Producing flower heads of dinner plate size in the copse is a young specimen of Hydrangea sargentiana. Stout stems bear the terminal corymb, flat at first and then as the head matures takes on an undulating appearance. The head is composed of many small light purple fertile flowers, all lightly scented. These individual five sectioned domes burst open and reveal seven or more protruding anther and filaments. Beneath is a split stigma/style. A spattering of larger white infertile flowers sits to the edge of the corymb. The young growth is distinguished by a covering of bristly hairs; this disappears on older wood which has an attractive light brown peeling bark. Native to Western China where it was collected by Ernest Wilson in 1908.
As well as the preserved specimen there was an associated seed collection that was distributed by Arnold Arboretum. Some of those seed were sent to Sir John Stirling Maxwell who then, in turn, forwarded some on to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Despite coming from a remote part of China, via the Arnold Arboetum in Boston, then through FRS Balfour at Dawyck who was dealing with UK distribution of the Arnold seed, to Stirling-Maxwell before RBGE recieved the seed on the 5th June 1908, only 10months after they were collected.
One of the plants grown from that seed collection is still alive and well in the living collection 108 year later and has been used as cutting material so we now have several plants in the Edinburgh and Benmore gardens.
Hydrangea sargentiana is not your average garden lacecap in fact as heather-reenges go, that’s the great scots word for them my gran used, it really is something special.
The second half of May and we hope the frost is finished for the season. Make sure all half hardy and tender perennial stock you are planting out for summer display is hardened off before sinking a trowel into the soil. As you can see from the attached images a late frost followed by early, bright sunshine can have devastating effects on tender young growth. These woody plants sit out in all weather. Trees and shrubs form the backbone of planting and still thought must go as to where in the garden these plants are situated. The large woolly leaves of Hydrangea sargentiana were full of sap which thawed too rapidly as the sun hit the foliage. The tender tips of Pterocarya fraxinifolia will recover, this is a young plant grown from seed collected in Georgia. There are mature, wide crowned, specimens growing successfully elsewhere in the garden. Decoratively, the most noticeable damage is on the young Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’ the showy red shoots are burnt brown, spoiling the display.