I like hydrangeas, although at first look they don’t seem so great. They’re deciduous and not artfully so and they need summer water BUT they are also a summer blooming shrub for part shade – not many of those around, and most of them will fit into small, urban yards.
Hydrangeas are usually grown for their flowers and although there are several species and a multitude of cultivars, most fall into one of three categories. The flowers of hydrangeas are all carried in good-sized inflorescences. They might be flattish and lacy-looking (the lacecap hydrangeas), big balls (mopheads) or sortof fat spears. The flowers may be white, blue, lavender or pink. The oakleaf hydrangea differs from the most common hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) in the shape of the leaves.
The macrophyllas have what I consider to be the standard leaf shape – basically oval and the quercifolias are lobed like an oak leaf. (It actually makes me jumpy to not talk about the leaf shapes using proper botanical terms but I’m resisting.) The flowers of Hydrangea quercifolia are white and held in panicles (the fat spears). The branches tend to be lax and as they age, they exfoliate. Several cultivars are available so you have a couple of different size options. The quercifolias can take more sun and less water than the macrophyllas but don’t think they are drought tolerant.
Two things bug me about oakleaf hydrangeas, their floppy stems and their propensity to hold on to their old leaves. Some people like the look of the old leaves hanging on the branches and I have to say that in the up close photo at the top of the blog, the old leaves are rather gorgeous. However, from a distance, depending on your point of view, the shrub either has dead brown leaves hanging on or sumptuous mahogany leaves that glow in the sun. Your pick.
For a long list of recommended hydrangeas for the PNW, once again head to the Great Plant Picks site. For more info on hydrangeas from a hydrangea enthusiast try the http://www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/ website.