Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Belles

Day 144
The Daily DuBrule

Hydrangeas are a beloved plant yet they remain a mystery to so many people because very often they don't flower. When I teach hydrangea pruning I usually pack the house and many of the students come back and take the workshop over and over. All this old wood-new wood talk confuses them. Enter our fabulous native Hydrangea arborescens. No worries about pruning there. You could do what my late father used to do which is mow it to the ground every fall. It would grow back and flower every single year. That's because this species of hydrangea blooms on current year's wood. It is also hardy to zone 4 so there are no worries about hard winters or early spring frosts. Oh, and did I mention that this species will grow in lots of shade as well as full sun? How versatile of her.

For decades, there were two choices: the straight species, with nice, small white flowers that didn't fall over in the rain and 'Annabelle', with gigantic white flowers that turned heads but were a bit floppy when fully in bloom. This plant only came in white, with the flowers fading to a limey green in late summer. 

Enter 'Incrediball', bred to have the same gigantic flowers on stronger stems. Alright, someone finally figured out the flaw that made so many people annoyed at this great shrub. But that didn't solve the problem of color. Finally, a couple of years ago, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit' joined the party. This was the very first PINK form of this very hardy and easy care hydrangea.  Anyway, we were all really excited. BUT, when 'Invincibelle Spirit' finally arrived, I was less than enthusiastic about her performance and vigor. I took one home, the last, lonely, sad little plant left in the nursery in late fall, and planted it next to my smokebush. It took two years for this belle to come into her own. Now she is a true beauty.
'Invincibelle Spirit'

I was at a winter conference listening to my woody plant guru Michael Dirr shortly afterwards. He said "forget 'Invincibelle Spirit', I have bred 'Bella Anna' with is a far superior pink plant." I was excited. Well, my experience has been that yes, 'Bella Anna' is terrific, but it also needs a couple of years in the garden to settle in and come into her own. No matter, I love them all. They make great cut flowers, they are just beginning to bloom this week, and will add color to my borders for a good portion of the summer. This is one hardy hydrangea that is really worth planting, no matter what conditions you have in your garden.

'Invincibelle Spirit' with my purple smokebush


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