There’s a new hydrangea in town and like the Coneheads of 1970s’ Saturday Night Live fame, they’re a little bit different.
No, they won’t be giving out six-packs of beer and fried eggs for Halloween, but just about everything else they do is a little strange for a hydrangea.
First of all, they are very easy to grow, which will be a pleasant surprise for those of you burdened with the ‘hydrangea curse’.
Partial shade will no longer be necessary for beautiful flowers, as Hydrangea paniculata is quite sun-tolerant as long as the soil isn’t too dry.
They tolerate the ‘hacking husband’ or ‘choppy significant other’ as long as they choose to do their bludgeoning in early spring, as this species blooms on new wood and performs better with a hard pruning.
With the exception of the old-fashioned ‘PeeGee’ or ‘Grandiflora’ cultivar, they are not particularly prone to flopping over with heavy flower heads like those ‘Annabelle’ or Hydrangea arborescens types.
Some might complain that the flower colour is a bit limited with its pinks, whites, greens, and deep rose hues (including bicolors) – but given that Mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) change colour with pH and even ‘Nikko Blue’ can be pink in slightly alkaline soils, I believe it’s a moot point.
Paniculata hydrangeas are also so incredibly hardy (Zone 3) that they survive in Winnipeg, meaning that given the right sized pot, they make great container specimens here in coastal British Columbia.
A few compact cultivars ideal for pots include ‘Bobo’, ‘Little Lamb’, ‘Bombshell’, ‘Little Lime’ and the new ‘Little Quick Fire,’ with its white fading to pink blooms.
That hardiness, coupled with stem rigidity, also means that this species is ideal for training into standard or tree forms with three- to four-foot clear stems supporting the crown.
These make great patio features where large trees might overcrowd and they can be underplanted with summer flowers or perennials.
Most of the newer introductions are Proven Winner selections with ‘Limelight’ (elegant lime green flowers), ‘Quick Fire’ (early blooming) and ‘Pinky Winky’ (white / pink blossoms), proving themselves to be reliable over the past few years.
A new introduction (besides the aforementioned ‘Little Quick Fire’) for this fall is ‘Fire Light,’ with large bicolor blooms of white fading to a deep rose-pink.
Also worth looking for are some of the older varieties with more open flower structures such as ‘Brussel’s Lace’ (semi-dwarf), ‘Kyushu’ (lacy flower structure), ‘White Moth’ (ages to pale green), ‘Tardiva’ (cream flowers) and ‘Pink Diamond’ (fades to pink).
For those of you with lots of room and a desire for larger shrubs try ‘Phantom’ (huge non-floppy blossoms) or one of two French cultivars – ‘Great Star’ (also known as ‘La Vasterival’), with its large starry florets that resemble butterflies or ‘Vanilla Strawberry,’ with its spectacular bicolor blooms of rosy-pink with a white tip.
So when you take into consideration all the benefits of Hydrangea paniculata – cold hardiness, ease of care, sun tolerance, good in containers, blooms on new wood and tolerates hard pruning – it’s no wonder that it has become the top-selling hydrangea species for the past five years.
Sure, it might mean a few more Coneheads in your neighborhood, but is that any worse than the guy who waters his garden in nothing but a Speedo, or the woman who cuts the lawn in her bathrobe and curlers? I think not.
– Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (firstname.lastname@example.org).