Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, Mass. will soon be home to a national hydrangea test garden. Over the next five years, new hybrid varieties of hydrangeas will be planted, grown and studied by professional growing experts from across the country. The test garden is an offshoot of Hydrangeas 2015, an international conference attended by hydrangea experts from around the world, which was held at Heritage this past July. The project will make Heritage’s Hydrangea Garden the most comprehensive in the U.S.
Test garden partners include Bailey Nurseries, Ball Horticultural Company, renowned plant expert Dr. Michael Dirr and his wife Bonnie, the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society and the American Hydrangea Society. Heritage staff and horticultural interns will document and collect data on plant performance that will enable these growers to perfect new hydrangea varieties and gauge how they perform in New England, one of the country’s largest markets for hydrangeas.
The test garden will build on Heritage’s hydrangea collection of 155 species and cultivated varieties, expand and enhance its existing hydrangea garden and showcase the depth and breadth of these iconic plants for Heritage visitors. Heritage visitors will also have the opportunity to preview new plants being readied for the gardening market.
Designed by horticulture director Les Lutz and installed in phases over five years, the expanded garden will include new hydrangeas and other plants, a new water feature and stone walkways that will allow visitors to stroll among an unprecedented variety of hydrangeas. The test garden will afford researchers and growers easy access to test plants while offering home gardeners examples of which plants pair well together.
“Heritage founder Josiah Lilly had a vision for our institution to be an outreaching force for education, and we are looking forward to contributing new knowledge to the field. It is truly an honor to be working with the top professionals in the horticulture world,” says Ellen Spear, president & CEO of Heritage Museums & Gardens. “For visitors, expanding this garden will mean more beautiful and inspiring landscapes to visit and enjoy.”
The test garden was conceived as part of collaborative conversations among key attendees at the three-day Hydrangeas 2015 Conference. The initiative is being led by Michael Dirr, horticulture professor emeritus at the University of Georgia and author of more than 300 scientific and popular publications, in collaboration with expert growers from Bailey Nurseries and Ball, who were inspired by Heritage’s existing Hydrangea Garden.
“Worldwide, hydrangeas are the most celebrated, cherished and revered garden plants,” says Dirr. “Heritage, with the expanded and documented collection, will educate gardeners and scientists about the rich diversity within the genus. The garden will be the platinum standard for all who desire to increase their knowledge of this noble genus. The genesis of this expansion was spawned by the recent hydrangea conference at Heritage Museums & Gardens. The attendees’ excitement was palpable; their financial commitment gratifying.”
Work on the new Hydrangea test garden is slated to begin at Heritage in spring 2016.
Heritage Museums & Gardens is comprised of three galleries and 100 acres of gardens located in historic Sandwich, Mass. It is one of the top public gardens in New England. Its collections include thousands of rhododendrons, including the renowned Dexter varieties, and upwards of 155 varieties of hydrangeas. Other horticultural areas of interest include holly, daylily, herb, hosta and heather gardens, as well as more than 1,000 varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers.