Heartfelt hydrangeas

Roger Allen has been involved with growing a commercial crop of hydrangeas for about 18 years, although more recently has taken a step back with his daughter taking charge of the business that grows hydrangeas for export as cut flowers, with one of the biggest markets being Dubai.

Roger’s been involved with growing flowers for a lot longer though, starting out at Whakamarama with mainly carnations and chrysanthemums, before moving to Plummer’s Point about 24 years ago, then moving into hydrangeas.

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Roger Allen with some hydrangea stems. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We’d got talking at a couple of funerals recently (as you do) and Roger invited me to see a some of his new hybrids that he’s so pleased with he will go through the PVR process (plant variety rights) and release them to commercial growers.

“There’s probably three I will release, one of them an improved version of ‘Sensation’, but I haven’t named them yet. I think a flower name has to have a little bit of music in the mouth.”

The business grows all but a few of its hydrangeas in bags and Roger pointed out the difference his aluminium-rich soils make – a vivid pink flower in a grow bag becomes a lustrous purple in the ground. “You can change the colour of a hydrangea by adding aluminium to the soil, but it takes a long time,” he says.”

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One of Roger’s as-yet unnamed seedlings. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the early days of hydrangea exporting people were picking them from the old bushes that can be found beside many roads in New Zealand. “People were getting good money,” Roger says, “but the flowers looked horrid. We’ve come a long way since then.

“I started with hydrangeas primarily because there was money in it, but now it’s turned into a bit of a love affair. It’s a really nice bloom and I’m absolutely in awe of it – a flower changes on the bush daily until it goes to ‘antique’ and changes completely.”

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Hydrangea ‘Irene’, hybridised by Roger Allen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He has already released two hybrids – ‘Bush Fire’ and ‘Irene’ – and is thrilled that the latter, a soft pink, has proved so popular exporters now request it by name, rather than colour.

An intriguing note to hydrangea breeding is that seedlings can throw either way – mophead or lacecap – no matter what their parentage, but up until 2 years ago Roger had never had a lacecap result from his work.

Roger is opening his garden for this year’s Bay of Plenty Garden and Artfest from November 15-18. Read about his garden in this earlier post.

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