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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Dialogue with Self About Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit

You were very harsh in judging this plant last season.

Well, you too would be harsh if 5 out of 6 hydrangeas that were planted in clients’ gardens, 2 of them Invincibelle Spirit, turned black and withered; those that bloomed did so on a flimsy and minuscule scale and when they were done, drooped and turned black.

What did you do with the unsuccessful hydrangeas?

As they represented a significant investment, I could not bring myself to discard. Instead, I replanted them in my test garden.

And what happened next?

All of the allegedly dead hydrangeas immediately began growing new foliage and, by the following year, flourished impressively, just as the grower had promised.

That you had to replace 5 hydrangeas in your clients’ garden was unfortunate and your frustration with the plant’s failure to impress was understandable. But, was it necessary to bad mouth Invincible Spirit? Why, just look at the sublime photo above, taken this season in your garden. Aren't the soft pink globes beautiful?

Yes, they are. I think my reaction last season was prompted by the grower who promised a lush pink flowering SHRUB, but neglected to alert gardeners not only to be patient, but also to expect the plant to behave as a perennial. In addition, my abrupt judgement was facilitated by gardening colleagues who also complained about drooping mop heads that turned black when they were spent.

Did everyone associated with this plant, from grower to writer, get it wrong? What is so bad if a plant droops? Don’t some of your gardening friends stake their white Hydrangeas Annabelle to prevent them from drooping? How many perennials in your garden need support, anyway? Baptisia, Peony, Delphinium, Platycodon, Anthemis? All of them, depending on their location in relation to the sun, might need staking. Whats wrong with supporting Invincibelle Spirit, as well? You already own the bamboo sticks and the green plastic twine. Now, you have another plant to tie up. Just because the grower made a mistake by calling this a shrub, when clearly it is performing as a perennial, is no reason to refrain from staking it. Simply add it to the list of perennials that require maintenance. As for the heads that turn black, have you never seen a head turn black before? Why the fuss? Belacamda’s large seed pods are black, as are the pods of Baptisia. And what about the ugly black dead heads of Rudbekia? You never complain about them. Can’t Invincibelle Spirit be dead headed throughout the growing season, just as some other perennials are?

Of course it can be staked and deadheaded. There is no reason not to do so. The second photo above reflects an attractive, staked Invincibelle Spirit, in its second year in my garden. Actually, it has generated many positive comments from passers-by who have compared it to a pink Phlox paniculata. [ Yes, this season I moved it to the front garden where all can appreciate it ].Just like some perennials do, Invincibelle Spirit needs staking, the flower heads turn black, and the plant starts off scraggly, taking a year or two in the garden before it looks impressive. In retrospect, this is not a traditional hydrangea bush. To Proven Winners, who are responsible for introducing it to North America, say after me:- For the greatest pleasure, and to avoid disappointment, treat Invincibelle Spirit as a perennial.

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Reader Comments (5)


I have not bought this one and probably won't. I already have many plants that need a little support throughout the summer. One hydrangea that I am loving this year is Starlight Let's Dance. It is small, neat and full of lace cap flowers.


July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGatsbys Gardens

I have two Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and they are beautiful this year, full of blooms and very healthy. This is their fourth year. It took that long to achieve this look and was worth the wait! I admit I thought they were planted in the wrong place but my gardener friend assured me they would flourish when established.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNHyland

Allan, I very much enjoyed this post. I appreciate the way you test plants in your own gardens and your willingness to go back and revise a previous judgment.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Thank you, you are giving me hope that the pretty plant I saw at the nursery in July, brought home and planted and now is without almost any leaves may not be dead! Some of the stems snap off easily (so I've cleaned those out) but others appear that the centers may be green so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's just catching on slowly. So, should I prune it close to the ground at this point to allow the roots to strengthen or just leave it alone? Thanks!

September 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Just leave it alone. If you prune it close to the ground , there is the risk that it might become invisible to the eye in early spring and might get damaged by gardening activity close by.

September 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterAllan

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