Sunday, June 20, 2021 1 comments

Not your Granny's hydrangeas

'Glowing Embers only blooms once but is still a favorite after 50 years

 Colorful, low maintenance and long-flowering, hydrangeas have all the qualities you could ask for in a garden plant.
They aren’t fussy as long as you provide sun and moisture as your zone dictates. They aren’t plagued by pests or diseases for the most part. They’re attractive at virtually every stage, even aging gracefully. And they display extravagant clusters of delicate papery flowers that light up the landscape between June and October. 
Small wonder these versatile shrubs have long been stalwarts of the midsummer garden.


An old favorite is transformed

The hydrangea family is a relatively small one with around one hundred species in existence. The name is derived from Greek and means "water vessel". For most people, the French hydrangeas with their bright blue and pink flowers (determined by the pH of the soil) have been the most familiar. 

Then in 2003, a Midwest plant breeder introduced a new repeat-blooming variety and the hydrangea world was forever transformed.

The bigleaf hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’ not only produced billowy blossoms from early summer through fall, it was also exceptionally hardy blooming reliably from zone 9 to 4.

On the heels of ‘Endless Summer’ came more tantalizing hydrangea varieties including the Forever & Ever series, ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ and ‘Incrediball'. 

'Annabelle' was a parent to 'Incrediball' and 'Invincible Spirit'

Forever & Ever hydrangeas bloom on new wood so if they die back to the ground, they will return to bloom again the next year.

‘Invincibelle Spirit’ is the first arborescens variety to produce pink flowers. It was developed by Dr. Tom Ranney who works at the Mountain Horticultural Center at North Carolina State University, and a then-graduate student, Richard Olsen.

"Twist-n-Shout' lacecap hydrangea

While hiking through the Blue Ridge one day, Mr. Olsen spied a pink lacecap hydrangea that became an important part of their hydrangea breeding program. The eventual result was a spectacular rebloomer that produces 8-inch bright pink flowers for four months or longer.

 Starting over with fresh faces 
We didn’t know it at first but while we were living in Maryland, boaters going up and down our creek dubbed our place “the hydrangea house.” It’s funny because I thought of it as a rose cottage, but from the water, the saw a  solid hedge of blue blooms across the back of our white Cape Cod from June through August.

'Nikko Blues' were showoffs in our Maryland garden

 I can’t take much credit for the display because we inherited most of the bushes. They weren’t anything special – mostly the old fashioned ‘Nikko Blue’ (which my granny could possibly have grown). But despite bitter winter winds and summer droughts, they were always spectacular.

When we moved to the mountains in 2011, we brought some of the Nikko cuttings with us and also added the original ‘Endless Summer.’

The first year I wondered if we’d made a mistake with the new plant. The Nikko cuttings took off like crazy but every afternoon I could hear the blooms of 'Endless Summer' hitting the ground as they wilted in the afternoon sun.


Our Maryland cuttings made themselves at home in the mountains

The Endless Summer wasn’t a reliable bloomer for me and never seemed happy, so I am replacing it this year with a new variety called ‘Summer Crush’. The beautiful raspberry red blooms will make a great combo with my ‘Raspberry Dazzle’ dwarf crape myrtle.

'Summer Crush' courtesy Nature Hills


I had a space available near the front porch a few years back and decided to add a ‘Limelight’. The panicle hydrangea is described as having “football-shaped flowers in an elegant celadon green that look fresh and clean in the summer heat.” Maybe I got a dud because my blooms stay kind of an icky white and don’t last long. Plus the bush is huge and really should be taken out.

My 'Limelight' never looked this good


There is a new ‘Limelight Prime’ that is more compact, blooms longer and its stems don’t flop. That would be a better choice should I get two or three strong guys to dig out the old one!

I now regret not getting a ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ instead of ‘Limelight’. I admire the colors in the garden centers every fall. It is a relative of the classic PeeGee hydrangea and grows to 7 feet in height with a spread of 4-5 feet. (On second thought, it is probably too big for my space as well.)


Yummy 'Vanilla Strawberry'
However, it is said to deliver a summer-long parade of flower heads that change from white to pink to strawberry red, sometimes with all three shades showing off on the plant at once.

It sounds like a refreshing summer sorbet.

My grandmother would've thought it was delicious.