P90821Bearded iris can bloom in almost any color. It is expected of them. There is not much they can do to surprise us.

Dahlias exhibit a remarkable range of both color and floral form. Only a few colors are beyond their range.

Roses, gladiolus, freesias, tulips, hyacinths, petunias, pansies, primroses and several of the most prolific bloomers are expected to provide many choices of color.

Other flowers are not so diverse. Forsythia blooms only in bright yellow, or perhaps a lighter hue of yellow. Mock orange blooms only in white, either single or double. Until recently, before purple was invented, the common species of lily-of-the-Nile were either blue or white. We tend to appreciate such flowers for their simplicity, and do not expect anything more from them.

Decades ago, hydrangeas were either white or pink or blue. I say ‘either’ because what seems to be three choices is actually only two. White hydrangeas were always white. Pink or blue hydrangeas were the same, but were pink in alkaline soil, or blue in acidic soil. Blue hydrangeas planted into alkaline soil turned pink. Conversely, pink hydrangeas turned blue in acidic soil.

In the slightly alkaline soil of the Santa Clara Valley, pink hydrangeas were common. Blue hydrangeas were fertilized regularly with aluminum sulfate or some sort of acidifying fertilizer.

In the more acidic soil of the West Coast of Washington, pink hydrangeas would have been blue without lime.

Some more recently bred cultivars of hydrangea excel at either pink or blue. It does not take much to convince them to exhibit their preferred color in less than conducive conditions. These cultivars made it easier to grow blue hydrangeas in the Santa Clara Valley, or pink hydrangeas on the West Coast of Washington.

Then breeding got ridiculous. Hydrangeas were bred to bloom reliably in rich shades of purple, red, or dark blue, with minimal sensitivity to the pH of the soil. They are appealing to those who like these unnaturally rich colors; but to those of us who expect hydrangeas to bloom in white or traditionally soft hues of pink or blue, they are just too weird.


23 thoughts on “Horridculture – True Colors

  1. One sentence in your post really hit me because it’s something I am always talking about when I lecture. You said, “then breeding got ridiculous….” Wow, is that an understatement.


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    1. Ah, you like purple. I would like this purple too, if only it were not on a hydrangea. It is funny how those who like purple REALLY like purple. I am none too keen on it, but I sort of think that there should be more of it in landscaping. White is my favorite color, but it can be sort of boring if there is too much of it, especially in sunny gardens. Purple is not as boring.

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      1. So you must like bougainvilleas! They are the antithesis of pretty white flowers. I mean, they excel at all those delicious bright purples, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows and in between colors that I do not know the names of, but the one color they don’t do well is white. I don’t know why, but they look so bland in white.


      2. Bougainvilleas are gorgeous! I’d love them and or wisterias to grow on or around my home. I’ve only ever seen then in various pinks.

        I think peonies may just be my overall favourites because of their design. Yet, I’ve never seen them in especially rich colours. can’t have it all, I guess.

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      3. Well, if you can grow bougainvilleas, it might not be so easy to grow peonies. Peonies need a bit of chill in winter. However, such chill would be likely to damage bougainvilleas. In our region, the pink ones are not very common. The bright magenta and purple are the most popular, although the purple is more sensitive to frost.


      1. They seem weak to me. The weakness reminds me of planned obsolescence, and how my old Buick was built to last no more than ten years, necessitating the purchase of another car.


    1. There seems to be significant agreement on this. However, such colors keep selling.
      You know, as much as I dislike them, some are very pretty in the gardens of others who like such colors.

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