A request from a client to use hydrangeas as foundation plants left me feeling uncomfortable. In my climate, not all varieties in this genus grow sufficiently dense or substantial for that purpose. Furthermore, the client’s criteria are very specific, thus making most hydrangeas unsuitable for the project.
The shrubs are to be placed beneath a low hung picture window and they must not obstruct the view from inside the house. Any variety that grows taller than 3 feet, or significantly shorter, or that droops, won't do.
I had been hoping to plant Hydrangea Little Lamb to create the lush effect that the client required. Its performance impressed me when I saw it in the gardens of colleagues. However, the client vetoed that choice because it blooms in white, with a cast of lime, instead of the pink shading she prefers.
I cannot work with the group of Hydrangea Arboresens because the one pink variety, Invincible Spirit, is best grown as a specimen in a flowerbed. I am also reluctant to work with most Hydrangea macrophylla because they are not entirely easy care. Their breathtaking beauty is an incentive for passionate gardeners to tend to them with a tender love that I cannot provide post planting. In our climate of USDA Zone 4, Hydrangea paniculata is an easier care plant, with a more formidable presence.
One of the challenges I found myself up against was finding a paniculata that was dwarf, and that bloomed in pink. Last year at this time, I would have disappointed my client because there was none available. Fortunately, this season one of my suppliers is offering a newly introduced variety that meets all of her needs.
Normally, I would have first grown it in my garden, or would have searched online for a growing track record. Sadly, this variety is not readily available in North America, so that no one has reported about it. Even the European suppliers offer only the growers publicity. Therefore, I have no choice but to use it untested. Because paniculata have been so reliable in the past, and because this one is a diminutive of its cousin, the larger and successful, Vanilla Strawberry, I feel confident in taking a chance.
The new and unusually compact shrub is called Hydrangea paniculata Sundae Fraises that translates as Strawberry Sundae. It grows quickly into a bushy, even, and low shape, measuring just over 3 feet in height and width. Its dwarf size makes it suitable for small space gardens, patios, and balconies. I intend to plant three in a row up against the foundation and I will space them 2- 3/4 feet apart so that they can grow into each other to create a dense form.
In August, when the abundant green and white sterile flowers of this plant start to turn pink, the perfect, average sized panicles will appear as strawberry sundaes on this little shrub. To appreciate the full evolution of colors of the panicles, the leaves and flowers should not be watered directly.
As with most paniculata, flower color can vary with exposure, climate, and soil. Although they prefer to grow in humus-rich earth, they will also adapt to all soil types. Hydrangea paniculata grow in sun or part shade and should be pruned at winter's end.