Hydrangeas are a favorite flowering shrub for many gardeners. Their enormous blooms brighten the summer landscape weeks after the flowers of spring-blooming shrubs like lilacs, viburnums, and forsythia have faded. While the pink and blue flower heads of traditional big-leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) have long been the darling of gardeners, today, I’d like to introduce you to five unusual hydrangea varieties you can grow in your planting beds to add both color and flair. These plants are featured on Savvy Gardening thanks to the sponsorship of Bloomin’ Easy Plants, the grower and supplier of these fantastic unusual hydrangea varieties.
This cultivar of a big-leaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla ‘Hokomareki’) was introduced to the market in 2021. It has several traits that make it a real knock-out in the garden. First, the petals are bicolor. On their interior, they’re white, but on their outer edges, they are a deep carmine, making them a complete stunner. Next, the plants have a compact form and thick, sturdy stems that hold up under the weight of the massive blooms. The plants max out at just 3 feet tall and wide. The mounded growth habit of the Kimono™ hydrangea is neat and tidy – just perfect for today’s smaller gardens!
Find a spot that receives about 3 to 4 hours of full sun per day, ideally in the morning, and this plant is perfectly at home. Of all the unusual hydrangea varieties featured here, this one is the most dramatic. Hardy down to -20°F (-30°C), Kimono™ handles winters like a champ. And, as an added bonus, its reblooming habit means it’s in flower from mid-summer through fall.
Another selected variety of a traditional big-leaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla ‘Hortmafarfa’), this beauty adds a whole new level of romance to the garden. The massive bloom clusters measure up to 10 inches across, and each individual floret is shaped like a star. How cool is that? Yes, there are unique traits about all of the unusual hydrangea varieties featured here, but this is the only one with star-shaped flowers. When the buds open, it’s easy to see how Starfield™ gets its name.
Another hardy hydrangea variety that can withstand winter temps that dip down as low as -20°F (-30°C), the compact stems of Starfield™ reach just 3 feet in height and width. Choose a spot with filtered sun, though a maximum of 4 hours of full sun is tolerated, particularly if it’s in the morning or the evening. The blooms are long-lasting, and they are a bubblegum pink in soil with a neutral pH. In acidic soils, the blooms are tinged with blue or lilac. Just lovely!
If I’m giving an award for the funkiest of the unusual hydrangea varieties, Tilt-a-swirl® (H. macrophylla ‘QUFU’) gets the gold. Hands down. The blooms are so different, they almost look fake. They aren’t though, that much I can promise. When the buds first open, each individual flower starts off as green as Kermit the frog. Then as they age, the petals develop a unique bicoloration. The interior of each petal is apple-green and the edge is a brilliant pink. By the time fall rolls around, the color changes again, developing into deeper red hues before the blooms fade. Wowsers! Oh, and to add the cherry on top, Tilt-a-swirl® is a continuous bloomer. Yes, that means there are flower-topped stems on this shrub for months.
Tilt-a-swirl® is fully winter hardy down to -20°F (-30°C), and the mature plants top out at 4 feet tall and wide. About 4 hours of morning sun is ideal for this hydrangea, with a soft dappled shade for the rest of the day.
If you’re looking to add a bit of style and grace to your garden, Moonrock® is the way to go. The cone-shaped blooms are subtle and refined, while still stealing the summer show. This type of hydrangea is known as a panicle hydrangea, and they are among the most reliable blooming hydrangeas out there. Known botanically as H. paniculate ‘Kolmakilima’ and sold under the tradename of Moonrock®, the weighty blooms are held on sturdy, upright stems.
Reaching a height and width of 4 to 6 feet, this plant is a bit more cold-tolerant that the other unusual hydrangea varieties featured here. It is hardy down to -40°F (-40°C), making it ideal for northern climates with really cold winters. It blooms on new wood, which means the buds are set in the spring and they are unlikely to freeze out in the winter, which is one reason why panicle hydrangeas are such reliable bloomers. The buds are a lovely lime-green when they first arrive, but when they open, the age to a creamy white. Moonrock® prefers more sun than the previous three featured varieties. A minimum of 6 hours of full sun is best.
I’ve written about this variety before, and frankly, I will probably write about it again because I love it so much. I have 2 of these sexy shrubs in my garden (1 in a bed and 1 in a container), and they impress me every year. Flare™ (H. paniculata ‘Kolmavesu’) is compact, but it puts on one heck of a show. The conical bloom clusters are about 10 to 12 inches tall and held upright on strong stems. The blooms are white when they first open. Then, they change to a brilliant red-pink as they age. I’m telling you, there’s nothing like it!
Reaching just 3 feet tall and wide, Flare™ is perfect for containers, and since it’s very winter hardy (down to -40°F/-40°C), the roots don’t freeze out in my Pennsylvania garden even when the pot is kept outdoors year-round. Give this showstopper a minimum of 6 hours of full sun every day and just watch it do its thing. Low maintenance doesn’t get any more beautiful than this.
Learn more about these incredible hydrangeas in this video.
Where to shop for these unusual hydrangea varieties
I hope you’ll give a few of these unusual hydrangea varieties a try in your own garden. To find a source for these varieties near you, head to the Bloomin’ Easy website’s “Find a Retailer” page. Enter your zip code and see a list of retailers in your area. There is also a list of online stores. These varieties are available across much of North America, with new retailers being added regularly.
A big thank you to Bloomin’ Easy Plants for sponsoring this post and letting us share these great plants with our readers.
For more great landscape shrubs to add to your garden, please read the following articles:
- Blooming shrubs for the full sun
- Panicle hydrangeas
- Colorful shrubs for season-long beauty
- Flowering shrubs for shade
- Low maintenance shrubs
- Early spring flowering shrubs
- Small evergreen shrubs