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Remember the old days when northeastern Iowa gardeners suffered from hydrangea envy?

We wondered why we couldn't more successfully grow those gorgeous mophead hydrangeas like "Nikko Blue" (Hydrangea macrophylla) that Martha Stewart grew in her highly acidic East Coast garden and fawned over in her TV show and magazine. Grown here, the foliage looks nice but flowering is spotty thanks to frosts biting developing buds in our zone.

Unless hydrangeas are grown in containers, it's not as easy to control the soil pH. It's easier to change a hydrangea from pink to blue than the other way around, too, according to experienced gardeners. Color saturation varies according to variety, although fertilizing several times a year may have a slight impact on color. You also might notice a newly planted or transplanted shrub with different color flowers as it acclimates to its new location.

Some gardeners raked aluminum sulfate (blue) or garden lime (pink) into the soil around white oak-leaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia), hoping to turn flowers even the softest shade of blue or pink. Unfortunately, no amount of chemicals will turn a white hydrangea a different color.

And we still love those classic "Annabelle" smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) with humongous ivory flowers that dry to dusty pink each fall.

Then along came "Endless Summer," "Blushing Bride," "Twist-n-Shout" and "Bella Anna," bred in Minnesota, and one of my personal favorites, Proven Winners' "Limelight" (H. paniculata), and others like "PeeGee," the "Let's Dance" series and "Vanilla Strawberry." Suddenly interest in these flowering shrubs exploded.

Talk in my garden circle recently has been all about the numerous hydrangeas featured in the new Wayside Gardens catalog for zones 4 and 5 (we're 5a).

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Here's a look at a few:

"Quick Fire" (H. paniculata), cultivar name "Bulk" --- Vigorous with flowers on new wood, blooms open white and turn rosy-pink; terrific bounce-back after severe winters; 6 to 8 feet high and wide at maturity; Zones 4-8.

"Incrediball" (H. arborescens), cultivar name: "Abetwo" --- Basketball-sized round flower heads open pale key-lime and mature to white; descended from "Annabelle;" reaches 4 to 5 feet high; Zones 4-9.

"Ruby Slippers" (H. quercifolia) --- Dwarf oakleaf hydrangea developed by the National Arboretum from parents H. "Snow Queen" and dwarf "Pee Wee"; large leaves turn from deep green to russet-mahogany in fall; 9-inch inflorescences packed with florets that turn from white to pale pink and finally to rich ruby-red; Zones 5-8.

"Paraplu" (H. macrophylla), cultivar name: SMHMP1 --- Double flowers in pink to deep purple resembling bright parasols dangling in sun to part-shade; compact, heavy-blooming and heat-tolerant; colors are sensitive to soil type; partial shade; Zones 5-9.

"Fire and Ice" (H. paniculata), cultivar name: "Wim's Red" --- Changes bloom color every few weeks, opening cream, turning to blush pink then cotton-candy pink and in fall, magenta-burgundy; ultra-compact, Zones 3-8.

"Little Honey" (H. quercifolia) --- Bright gold foliage, darkens to chartreuse then green as white blooms appear, and scarlet in fall; 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide; Zones 5-9.

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