Hydrangeas are popular and much loved shrubs that we are all familiar with but, unlike the rounded, flower heads of mophead hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata has stunningly unusual, ice cream cones of buttercream flowers that quite set it apart from the others.
Look closely and you will see that each flower head is actually made up of a mixture of tiny, almost inconspicuous, flowers and large, showy bracts and it is a brilliant late summer performer, flowering from august until well into the autumn. Leave these conical flower heads on the plant rather than cutting them as soon as they have faded and once their golden, autumn leaves have fallen, they will look wonderfully atmospheric in the winter garden too. They are also charming cut and brought into the house for display through the winter.
A deciduous shrub with attractive, deeply-veined, oval leaves, H. paniculata is not as fussy about soil pH as other hydrangeas, although it still needs rich, moist soil, so add plenty of organic matter such as garden compost at planting and mulch in the spring to keep moisture in the soil and help it through the drier, summer months. Avoid planting in full sun, which will cause plants to dry out, as will drying winds and give it a sheltered spot in partial shade. Keep plants in shape and flowering well by cutting them back hard in early spring, taking the last seasons growth back to just a couple of buds above the permanent woody framework. H. paniculata is a large shrub, so allow it plenty of space - a spot at the back of a border is ideal and although it can stand brilliantly as a specimen shrub on its own and makes a handsome hedge enmasse, it also looks lovely planted with taller, late flowering perennials such as anemones, eupatorium or heleniums.