If hydrangeas have been planted in moist soil that drains well between autumn and spring, then you can expect them to flower in late summer. Best planted in light shade, the shrub can tolerate the sun if the soil isn’t too dry. So it makes sense that in the home, they should have regular water changes and not be in direct sunlight to avoid scorching the petals.
In many varieties, it’s the pH of the soil that determines the colour. Those cultivars with blue or pink flowers tend to be blue in acid soils (with high aluminium levels), mauve in lightly acid to neutral soil conditions, and pink in alkaline conditions. However, white, red and green-flowered cultivars remain so, regardless of soil pH.
According to the experts at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), different hydrangea species also have differently shaped flowers. For round flower heads, choose mophead cultivars of hydrangea microphylla (hortensia) or hydrangea arborescens. For flatter flowers select lacecap cultivars of hydrangea microphylla, hydrangea serrata, hydrangea villosa or hydrangea aspera. For cone-shaped flowers go for hydrangea paniculata or hydrangea quercifolia.
Rosebie Morton from The Real Flower Company often pairs different hydrangeas to make a statement. “Try combining a sea of frothy green and white hydrangea paniculata with the antique coloured hydrangea paniculata, also known as ‘Magical Fire’ – it looks incredible.”
When you prepare a hydrangea stem for its vase, strip the leaves off from each stem – the leaves drink a lot of water which will steal it from the blooms. Some experts recommend smashing the bottom of the stem to allow more water to travel up, or you can cut it on the diagonal. Hydrangeas also produce a sap that can block the stem – if you put boiling water into a cup and dip each stem for 30 seconds, then immediately put them in a vase with room temperature water, that should unclog the sap.
If you want to dry your hydrangeas, keep them in two inches of water and replace every time the water turns stagnant. Keep them away from sunlight so the colour stays intact and wait until the heads are dry and the petals are papery.
When it comes to arranging, Nikki Tibbles from Wild at Heart loves throwing out the rule book: “For me, anything goes,” she says. “Flowers like hydrangeas look stunning bunched together, so don't mix them with anything else or add any foliage. Always choose your favourite and invest in several stems to make a statement.” Meanwhile, Rosebie advises keeping containers simple: “Neutral coloured vases work well, and don’t detract from the flowers.”
“The most beautiful late summer flowers are dahlias,” says Whitney Hawkings, founder of FLOWERBX. “They come in a delicate pastel palette with colours like ‘Cosmopolitan’ and ‘Sex On The Beach’ that allow us to hold onto that summer warmth for a little bit longer.”
With the nights drawing in and blue skies waning, it’s heartening to brighten up your home through this dramatic, floriferous species. “I love to have as much colour as I can at this time of year. Dahlias are my absolute favourite and I love the craziest ones I can get my hands on,” explains floral stylist and author Willow Crossley. “’Tartan’ and ‘Santa Claus’ are two of my favourites. A dream combination would be ‘Santa Claus’ and ‘Thomas Edison’ dahlias, lime green hydrangeas, blue delphiniums and white purity cosmos.”
Best gown in a fertile, well-drained sunny spot, dahlias are pretty easy to nurture in the garden but they’re not hardy and don’t like frozen soil. According to the National Dahlia Society, there are a range of flower colours and shapes, from cactus and semi-cactus types (with rolled, pointed petals) as well as ball forms (the glowers are globular) and decorative (flat, broad petals).
Always put dahlias in water as soon as you buy them, especially if they’ve lost some of their vibrancy during transit. As with other flowers, make sure the vase is clean, trim each stem and remove any lower leaves. You’ll also need to change the water every few days and ensure the vase isn’t in the sun or a draft. If you notice one of your dahlias is wilting, remove it immediately so it doesn’t cause the other flowers to perish.
“Late summer is a very rich season with dramatic, beautiful coloured flowers,” adds Rosebie. “Beautifully scented garden roses are still available, so be sure to seek them out.” Keen gardeners can keep some varieties blooming until the first frosts if they are repeat-flowering varieties and regularly dead headed.
David Austin Roses is widely regarded as the top rose supplier – ones to look for include ‘Desdemona’, a pure white rose, ‘Olivia Rose Austin’, a pink, tightly packed bloom with a fruity fragrance, the award-winning ‘Lady of Shalott’ in apricot yellow, ‘England Rose’, which offer deep, glowing pink flowers (a good one for amateur gardeners to start with too) and ‘Roald Dahl’, peach blooms with a tea fragrance.
If you are keen to add more foliage, Rosebie champions herbs. "We use lots of herbs and textural foliage to frame our flowers. Herbs look especially good mixed with the roses. We incorporate purple basil, scented geranium, chocolate mint and oregano into the mix to create a wonderful combination. We also like to use trailing foliage such as jasmine to give some extra movement to the flowers.”
If you prefer a more structured look, Whitney has this to say: "While wild arrangements can be great, a good rule of thumb is to keep flowers simple and tonal for an elegant and dramatic effect. For example, warm autumnal shades work beautifully together, as do almost every shade of pink, or clusters of different reds, or a sea of purples and blues. Keep the flower arrangements simple, but create drama with an abundance of these simple arrangements. Repetition works wonders at creating a chic display.”