Saturday, November 28, 2015


Thanksgiving day was sunny and bright and the whole house was lit up with sunshine, noise, people, chatter, food and kids. A beautiful day. Now, on the weekend, it is raining and gloomy looking outside, but cozy indoors.

There are still a few things in the garden with color to catch the eye -- berries mostly. But one plant has really surprised me this year: Hydrangea quercifolia 'Amethyst'. It has clear wine purple foliage this fall. Its big leaves have flopped about from the fall winds, but it's still fully clothed even at Thanksgiving.

It's an oakleaf hydrangea, and I have had it since 2011. But I never noticed this plant in the years since I got it. It was small when I planted it, then I moved it around a couple times as I always do until I can figure out where things should go.

It never looked like much. I've never seen flowers. It had no real shape or size until this year. I never saw fall color before. It's in the driveway garden, between the sweetgum and the witch hazels, and until this year it was an indeterminate thing, mostly unnoticed.

But look at this oakleaf hydrangea now. What a stunning shape and size and what rich fall color so late in the season. And those big oak-shaped leaves. Really, this is the first year it has even been on my radar. It had some tinges of fall color last year and in 2013, but it was subtle, and I had to look to see it.

'Amethyst' will get to about 5 feet wide and tall, probably too big for this spot along the driveway. The blooms are supposed to be the big cones typical of oakleaf hydrangeas, and they are said to open white and then turn to wine red. It hasn't flowered yet, either because it is still too young or because last year's horrid winter with sustained minus temperatures killed all the buds. It's marginally hardy to zone 5 but may suffer dieback or bud kill. Despite a harsh winter, this plant has certainly thrived this year.

It's a Michael Dirr cultivar. He discovered it while on a drive with his mother in Cincinnati. I don't know why it's important that he was driving around with his mom, but botanical sources mention it, so there it is. He should have named it after her, but it's called 'Amethyst' for some random reason unrelated to flower color or fall foliage color.

My fantasy is that some day a plant will be named for me, but it's unlikely that I'll be driving around with a famous horticulturalist when he spots a new hydrangea. And even more unlikely he'd name the thing after me. If Michael Dirr didn't name this one for his own mother, despite the fact she was in the car when he discovered it, then where's the hope for me.

'Amethyst' it is.

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