I have a few different varieties of hydrangea in my yard, but a few months ago I bought my first Annabelle.
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' is a favorite of many gardeners. Unlike the more commonly gifted macrophylla 'Nikko Blue,' Annabelle is related to our native woodland hydrangeas, making it hardy in very cold winters as far north as Canada.
According to historical accounts, Annabelle is likely a mutation of those lesser showy, native plants. Native hydrangea flowers, with their clusters of both fertile and infertile flowers, often look like mounds of fuzz surrounded by a few sparse petals. Because Annabelle is a mutation that bears clusters of all sterile flowers on large snowball shaped inflorescences, the snowy white mounds can be as large as eight to 10 inches in some cases.
Legend has it the plant was discovered in 1910 in Illinois by a woman riding her horse through what is now Shawnee National Forest. Not able to get the plant out of her mind, she returned to the site, dug it up and took back to her home in the small farming community of Anna. Several cuttings and shared plants later, Annabelle hydrangea became available to the public in 1962. Since its introduction to the market, it has shown up in many old-fashioned plantings, especially those of our mothers and grandmothers who hoped to emulate the design of a cottage garden.
The large snow-white flowers, when left on the plant to dry, can turn lovely shades of lime, blue, rose and purple. If picked too soon, however, when the flowers are still too fresh, they will brown and rot like most others that are not classified as everlastings. The blooms are quite versatile and can be left as is when dry, or dyed and even lightly spray-painted. They make wonderful dried arrangements that can last for several months.
Of course, hybridizers are constantly working to improve what we already have and there has been quite a bit of excitement buzzing in the world of plant cultivation over a new variety of arborescens hydrangea sold under the trademarked name of 'Invincibelle Spirit.' The excitement is stemmed by the vibrant pink snowball flowers this new cultivar sports. Also called the first pink Annabelle, this hydrangea, like its sort-of namesake blooms on new wood, which means unlike those big-leafed macrophylla hydrangeas, we can get flowers year after year.
The Nikko blue and other macrophyllas (also known as mopheads), only produce flowers from stems that grew and matured last season. When your plant dies back to the ground in the fall, all that's left are tall stalks with buds up and down their lengths. These are next years flowers. However, labeled as hardy to zone 6 (we are in zone 5), our cold winters often kill those stalks.
People have tried and some have succeeded, although not without a lot of hoop-jumping, to get their mopheads to rebloom each season. Once in a while we might get lucky and have our plant in a zone 6 microclimate in our landscape. Yet most of us optimists continue to hope this will be the year we'll get flowers.
Once in a while we might get one or two from buds that made it, but we hardly ever see colorful mounds on our mopheads from year to year.
The new pink Annabelle, like the old-fashioned heirloom, blooms on new wood. You can prune this plant to one foot off the ground and it will still bloom on new growth it puts out that same season.
I wouldn't be surprised if a blue Annabelle isn't somewhere down the road, but for now, we can join in the excitement and start looking for this new plant in our garden centers next spring distributed by Proven Winners.
But that's not all. October is breast cancer awareness month and it has just been announced that for every Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea sold, Proven Winners will donate $1 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Who can argue with the opportunity to enhance your garden with this new plant and help a worthy cause at the same time?
Sounds like a win-win to me.