Little-Known History of the Snowflake Hydrangea

Does a Snowflake Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake') grow in your garden? If so, you may be interested in its rather remarkable history.This is one of several Snowflake Hydrangeas that grow in my woodland garden. Now in its third year since planting, it has prospered.

Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama, is noted for its hydrangeas, especially the Snowflake Hydrangea, an oakleaf hydrangea whose white blooms are double and last far longer than the species, shading beautifully to pink as they age. Here is a close-up of the Snowflake's double blooms.

This is a photo taken in a previous year in July at Aldridge Gardens, as the Snowflakes took on their lovely pink hues.However, most people are unaware of the interesting history associated with this beautiful Alabama native. I was privileged to serve on the Board of Aldridge Gardens with its founder, Eddie Aldridge, who passed away in November 2018. Mr. Aldridge told me about the Snowflake and a little-known bit of history associated with it. 

Eddie Aldridge and his father, Loren, introduced the Snowflake Hydrangea to the world in the 1970s, after they began propagation and patented it.

A friend had told Loren about an unusual hydrangea in a lady’s backyard, and Loren asked to see the shrub. Unfortunately, the plant was dying. Loren managed to obtain three cuttings. He brought them to his nursery and was able to root them. But one day a nursery worker mistook the little plants for weeds and threw them into the dumpster! 

Eddie came in later that afternoon. When he discovered what had happened, he sent the hapless nursery worker headfirst into the dumpster to retrieve the plants. Only one survived; and since the mother plant had meanwhile perished, there were no more to be had. 

The new hydrangea was sterile, so any new plants had to be grown from cuttings. The surviving plant prospered, and over the next year Loren rooted thirteen new cuttings. These thirteen hydrangeas were planted by the waterfall at Aldridge Gardens. Eventually, the Aldridges propagated enough plants to begin marketing. Eddie and Loren named the shrub ‘Snowflake’ and obtained a patent so they could publicize the plant. They never charged royalties or sought monetary gain, but only wanted to share this unique hydrangea with the world.  

In about 1990, an ad about the Snowflake in the American Nursery Magazine created a stir in the nursery world. Eddie’s cousin Arthur, who ran the Aldridge nursery near Boaz, sold a large number to the West Coast, and the Rockefeller Foundation soon requested a huge quantity for New York City, including Central Park. Arthur did not recognize the name of this “outfit” from New York and demanded they pay cash! (Which they did.) A Frenchman named Andre Briant began propagation of the Snowflake in the 1990’s and featured them in his international trade magazine. Before long he was selling them all over the world. Snowflake Hydrangeas, like all oakleaf hydrangeas, have beautiful fall foliage. They also have interesting structure that is a highlight in the winter garden. Snowflakes are truly a four season plant.

Snowflake Hydrangeas now grow in Butchart Gardens near Victoria, Canada and in the New York Botanical Gardens. They grow from New Zealand to England and France, to China and Japan. And all of these many plants growing over the world, including any you happen to be growing in your garden, can be traced back to the single plant that survived its dangerous trip into the dumpster!



Summer Scenes in the Garden

Summer is here, and the deep greening of the garden has begun. A few perennials and annuals celebrate our heat and humidity and provide splashes of color, but these hot months are all about foliage in its myriad forms and variegations. 

First, some color: This tropical hibiscus is so beautiful that I plan to bring it inside later to overwinter. For now it sits on our patio, and I have a good view of it from our kitchen and dining room.

Here are a few more June blooms:The large top photo is from my new pollinator garden, with purple Veronica and perennial Helenium. Do you see the bee? Small photos left to right: Hummingbird plant, Dicliptera suberecta, is also known as Uruguayan firecracker plant; One of the very best yellow reblooming daylilies is Hemerocallis 'Going Bananas'; Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake' has double blooms, unlike the common oak leaf hydrangea, which has single blooms; 'Anthony Waterer' Spirea has May - June blooms but will produce more flowers if spent blooms are removed.

When the day is nearly done - but not quite - the sun sends shafts of light through the woodland garden. It is my favorite time of the day. Sparks flash under and over and through the foliage; and like a soul lifted out of darkness, the garden is transformed.

Here are closer views of some of the woodland plants:Clockwise from top left: Breynia disticha is called Snow on the Mountain bush and also Snowbush. It is not hardy in my area. It is in a pot, and I will bring it inside for winter; Hosta 'Rhino Hide'; Cercis canadensis 'Whitewater' is a weeping variegated redbud tree; Zantedeschia albomaculata, or White Spotted Leaf Calla Lily; Fatsia 'Spider's Web'; Bird's nest fern (Asplenium nidus) is another plant in my garden that is not hardy. It is in a pot so I can bring it in for winter.

Clockwise from top left: Peacock moss (Selaginella uncinata) and Athyrium filix-femina, commonly called lady fern, grow next to a mossy rock; A close-up of the Peacock moss; Native Trillium and Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora);Hostas are beginning to bloom - I don't remember the name of this one!

Finally, here is a Daddy Longlegs, stretched out, taking it easy on a hosta leaf. This non-venomous insect has 6 legs and is not a true spider.:

Happy Gardening!