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Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Honey is sweet and golden and ‘Little Honey’ is just the best moniker for this cultivar of our native hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia. Spring brings out large leaves of chartreuse or gold, all depending on the sunlight filtering into its shady home. It is a standout, drawing your eye to this darker part of the garden. Not only is the color welcome but the leaves are quite wide for an oakleaf hydrangea, giving it extraordinary eye appeal.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’ is a shorter version of our native oakleaf hydrangea, reaching heights of only 3-5 feet. It has been in my backyard for about seven years and is only around four feet tall. It does have to compete with a tree very close. It is not just any tree, but a food and water guzzling maple. So, in my garden at least, it is extremely hardy and resilient.

It grows best in a damp soil with humus or leaf mold worked around the planting bed. It would not like full sun in any situation, so plant it in shade where it will get some light filtering through. The farther north you live, the more filtered sun it could take. I confess it is in deep shade here in my South Carolina backyard, with a few rays of sunshine breaking through around 1 p.m. or so in the afternoon.

After its rich color in spring, it morphs into a native green. But the show isn’t over. Next come flowers, small cones of sterile and fertile white flowers that stand up on the stems until well into the winter.

Speaking of hanging on, in late fall (or early winter, depending on where you live) the leaves, like most native hydrangeas, turn to a pale pink and rich Bordeaux. I believe the Little Honey, though, has richer, deeper color. Many are still on the plant as I write this in mid-January, even continuing through the days of rain, mist, and freezes we are experiencing. I am enjoying these colors as much as the early honey.

Once the leaves are gone, there is still some winter interest. After a few years, the bark starts to peel, showing off tan underneath the brown outer skin. I am not a fan of peeling skin on myself, but I do love the look on shrubs and trees.

Little Honey is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. This sweet little hydrangea might be hard to find at your local nursery. Ask if they might order one for you. Or, you could take some time and search it out on the web. It is a plant interesting for any shady spot in a garden and worth the trouble to ferret it out.

Posted January 15, 2015

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