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Entries in Hydrangeas (3)


The Surprise of Pink Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit

Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit by Proven Winners. The flower heads in my garden are a shade lighter.Readers might recall that I once had a roller coaster emotional experience with the pink flowering Hydrangea, Invincibelle Spirit. That love-hate relationship continued for the first two years after planting. The saga ended when I made peace with the plant by treating it as an integral part of my flowerbed design, i.e. as a summer perennial. I staked it when necessary and dead headed the spent florets when they blackened.

Image supplied by Proven WinnersHowever, something magical happened this season. This summer, Invincibelle Spirit, arched over nicely so that staking became an option and not a necessity, and the spent flower heads did not turn black. Then, during the month following the initial blooming, the spent flowers transitioned from pink to ivory-beige. As it appears now in my flowerbed, it provides a fascinating texture to the overall composition.

The camera captured a prominent green cast to the color of the spent flowers that was not visible in the garden.The unexpected and pleasant surprise continued when, in the midst of drought and searing heat, the spent hydrangea shrub was audaciously transplanted, by this sometimes reckless gardener, without any apparent consequences.

If only I had remembered one important fact about this plant, learned while researching it online:- deadhead flowers when spent. That action would have stimulated reblooming and I might have enjoyed an additional crop of pink florets. I’ll remember that for next year.

The above image demonstrates the appearance of the spent flower heads at the beginning of September, over a month after they lost their pink color. In full disclosure, the plant was staked just before it was photographed. Otherwise staking was not required, even after transplanting.

It has taken three years for me to appreciate firsthand what the grower, Proven Winners, had promised so long ago. I hope the results that I’ve experienced this summer turn out to be a permanent evolution; and not an aberration brought on by the unrecognizable weather conditions we’ve experienced lately.

Proven Winners attaches elaborate hang tags to plants in their series of Endless Summer hydrangeas. These tags are full of information influencing and reinforcing consumer decisions to buy. I wish that a similar marketing strategy had also been used for Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit. That way, I might have been alerted to the possibility that this plant required maturation before I would reap benefits.

From another perspective, perhaps this variety should not be brought to market until it is at least four years old. It must be very challenging to be a commercial grower and find that, in spite of the sincere efforts of humans, the unpredictable and uncontrollable power of nature will always prevail.


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.


The Importance of Being a Patient Gardener

It is always exciting to read about new introductions of ornamental shrubs and perennials. I keep my note pad beside me as I scroll through gardening sites waiting for an opportunity to record the names of future plant introductions. Living in Canada, I understand that many new varieties will not make it to my side of the Canada-US border until a year after the are introduction into the USA.

Hydrangea IncrediballImagine my surprise when several of those got-to-have plants appeared a year earlier than expected in the catalogue of my wholesale suppliers. The publications usually arrive in November giving commercial clients an opportunity to place their orders early for the following spring.




Hydrangea Red SensationAs a garden designer, with no commercial traffic, I do not book in advance. I purchase, as I need. However, knowing that new introductions would be available, I made room for them in the garden compositions of new clients; it was my expectation that I would give them something new to differentiate their gardens from that of their neighbors. However, that was not to happen.


Hydrangea Invincibelle SpiritMost of the new introductions that I ordered, especially new varieties of Hydrangeas, failed to arrive. They were “sold out”. They had been allocated to the retail nurseries last November. On a recent visit to one of my suppliers, I asked how early I must book an order to assure delivery of this category of plants.

“Don’t bother”, was the reply. ”The new introductions are distributed directly to the retailers. We do not stock inventory for landscapers and garden designers because you should not be using a newly introduced plant that has no track record. Wait a season or two until the plant‘s performance has been established"..

That was very wise advice. I have been doing just that with perennial plants for years, growing them in my test garden for a year before including them in my work. I never stopped to consider the importance of that experimentation when working with ornamental shrubs. Therefore, Hydrangea Incrediball, Invincibelle Spirit, and Red Sensation did not make it into my clients’ gardens this season. I am disappointed that I was unable to offer them something different. However, I do understand that there would have been greater disappointment, both for my clients and for me, if I had planted a new variety that might have failed to perform.