Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Rough-leaved Hydrangea

hydrangea-aspera-rocklon-leaves-640

 

Fuzzy-leaved, pink-veined, and huge.  For most East Coast gardeners, this bush is a mystery.  Only when it blooms—huge heads of  mauve, pink, and blue flowers ringed with the large sterile bract-like flowers that, in this case, are white—do you really feel that, yes, this truly is a hydrangea not some trick tossed your way by a geeky gardener. 

 

I grow Hydrangea aspera 'Rocklon' more for the foliage, though.  There isn't another bush even remotely hardy for me with these leaves.  (Yes, there's Buddleia nivea, but, as I say, that's barely hardy here.)  Although I've (just) learned of rough-leaved hydrangeas having a high old time in even colder gardens than mine, they are the 'Macrophylla' cultivar not 'Rocklon'.  ('Rocklon' is supposed to have even bigger leaves and flower clusters, which is why I fell for it.)  So I'm still the wuss, growing 'Rocklon' in a pot year-round.

 

Now that I've started taking better care of it (see How to Handle It, below), the leaves are going to be bigger and even more mysteriously exciting than ever.  I still remember a bush I saw in Cambridge, England, with leaves ten inches long—twice as long and wide as mine.  That's four times the area.  I'm talking huge.

 

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If I had been as nice to my potted 'Rocklon' all along, the leaves on this two-foot plant would not only hide the stems, they'd hide the pot itself.  And, nice being repaid with more nice, the bush wouldn't be just two feet tall, either.  It would be four, six, eight feet tall, and almost that wide.  With even more ten-inch leaves. 

 

I'm on it.

 

I've yet to be fortunate enough to see a 'Rocklon' when it's also in full bloom, which is August through November.  (Next month, I'll at least make the trip to see the full-flowered 'Macrophylla', I promise.)  I wonder if the flowers are too much, though.  Can a plant have this foliage and those flowers?  Is that legal?  How much bosomy beauty is any one creature entitled too?  Can any one viewer tolerate?  Dolly Parton is a cautionary tale here. 

 

hydrangea-aspera-rocklon-buds-640

 

My one paltry cluster of flowerbuds is a kindness considering how slapdash I've been with attending to my 'Rocklon' so far.  When it's out, you'll be the next to see it.  Then we can both judge if this hydrangea's fabulous foliage is made even more so by fabulous flowers.  Or not.

 

 

Here's how to grow this fuzzy-leaved beauty:

 

Latin Name

Hydrangea aspera 'Rocklon'

Common Name

Rough-leaved Hydrangea

Family

Hydrangeaceae, the Hydrangea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 6 (5 if you're lucky) to 9.  Much hardier than the 7 - 9 originally thought.

Habit

Broadly upright and full.

Rate of Growth

Fast when it's happy.

Size in ten years

Six feet tall and five feet wide.  Eventually ten feet tall or higher, eight to ten feet wide.

Texture

The conspicuously large, smooth-edged, and come-stroke-me felted leaves give this bulky shrub a people-person personality.  If a bassett hound had hundreds of ears—oddly, but in a pleasant Alice in Wonderland way—and had been—also oddly, but in a pleasant Alice in Wonderland way—turned into a flowering shrub, the hound would be this hydrangea.

Grown for

the foliage!  The leaves can be ten inches long, and are irresistibly fuzzy.

 

the stems!  The young ones of 'Rocklon' are fuzzy purple.

 

the flowers!  'Rocklon's start as massive branched pink clusters as big (and, seemingly, as heavy) as your fist, that open into enormous one-foot mandalas of mauve-blue flowers surrounded by large white bracts.

Flowering season

Late Summer into Fall: August to hard frost in October.

Culture

Rough-leaved hydrangea has been fooling most of us for years, nurseryfolk and mad gardeners alike, as the epitome of mild-climate fussiness:  No chilly winters, no gusty winds, no strong sun.  And, in truth, it thrives in such pampered locales.  But it also thrives (on occasion) in stern central Massachusetts, which is Zone 6 only when you squint your eyes and mulch like hell.  See "Louis on the Loose" for a voluptuous and unstinting specimen extremely happy in the high hills, fully exposed, of Connecticut, where there's not a whiff of Zone 7 around.  This is the 'Macrophylla' cultivar, not 'Rocklon', true, which may be a bit hardier.

 

No matter where you garden, this is a plant for full sun only if you can give it great soil that doesn't lack for moisture, especially in the hot months.  Afternoon shade is wiser if you're less confident.  I hear that the foliage is even larger when the bush gets some shade, which seems like all the encouragement needed to provide dappled sun instead of the straight stuff. 

How to handle it

I keep my 'Rocklon' in a pot so it can winter, leafless and dormant, in my moist dirt-floor basement, and summer, leafy and in wind-free total shade, under the pergola in the Red Garden.  Beyond that cycle of shlep-in, shlep-back-out, I've been a neglectful Rocklon steward.  The bush repays me in kind, with foliage that's half the size it should be on a shrub that's barely growing.  This is my year to repot it extravagantly, water it conscientiously, give it more sun, and, in general, demonstrate that I care.  And next Spring is my chance to plant it in my Pink Borders.

 

For hydrangea-specific care, keep in mind that H. aspera needs the same pruning as a mop-head hydrangea.  It blooms only at the tips of the stems it's been growing this season, as long that those stems arose from older stems it grew last season.  Stems that grow directly from the base of the shrub won't bloom their first season.  Each Spring, wait until the shrub has started to leaf out, so it will be obvious which stem tips (or, indeed, entire stems) have been winter-killed.  Prune just those down to the first pair of green leaves, and then let the bush grow and flower on its own.

 

This large and riveting shrub demands close viewing, and the velvety leaves and stems are irresistible for stroking, too.  So despite its eventual size, plant it within reach of the front of the bed.  Otherwise you and all your friends will just tromp right through the bed to get to it.  Partner with fern-leaved or narrow-leaved groundcovers.  Ferns and liriope: done!  Or even astilbes if they get enough water through the hot late-Summer weeks, when the hydrangea is at its peak.  And to the side, or even at the back, pick up the dusty pink of the stems and buds (and, of course, the flowers that follow) with, say, a pollarded Acer negundo 'Flamingo', whose pink-flushed leaves and three-leaflet foliage will coordinate well.

 

As usual with a plant whose hardiness is still not confirmed broadly, planting on a slope, no matter how gentle or how small, maximizes whatever Winter hardiness your individual plant actually has.  If there's a fence or building or big spreading conifers to the north, even better.

Downsides

There's still confusion about just how hardy this shrub is, so you're taking your chances in Zone 6 and you're intrepid, indeed, in Zone 5.  On the other hand, the more gardeners who try this shrub at the lower margins of its supposed hardiness, the sooner we'll all be certain of just how tough the plant is.

Variants

Hydrangeas are as much of a "whole world" as roses, orchids, grasses, hostas, daylilies, succulents, dwarf conifers, alpines, viburnums, or lilacs:  As with all of these specialties, there are a lot of species and uncountable hybrids and cultivars.  There's a modest range even of H. aspera, too, of hardiness and leaf size (bigger is better, fuzzier is better).  While most of us could be content with just one H. aspera, few gardens can be credible without a generous array across the range of hydrangea species.  I aready have (gulp) over two dozen hydrangeas—and I don't mean just different colors of mopheads, either—and look forward to more.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings.

Native habitat

The straight species is native to the Himalayas; 'Rocklon' itself is from England.

 
 
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