The North American Hydrangea arborescens, along with H. paniculata, are the perfect answer for gardeners who want hydrangeas but can’t easily grow the big, blowsy ‘mopheads’ because their climate is too ‘continental’: hot and dry in summer and cold in winter. They are easy to prune and look after too – you just chop them back in spring, just as you would a buddleia, and the more severe you cut them, the more they spring back, with massive, terminal heads of blooms. The only problem is that although there are cultivars of H. paniculata with flowers that end their lives in a rich display of pinkish red, H. arborescens is available in greenish white, creamy green or pale cream.
The most popular and standard cultivar is ‘Annabelle’ and it is a great plant with large heads of sterile florets in mid to late summer that are striking and beautiful. So when ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ was introduced it was a big achievement – a pink ‘Annabelle’ that would allow anyone to have the effect of the showy mopheads in their gardens. I was a bit slow off the mark but have had the plant in the garden for two years now and am not quite sure if I am as excited now as I was when I first held the small, dormant plants in my cold hands last spring.
I may have been unlucky but some of the small plants, in 10cm pots, did not make much growth last year and they acted almost as herbaceous plants and almost died back over winter. This is surprising because the winter was very mild and this should be a cold-hardy plant. But they have grown this year and are starting to bloom. All the plants are in full sun most of the day and are in heavy soil. Some larger plants did better and they are in bloom now. The heads are large. In fact they are so large that the stems have arched and the flowers are hovering close to the soil, teasing the salivating slugs!
But I think the biggest disappointment is the colour. When they start to open the flowers are quite bright but they rapidly assume a rather dingy shade and they get worse as they age. I may get to like the colour and I guess I could say that it is a useful colour to mix with pink roses in a vase but somehow it has not quite done what I expected of it. One plant is near a black elder and I think this is a good choice because it may enhance the pinkness of the hydrangea – putting it near pinks may just accentuate the weakness of the hydrangea’s colour.
Geoff’s rating 7/10
Garden rating 8/10