I have always felt ambivalent about hydrangeas. Their extravagant mophead blooms seem at times almost too obvious, too showy, lacking in any subtlety. The horticulturalist Dan Hinkley once said that ornamental horticulture is a refinement of the raw data found in nature and likens cultivated garden flowers to highly refined sugar. Such is the way I sometimes view hydrangeas. Their enduring popularity has made them a common garden fixture, and it's hard to escape their presence.
The genus includes around 70-75 species that are natives to southern and eastern Asia, notably China, Korea and Japan as well as north and south America. In Japan, leaves from Hydrangea serrata are used to make a sweet tea called ama-cha that is used in a Buddha bathing ceremony on Buddha's birthday. My preference is for the oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), whose white panicles of flowers turn a beguiling dusty pink in the autumn.