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Hardy Hydrangea

Everyone knows that hydrangeas are hot, hot, hot. But have you ever thought about where breeding is taking hydrangeas? 

Everyone  knows that hydrangea are hot, hot, hot. But have you ever thought about where  breeding is taking hydrangeas?  For a better  part of the United States the answer may be improved hardiness and more reliable flowering. French Hydrangea -Hydrangea macrophylla is notorious its hit and miss flowering. This mysterious lack of flowers lies in the flower buds. The flower buds are formed in early autumn and are over-wintered.  If the buds are damaged by an early autumn frost, low winter temperatures, a late spring frost or by an untimely pruning, the plant will not flower.  As the gardening public (and garden centers operators) begin to understand that French hydrangeas are not reliable bloomers, they're going to be looking for a hydrangea that is hardy and reliable. 

Hardy hydrangea - Hydrangea paniculata may just be the plant everyone's been looking for.  It's a very hardy plant (USDA zone 4) and unlike the French hydrangea,  Hydrangea paniculata forms its buds in early summer just before it blooms in mid-summer. This slight difference in morphology ensures loads of reliable flowers. The flowers which appear in July or August make great cut flowers or can be easily dried to create lovely arrangements. Growing this hydrangea couldn't be easier. Plant it in full sun and watch it grow. It's adaptable to a wide range of soils and has no serious pests. For extra large flowers, plants can be cut back very hard in early spring.

If the this plant has any drawbacks, its that when we think of Hydrangea paniculata we only think of the old fashioned cultivar 'Grandiflora' - Pee Gee hydrangea.  This old fashioned plant, dating back to 1867, has large, almost gaudy flowers that flop every which way. The good  news is that there are now improved, more refined selections that are just right for today's garden.

The best new ones are 'Limelight', 'Little Lamb', Quick Fire, and Pinky Winky

Limelight  Without a doubt the best looking plant in my garden right now is Limelight Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’). When I first saw this plant in the Netherlands, my initial reaction was “Cool a hydrangea with soft green flowers, ... but wouldn’t pink be ever better. After getting the plant back to the U.S. and watching the plant grow, and watching people’s reaction to the plant (especially the response from women), I began to realize that this was one very special plant. After growing the plant for six years I’ve come to realize that this plant is was one in a million.

Limelight has it all! Not only is it drop dead gorgeous, it is also a performer. Gardeners from Orlando to Manitoba have sent me emails telling me how well this plant delivers. A landscaper from Chicago told me that he uses the plant in every design he creates. He told me that nearly all of his landscapes are in new neighborhoods with few trees. Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) reblooming or not, cannot take the heat and sun. They simply collapse under these conditions. Limelight on the other hand thrives. It takes sun or shade, sand or clay soils. In the North or in the South it has proven itself to be a winner.

Besides its unique flowers and its superb adaptability, there are several other things that make this plant a proven winner. It has very strong stems that hold up its massive flowers even after a heavy rain. The old standard variety - Pee Gee Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) deserves to be thrown on the compost heap because it is notorious for collapsing under its own weight. Also, if you watch Limelight closely you will notice just keeps sending up fresh new flowers. It blooms continuously from mid-summer until frost. This results in a unique autumn floral display - while the older flowers change from green to white to pink to burgundy, new green flowers are added to the color mix. In the autumn this wide range of flower colors is simply breathtaking.

Want to create something really incredible? A friend of mine has a 50 yard long hedge of Limelight running along side his driveway. People whizzing past his house at 55 mph literally slam on their breaks when they see it.

Limelight was developed by world renowned plantsman Pieter Zwijnenburg. Pieter and his wife Anja own a nursery in Boskoop, Netherlands.  Pieter received the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society’s Gold Medal Award this spring in Chicago. It was a well deserved award because Pieter is a very special person and Limelight is a very special plant.


Pinky Winky - Hydrangea paniculata ‘DVPpinky’ pp# 16,166

Pinky Winky is the creation of Dr. Johan Van Huylenbroeek, a well know ornamental plant breeder within the Department of Plant Genetics and Breeding at Flemish Institute for Agriculture. He developed this new variety by treating seedlings of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’ with the chemical mutagen colchicine. In amongst the resulting seedlings emerged a superb new Hydrangea that had just recently come to market in North America.


What makes Pinky Winky so special and unique is its white and pink two-toned flower heads that appear in mid-summer. The large, 16 inch long flower heads (panicles) emerge white and the flowers at the base of the panicle quickly turn pink. The flowering is indeterminate, meaning they continue to push new white flowers from the tip of the panicle while the older flowers transform to rich pink. As an added bonus the flower heads are held upright on strong stems and don’t droop like the ever popular Pee Gee variety. The plant also exhibits dark green foliage which makes for a nice backdrop for its beautiful flowers. Like all paniculata hydrangeas Pinky Winky blooms regardless of climate, soil, pH or pruning. Use it as a specimen plant or to create a spectacular flowering hedge.

Yes - Pinky Winky is a strange name for such a beautiful plant but it’s a name you can’t forget. I ask Johan about the name and he told me it was derived from a character on a children’s television program called Teletubbies!

Despite the name, Pinky Winky Hydrangea will find a wide following with adults. It is distinct, beautiful and easy to grow.

Little Lamb Hydrangea

Little Lamb is a sweet new compact hardy Hydrangea from Jelena DeBelder of Belgium. Little Lamb is unique because it's flower petals are the smallest of any Hydrangea. These diminutive little flowers are held in tight but delicate little flower heads that look like little dancing lambs floating above this compact shrub. This special shrub blooms in mid-summer and last into autumn. The pure white blooms light up a garden and blend wonderfully with all other colors. Use The Little Lamb in bouquets either fresh or dried to make a unique floral design.  This is an easy to grow plant with reliable flowering and flower color regardless of soil pH or winter temperatures. The blooms are well distributed making a very nice plant and display.



Quick Fire Hydrangea paniculata 'Bulk' ppaf

Quick Fire is a Hydrangea breakthrough, in that it blooms months earlier that older varieties, extending the bloom time and beauty from early summer thru autumn.Not only does this variety bloom early, its blooms change from white to a rich pinkish-red before other varieties even start to flower. A remarkable plant that is changing the way we garden.This is a very hardy selection that blooms reliably every year, no matter where you live or how you prune. Absolutely no fussing or guessing like with other Hydrangea. Quick Fire is a blaze of color.

The genus Hydrangea is a wonderfully diverse and beautiful group of garden plants. Their popularity is at an all time high.  Martha Steward Living, Horticulture and Fine Gardening have all created interest in Hydrangea but unfortunately the varieties she highlights are not hardy or reliable blooming. These new selections of Hardy Hydrangea may just the answer. They're hardy and they bloom reliably. They're easy to grow,  great for cutting or drying and they attract butterflies. As Martha would say "That's a good Thing."

 By Tim Wood  All rights reserved ©  Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.

Patent Info: 'Limelight' Hydrangea paniculata PP: 12874 Can. Can.: 2319; Pinky Winky Hydrangea paniculata 'DVPpinky' PP: 16166 Can. Can.: 2892; 'Little Lamb' Hydrangea paniculata PP: 15395;  Quick Fire® Hydrangea paniculata 'Bulk' PP: 16812 Can. PBRAF;

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