Annabelle Hydrangea: Horseback ride too Horticulture Hall of Fame.
A quick ride through any neighborhood in Cincinnati will reveal the importance of Hydrangea’s in our landscapes. Oak leafs, Paniculatas, macrophylas and climbing Hydrangeas all populate local gardens.
Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” is one of the hardest working member of this genus. Long lasting large white flowering heads sit atop three to four foot, slightly colonizing plants. Even after the color fades, the blooms persist, providing interest though the fall and winter months.
Provided with ample moisture, and shade from the hottest part of the day, Annabelle is one of the easiest Hydrangea’s to cultivate. Pruning is a dream. Prune to 18-24 inches in late winter or early spring. They can also be cut to the ground. No need to worry about losing flower buds, it flowers on new wood. Since the flowers are white, there is no angst over changing the ph of the soil to get pink or blue.
One of the common problems with Annabelle and other large-headed Hydrangea’s is flopping. After a rain, all the stems are lying on the ground. When you cut the patch down to the ground every year there is no chance for the plant to develop a thicker stems. This is the reason for pruning 18″-24″, the stems get thicker and are better able to hold the flower erect. Planting in groups helps them support themselves. Plant hoops, planting along a fence and branches placed around the plant early in the year also help support the heavy flowers.
Hydrangea arborescens is native to the eastern USA. It can be found growing on moist shaded woodland slopes and wooded edges. The flowers as a whole are a flattish umbel of fertile and sterile flowers.A corymb to be exact. On Annabelle it is the sterile flowers that provide the show. The straight species are mostly the less showy fertile flowers. They are kind of fuzzy and not nearly as dramatic. Even though the species is not nearly as showy as Annabelle, it does have an understated beauty which I always enjoy in its native setting.
Annabelle comes from humble beginnings. In 1910 Hubbard Kirkpatrick’s mother notice the plant in the woods while she was on a horseback ride through the hills of Anna Illinois. Upon her return home she asked her sister-in-law,Amy Kirkpatrick, “Have you ever seen a wild Hydrangea with snowball blooms?” Amy was interested and the two moved the plant to their garden in town. Over the years they shared starts with the neighbors and soon it was seen growing throughout the town of Anna.
The ladies wrote to Burpee Seed Company asking if a snowball Hydrangea was known in cultivation. Burpee replied with information about the 1906 introduction “Snowhill”. 50 years passed and their Hydrangea was passed along in gardens throughout Illinois. Legendary Plantsman, Joe C. McDaniel, University of Illinois, found the plant growing in an Urbana Illinois garden and traced its roots back to Anna. He introduced it to the country in 1962.
Mr. McDaniel speculated that had the 1906 Snowhill Hydrangea made it to Anna Illinois they may not have given the woodland plant a second look since it had not reached its full splendor.
Annabelle’s floriferous nature, ease of cultivation and sheer beauty definitely make her a First-Ballot Hall of Famer.
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