hydrangea continues to recover.

Grazed to the stem several weeks ago, this Oakleaf Hydrangea continues to recover.

I did everything for these little shrubs that I’ve recommended to others:  I sprayed them with Plant Skydd, doused them with smelly Neptune’s Harvest, mulched them with gravel, and planted them against what appeared to be an impenetrable barrier.  The only thing I didn’t do was cage them in their own little enclosures, but, these native Oakleaf Hydrangeas were supposed to be unappetizing to the deer, Right??

Wrong.  They’ve been grazed all summer.  In fact, despite repeated spraying, dousing, and reinforcing of the “deer fence”, they look more pathetic now than they have all season.  At first it was only one, and the other two continued to grow.  Now they have all been eaten back to the stem.

But, not one to give up easily, today I’ve tried yet another plan to protect them.

September 3, and this poor hydrangea is grazed back to the stem.  I've planted chives at its base and mulched it with molded coffee grounds.

September 3, and this poor hydrangea is grazed back to the stem. I’ve planted chives at its base and mulched it with molded coffee grounds.

I bought a half a dozen pots of garlic chives and onion chives on Homestead’s summer clearance sale, and planted a little smelly clump at the base of each shrub.  And, just to add another layer of protection, I’ve mulched them with moldy coffee grounds.

Onions, garlic and chives are recommended in both Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway and in Rick Austin’s Secret Garden of Survival as excellent plants to use around fruit trees and shrubs as protection from deer.  These hardy perennials clump and spread.  Their odor is a deterrent to grazing deer.  These edibles are a good addition to a “guild” of plants in a forest garden.  I hope they prove effective planted around these struggling Oakleaf Hydrangeas.September 3, 2013 garden 002

Coffee grounds are an excellent soil amendment, providing nitrogen and improving the texture of the soil.  They can be added to compost, dug into a new planting, or used as a mulch.  When allowed to age and mold on the kitchen counter in a sealed container, they develop an unpleasant odor, providing another layer of deterrent when spread around a planting.

September 3, 2013 garden 008So, am I still optimistic about this garden?  Guardedly so, yes. I’m still climbing on that steep learning curve.  There is no resting on any laurels, even as I watch the morning crowd of hummers on the lantana grow each week.  Even as I harvest a handful of bright red jalapeno peppers to share with a friend, I’m still aware that this is a wild place, and the deer still rule the neighborhood- and graze my garden at will.

All photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013

Garlic chives, now shaded, still bloom.

Garlic chives, in bloom.

  Deer Resistant Plants for James City County, VA

Living With A Herd of Deer

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