Unrequited Love In The Garden….

hydrangea shrub

Do you have a plant that you would love to grow in your garden?  You close your eyes and you can just imagine how beautiful it would look and exactly where you would plant it.

Then, you open your eyes and look out into your garden and sadly, that plant is no where to be seen.  Okay, I don’t mean to get all melancholy on you.  But, is there a plant that you just love, but cannot grow because you live in the wrong climate?  A plant, which despite all the tweaking you try to do to the environment in the garden, your much loved plant will just not grow?

Well, I have a plant that I love that does not grow well in our desert climate.  Sure, you can see it being sold from time to time at the local big box store…..but we all know that just because a plant is sold at one of these stores, does NOT mean that they will survive long once planted.

My much loved plant that I cannot grow is Hydrangea…

hydrangea shrub

Hydrangea Shrub

These hydrangea were growing in the garden of noted author C.S. Lewis.  We visited his home and garden in Oxford, England in 2003.  

When my parents lived in Southern California, they had a huge hydrangea shrub.  I remember visiting them and seeing it absolutely covered in pink blossoms.  **Hydrangea blooms turn pink in alkaline soils and more bluish in acidic soils.

Now, I am generally not a complainer by nature.  I am amazed at how many different plants that I can grow in our semi-tropical, desert climate; a myriad of fruit trees, pine trees, palms, tulips, daffodils, iris, vegetables, as well as dozens of tropical plants.  And so, I will continue to be happy with the wide variety of what I can grow while I enjoy hydrangeas through pictures.

Now, I am wondering…..are there any plants that you wished you could grow, but cannot due to your climate?  Even if you just love your garden as it is, is there one plant you would include if it would grow where you live?

California Nursery Visit

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
38 replies
  1. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    Yes, there are plants that I mourn as well. Hydrangea is one of them. Can't grow them this far deep in Florida. I had my old Atlanta garden ringed in hydrangeas fronted by Hosta, which brings me to the other plant I mourn. Is there a more wonderful foliage plant in all the world?!! I would also love to grow bleeding hearts. They are perfection in a flower, I think.

  2. Rebecca @ In The Garden
    Rebecca @ In The Garden says:

    Very interesting post! I can't think of one at the moment but there are so many. I visit blogs and run to google to check zones, only to be diappointed. If I had to pick one, it would be the Japanese Maple.

    I don't know if this would help, but the pink/blue hydrangeas are sold by the hoardes as houseplants around easter (at grocery stores etc..) I wonder if you could find one and keep it inside for a while?

  3. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, I completely understand what you are saying here and I do think that most of us harbour a 'wish' list. However, the reality is, as you point out, that one has to be content in the main with what will do reasonably well in one's climate and situation. Over the years I have come, somewhat reluctantly, to accept the wisdom of this. However, I do feel for you not succeeding with Hydrangea in all forms for they are such pretty and versatile shrubs.

  4. Rosie@leavesnbloom
    Rosie@leavesnbloom says:

    Yes Noelle I have quite a few on my list and would you believe it – hydrangeas don't do well in NE Scotland frost pockets – we get few flowers here.

    But my favourite flower that I would love to grow here is Penstemon. I've tried the hardiest one – red in colour but it too did not make it through many winters and the plant just got smaller and smaller. There are so many beautiful colours and they are such a great flower for late summer colour but not in my garden.

    Do you grow these Noelle?

  5. Becca
    Becca says:

    That's it Noelle! I would LOVE to grow large bushes of Blue Hydrangea. They tease me in the store, but I learned my lesson the hard way, and sadly, it was not happy here in Las Vegas. I enjoy photos on others blogs as well, and I think the first thing I'll do if we move to another climate is plant a "blue hydrangea" 🙂

  6. Solitude Rising
    Solitude Rising says:

    I understand how you feel about growing plants not suited for your garden. I would love to grow tulips, daffodils and everything that sprouts in spring. But they are not suited for a tropical setting.

  7. Ami
    Ami says:

    Oh, I have so many of such plants! hydrangeas, peony, fushia, bleeding hearts, tulips, and I can go on and on. But I do realize if I can grow those, then I had to give up the ones that I can grow in South florida, bromeliads, orchids outdoor, and all other tropical/sub-tropical plants. So for now, I will satisfy myself by looking at those northern beauties from the blog world 🙂

  8. danger garden
    danger garden says:

    I'm pretty lucky being able to grow a wide range of plants in my Portland, Oregon garden. I can even enjoy most of the ones I can't grow in the ground by growing them in containers that I bring inside or put undercover for the winter. But the one thing I wish I could have is a BIG agave in the ground (or 3). Mine will never be jaw-dropping in size since I grow most of them in containers. My hydrangea however…is a weed. I chop it every winter and it doubles in size over the summer. I will go pick a couple stems and put them in a vase in honor of you!

  9. VW
    VW says:

    Agapanthus is what I miss the most from California – I tried some 'hardy agapanthus' from High Country Gardens and it didn't survive the winter. I also miss growing ivy geraniums as a giant perennial vine instead of a dinky annual.

  10. Kathleen Scott
    Kathleen Scott says:

    Our Hill Country climate has a lot in common with your desert and we can't grow hydrangeas either. Or peonies, azaleas or rhododendrons.

    What I sometimes pine for is the tropical foliage of my Florida garden, where the firebush didn't die back and the plumbago grew as tall as the house. Gingers and papaya trees. And my homegrown allspice berries.

    Having said that, I'm grateful for the wide range of native plants in the Hill Country. We have our own species of exotics growing wild.

  11. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    We're fortunate here to be able to grow a diverse array of things. In my last garden, like yours, it was so hot that I really missed being able to grow Camellias. However, here, it's more a matter of practicality in regards to growing what won't be eaten. I suppose here I'd love to grow Dogwoods, they'd be the perfect understory tree. Unfortunately, as you know, our understory is rife, with deer!

  12. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    As soon as I read the first line of your post a little voice inside whispered, Hydrangea. We can grow hydrangeas here, but seldom in the blue hues that I fell in love with on Cape Cod, MA. Pink does fine, but even amending the soil does not always make the shrub bloom blue.

    Thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Elephant's Eye
    Elephant's Eye says:

    Zone denial – I have bluebells and snowdrops. Snowdrops are sprouting in pots tucked in cool shade (after I saw all those pictures of snowdrops pushing thru The Snow). And the bluebells did make me 1 flower last year … And sometimes I yearn for exotic new varieties, as seen on blogs, but the wildlife prefers the indigenous species, so we are happy here.

  14. NellJean
    NellJean says:

    I envy every peony, lilac, ceanothus and tulip that I see on the blogs of others. I've documented that I can too grow tulips, but they are too much trouble with the chilling and all. The dog ate the last I tried, just before they bloomed.

    I console myself with the long list of beauties that do grow here. Hydrangeas are among those, always blue.

  15. islandgal246
    islandgal246 says:

    I wish for hydrangeas, fushia, peonies, tulips, strawberries, day lilies, tiger lilies, and many many more. Makes me want to move when I see these beautiful flowers on the blogs….sigh! Great topic for a post Noelle.

  16. James Missier
    James Missier says:

    Eventhough I can grow hydrangeaes – they never seemed to flower, I guess its due to the lack of sunlight, I often had trouble with sunflower, zinnia and marigold as they all go leggy and crawling all over just to get a little light somewhere in a limited sunlight that I get in my place.

    Sometimes, even being in the right zone doesn't mean necessarily it would all right in a garden, example (my garden)

  17. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    I am glad that this seems to be a fun topic for all of you. I appreciate your comments very much. I think the morale of this story is that due to our human nature, we tend to want what we cannot have. Or to put it in other words, "The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side."

    Rosie,
    I can grow a red penstemon called Firecracker Penstemon. I have five, because I love them so much.

  18. Amy
    Amy says:

    Hi, Noelle
    I know exactly how you feel. I actually tried a hydrangea from the B.B.Store and put it in a little shady corner by my door. Guess what? You're right, it died.
    I really love the oakleaf hydrangea. I'm not sure if it would do well …Nell Jean has them in her garden, so I might give it a try.

  19. Kyna
    Kyna says:

    Lilacs. I totally took these for granted when I lived in Canada. I had a huge lilac bush on my front yard. Never even really noticed it, I wasn't interested in gardening then. Now I would kill for one of those. I tried one year, with a persian lilac, because I heard they were hardier for the humidity here. Nope. That thing got blight faster than you can say powdery mildew lol. I keep wanting to try again…when I planted it, we were having too much rain. This year it's too little rain, so I don't think this is the year to try again lol. I'm such a sucker for punishment.

  20. jeansgarden
    jeansgarden says:

    Noelle, I share your hydrangea melancholy. The specific hydrangea I would like to grow are blue lace-cap hydrangeas — but they are just not winter hardy here. (You get new growth every year, but the old growth gets killed off during the winter and so you never get any blooms.) But I've decided to focus on all the wonderful plants I can grow. To borrow from Stephen Stills: "If you can't be with the plant you love, love the plant you're with." -Jean

  21. Rosey
    Rosey says:

    There are too many to list. But one especially I wish I could grow better or at all is tomatoes. It is just too cold here.
    Hydrangeas are so pretty… those I wish I could grow too.

  22. Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ
    Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ says:

    I'd like to be able to grow azaleas like I had when I lived in RI. This winter I actually saw two azaleas that had been planted in neighbors' yards. I thought to myself "Wait until the heat hits … they'll be brown and dead in no time." Sure enough, they were!

  23. Christine B.
    Christine B. says:

    Wow, where do I start? I really enjoy growing rare and unusual trees and shrubs, so if zone were no object, I would grow saucer magnolias, Japanese maples, Oxydendrum arboreum, Nyssa sylvatica, Parrotia, Pinus wallichiana, English roses, Ilex, Wisteria…I'd better stop, it's getting depressing how long my "can't grow it" list is.

    Can't do hydrangeas either, not even the oakleaf kind.

    Christine in Alaska

  24. Sue
    Sue says:

    Hydrangeas are number two on my "wish I could grow" list. Number one is brugmansia. We moved to the Phoenix area about a year ago, and I brought one with me, thinking it would thrive in this area, only to find the leaves are too fragile for this dry heat. There go my plans for a forest of brugmansia!

  25. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I tried for years to plant hydrangea in our desert of Palmdale. They always died. I finally found a perfect spot where the sun rises in the morning and is gone in the afternoon. I now have 2 growing big and healthy. I had to learn to sit outside and watch for the sun patterns to find the right spot.

  26. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Oh Kathy,

    I am so jealous! Unfortunately, low desert zones are impossible for hydrangea to live in, despite the fact that some big box stores try to sell them. You have definitely learned about how important exposure is for successful planting. Enjoy your hydrangeas! 🙂

  27. Jose Ramirez
    Jose Ramirez says:

    Strange. I read about some people here in Phoenix being able to grow hydrangeas. I thought the users were lying but they were not. I believe they live around the Oak Street area. That area is where the most shade can be found. The large population of shady trees creates a near perfect environment for them. For the kind of hydrangeas, they had Mopheads and Oak-leaved varieties, or the white snowball kind. As for the bloom count, not very abundant. Just a handful for a short period. I believe it may be possible to grow. Find a shady spot. Amend the soil with peat moss and compost. Add an acidifier such as aluminum sulfate or sulphur. Water 2” per week. And be optimistic.

  28. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Jose,

    Thank you for taking the time to share this success story. I’ve seen a number of plants that normally would never survive the desert climate, thrive in this unique area with lots of shade and green lawns.

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