Lakeside’s Botanical Secret

Guest Blogger: Cheryl Harner, Lakesider and Weedpicker’s Journal Blogger

If the cottages of Lakeside could talk, we might hear some intriguing stories.  After all, since the mid 1870’s it has been a gathering place for families and the famous alike. You might be surprised to learn the exciting story which came to light during my recent visit to Lakeside.

While attending the Gardening as Landscape Painting series, Dewey Hollister and I spent a good bit of our free time enjoying the gardens and grounds. We particularly savored the architecture and landscapes which incorporate a century’s worth of designs.  We visited elaborately planned gardens and several of the most naturalistic remnants of plant communities on the Marblehead peninsula.

As we walked through town, Dewey noticed the cultivated hydrangeas which seemed to tell the story of Ohio’s native plants and their appearance in our gardens. What could say “summer cottage” better than a foundation planting of hydrangeas?

These wild hydrangeas have rather small flower heads and bear more fertile flowers than showy sterile florets. Fertile flowers are the smaller pollen-loaded reproductive portions of the flower.  Today’s hybrid hydrangeas boast larger showier flowers which are preferred by many gardeners, but do not provide pollen for our much need pollinators.

Some early Wild Hydrangeas, Hydrangea arborescens probably sported a more uniform Hydrangea arborescens var. grandiflora which directly translated from the Latin means: Hydrangea of the woods with grand flowers.  This grandiflora genotype was later developed into the standard and completely sterile “Annabelle” Hydrangea we all know today.

Through the years, nurseries and gardeners quit growing the old standard as the much showier “Annabelle” Hydrangea became commonly available. The basic grandiflora form has been all but lost, until Dewey’s realization that Lakesiders have shared and preserved this plant for over 100 years!

It takes very little imagination to see how neighbors might have split off a start of their cherished hydrangea to welcome friends and family as their cottages were built in our fair Chautauqua.  What could be more neighborly or Christian than to share your favorite low-maintenance plant?

The difference between “Annabelle’s” larger leaves and the showy, fully-sterile flower heads become more obvious with a little practice.  Soon you will notice many cottages with their original Hydrangea arborescens by the door and a nearby line of more recently added hydrangeas from the horticulture industry.

Test your botanical ability on your next Lakeside walk.  Try finding Ohio’s missing heritage hydrangea which has been hidden in plain sight all along!  One has to admire the old-time Lakesiders for having the ability to preserve something special through love and friendships.

Cheryl Harner is a Lakesider who shares her thoughts and words about the beauty of Lakeside on her blog, Weedpicker’s Journal. Her childhood interest in wildflowers and butterflies developed into a life-long love of gardening and a fascination with the connections between plants, insects and birds. Read more stories from Cheryl Harner’s blog, by visiting

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