Dialogue with Self About Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit
July 25, 2011
Allan in Flowering Shrubs, Garden Design, Hydrangeas, Invincibelle Spirit, Perennial Plants, flowering shrubs, perennials

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.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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