Sandra Thomas, Camp Hill, Qld
I have had a white hydrangea (photo 1) in my garden for some time and took two cuttings not so long ago. They grew and thrived, I planted them out and now they look like photos 2 and 3! Although the leaves look similar to a compact white hydrangea, the habit and flowers are totally different. Can you explain what has happened?
Elizabeth Swane says You have actually grown a lovely autumn-flowering plant called Chinese rain bell (Strobilanthes cusia syn. S. flaccidifolia). It strikes readily from cuttings, features trumpet-like flowers and grows to 1.5–2m tall. This accidental propagation has its merits, as it looks very happy among the other plants in your garden. The lush foliage is not dissimilar to hydrangea, so it would be easy to mistake when taking cuttings.
As for your white hydrangea, you could try again by taking hardwood cuttings this winter when the plant loses its leaves. Pieces should be pencil-thick, 10–15cm long. I have a lovely Chinese rain bell, which I prune hard in winter to maintain a compact size and shape. It likes a semi-shaded spot, with shelter from hot afternoon sun. You don’t often see this plant for sale in nurseries, as it’s a bit lanky in a small pot, but it is popular among garden club members who grow and share it via cuttings. It’s in the same family as shrimp plant, oyster plant and many other beautiful flowering plants.