Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hydrangea Heaven

Kansas gardens are living proof that not all hydrangeas are created equal.  I have always been a miserable failure at growing the more common blue or pink Hydrangea macrophylla, countless numbers of which I have purchased, watered, fertilized, protected, cursed and eventually mourned over.  My experiences with the more cold- and drought-resistant panicled hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) have been much more promising, however.  Here in the dry sunny Flint Hills, these large shrubs are dependable focal points for the August garden.
Without a doubt, the most floriferous display in my garden this week is 'Limelight' a fabulous panicled hydrangea that dominates its corner of the garden.  'Limelight' is an introduction from Holland patented in 2002, and it can make an enormous eight foot tall deciduous shrub in the garden, although mine seems to have maxed out at approximately 5 foot tall and wide.  The drought of the past two years seems to have worked in my favor this year, bringing the plant into a display that surpasses any other year.  'Limelight' grows in full sun and on an exposed site for me, completely unprotected from the Kansas climate, and it is cold-hardy to the tips.

'Limelight' Hydrangea
Some of the cone-shaped flower panicles of 'Limelight' are almost a foot long and 6 inches wide. They start out light lime-green and then fade to white and finally gain some pink tones in the fall, and the foliage seems to be resistant to insect and fungal damage here, although the leaves occasionally get a little crisped on the edges by the hot July and August sun.  I only regret that there is only a negligible fragrance and that the shrub is seemingly sterile in its environment, unattractive to bees and other valuable garden residents.

'Pink Diamond'
I grow several other panicled hydrangeas.  'Pink Diamond', pictured to the left and below, was labeled at purchase as a Hydrangea microphylla, but I can't find H. microphylla as a recognized species and online sources list it as H. paniculata.  'Pink Diamond' also provides a good floral display, and individual flowers turn pink quickly at the base of the panicles.  My 'Pink Diamond' shrub is about the same size overall as 'Limelight', and it sits at the opposite end of the same bed, forming white bookends at this time of the year for the other plants in the rest of the bed.
'Pink Diamond'

'Vanilla Strawberry'
H. paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' grows almost in the center of the same bed, and this has a much more subtle display than its show-off cousins.  At maturity, it is around four feet tall and wide, a little smaller than the H. paniculata cultivars, perhaps because it grows in the shadow of a towering  'Sweet Autumn Clematis' (seen to the left of the picture below) that also insists on trying to colonize everything within it's reach.  A note of caution is in order about the H. paniculata's:  Wikipedia states that hydrangeas are moderately toxic if eaten, with all parts of the plant containing cyanogenic glycosides.  Human beings sometimes try to smoke H. paniculata leaves, an often fatal action due to cyanide inhalation.  So, kids, don't smoke hydrangeas.

'Vanilla Strawberry' covered by C. paniculata
Although I've previously neglected to mention the garden usefulness of H. paniculata and other hardy hydrangeas as stalwart shrubs in Kansas, I would never leave them out of my next garden.  Right now, I've got high hopes for a yet small 'Pinky Winky' cultivar that I planted two years ago, although it has struggled in the drought and heat of its first two summers.  I'll also disclose that I've failed previously with H. paniculata 'Quick Fire', and with 'H. quercifolia', and 'H. quercifolia 'Little Honey',  but I think the latter native species deserves another try before I give up on it entirely.  It is supposed to have nicely-colored fall foliage that would be a good addition to my October garden.


  1. I love the paniculatas and Limelight in particular and have had it in two gardens.

    Does the Hydrangea arborescens, Annabelle, live happily in Kansas? I planted the improved variety of Annabelle, Incrediball (I hate that name) as it is supposed to have sturdier stems so the blooms don't flop. Gean

    1. Nope, at least not for me. Too much sun, I think.

  2. I wish my Hydrangas looked like yours. The one that does best for me is Annabelle. But I'll keep trying and live in hope that someday I'll have more beauties like yours. Thanks for sharing.

    1. And Annabelle here just dries up and dies!


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