If there is one plant that is dominating front gardens everywhere where I live right now, it's the hydrangea. And I have to admit it is not one of my favourites.

It's not dense enough or thorny to give birds somewhere to shelter; it's leaves don't appear tasty to insects, so there's little value there; and most of all the flowers seem so unattractive to insects.

The reason is quite simple. The giant globes of flowers you see on so many hydrangeas are entirely sterile. These are the 'moptops' of  Hydrangea macrophylla, a plant originally from Japan, which has been bred and bred for visual impact, but in doing so has lost all its fertile flowers. Score for wildlife: 0 out of 10.

I was therefore pleased this year to find some 'lacecap' Hydrangea macrophylla with the odd hoverfly on them. The lacecaps have only a ring of sterile florets around a densely packed core of fertile flowers. But even these don't appear particularly valuable for wildlife. Score for wildlife: 1 out of 10.

So I was delighted to at last find some love for hydrangeas when I found this - Hydrangea paniculata.

It is also from Japan (and China), grows to about 3 metres tall (but you can prune it hard back in spring). And it just hasn't been tugged and pushed by growers in the same way that macrophylla has.

It means that the tiny fertile flowers among the white or cream sterile florets are full of nectar, and loved by bees. You can see one here in the photo towards to bottom left of the flowerhead.

You don't get the 'giant pompom' effect of the moptop hydrangeas - the flower spikes are rather more pointed. But score for wildlife? I'm giving 5 out of 10. And I never thought I'd say that about a hydrangea!

Anonymous
  • I feel better about getting rid of 2 big hydrangeas in my garden now. They were colourful but they didn't seem to be doing much for wildlife :-)

  • Nope, sorry, your not selling them to me.  Always disliked Hydrangea's, think I always will.

    The only good thing I've ever found about them, is that they are reasonably easily to take cuttings from.

    I am considering planting a Viburnum opulus in my garden sometime soon though, if we ever get any rain that is.