From My Own Garden Today: December 20, 2017


The dried flower heads of Hydrangea 'Annabelle' in the garden today

Hydrangea 'Annabelle' is certainly one of those classic plants that is spectacular when in bloom. Enormous white ball shaped flowers are about as dramatic as it gets. It's always a crowd pleaser. In the past few years, with the introduction of a huge number of new hydrangeas, I've noticed people shying away from it due to its somewhat lax habit of flopping when in bloom. However, at this time of the year, in my own garden, Annabelle takes an encore and becomes the star of the show for a second time in a season with its incredible dried flower heads. Here are a few thoughts on how to get the most out of this garden favorite.

Closeup of "Annabelle" in full splendor in summer


Closeup of dried flower heads of Hydrangea 'Annabelle'

'Annabelle' cascading onto the steps leading to my terrace during the summer.

The main axis of my garden in Ithaca, NY is a matching pair of 200' long shady perennial borders surrounding a 40' wide rectangular swath of turf. The borders are flanked by a double row of silver willows in the lawn which are clipped every few years. The borders, as a result, are in filtered light for most of the day.

Main axis with double shady herbaceous borders backed by 'Annabelle'

 From all my years of experimenting this is where Annabelle seems to thrive. Unlike many gardeners, I tend to appreciate her at her wildest. In the eight years since i moved 30 plants to this location, along the length of the borders, I have never once touched them. I just let them go. They have only thrived and have grown to the point where they need to be divided every 4-5 years.

 "Annabelle" Hydrangea now standing out after all herbaceous perennials have been cut back surrounding them.

The result is not only a show stopping display during the season, but also now as the dreary days of winter set in. The dried flower heads become the main attraction in the garden. I've always preferred to use this  plant on the woodland edge in a more naturalistic manner, than in a structured garden bed.

Used in a more naturalistic manner during the summer

By using her in this manner we can play to her strengths and reduce all of the maintenance normally associated with this plant. As a result, we no longer have to cut her back every summer to the ground. We also get a taller, sturdier plant with woodier stems which tops off at about 3'. This also helps alleviate the flop somewhat as the stems are now woody.

Used as a transition between the natural woodland beyond and herbaceous borders of the garden.

However, the best part is seeing the transformation the flower heads go through as they dry on the stem. Green, white, beige, and then finally a beautiful tan color. In the autumn and throughout he winter the hundreds of flower heads become the main attraction as the perennials in front melt away. Thats where i find myself in the garden today- enjoying the second act of Hydrangea 'Annabelle' on this beautiful winter day.

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  • Ulysses Hedrick