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

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Entries in Invincibelle Spirit (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.


Designing for Others and Ourselves

During the course of this gardening season, I dealt with clients whose needs were remarkably varied. Each one’s requirements compelled me to create original garden compositions that were custom tailored to a client's wish list. There was to be no reusable plan and no formula design because every client I interviewed had unique or specific requests. Most had well established color preferences, some had peculiar aversions. One client instructed me not to plant perennials with small flower heads or miniature petals. An objective such as this one might seem easy to fulfill. However, it turned out to be a challenge. During the busy and hectic season, I worked with plants that already had a successful track record for color, texture, height and floriferousness. That helped to streamline the work and made me more efficient. There was no time to pay attention to the size of the flower head or the scale of the petals. As expected, after the garden was completed, the client was displeased with some of the plants in my repertoire and asked that they be replaced. So much for trying to be efficient!

When the gardens started to bloom, it was fascinating to discover how many clients rejected the same plants. This past year, I have had to remove Nepeta Walkers Low and Salvia nemerosa Plumosa from all of the beds in which they were planted. Most clients decided that Nepeta grows to an overflowing size and makes the garden appear messy and when the Salvia flops down to grow horizontally, it appears far messier than it does in the trade photos. However, the most devastating criticism came recently when some clients saw the Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit in bloom for the first time. I had planted this new pink variety in four gardens because I wanted to give my clients something different; something original that would help make their gardens look unique. Sadly, three clients phoned to request that I remove and replace it. They complained that it appeared either  floppy, messy, skimpy, scrawny, or shabby. It is unfortunate that a plant with so much touted potential should bring so much disappointment. This is not the first time that a new plant has been more attractive in print that in the garden. I become so enthusiastic when I read about new varieties that I forget that one must be wary of the marketing hype disseminated by growers and distributors.

Given our deep involvement in the needs of all of the clients, sometime’s it becomes hard for us to figure out what kind of gardens we want for ourselves. In her blog Designers on Design, dated July 13, 2010, Susan Lundrigen posted an interesting perspective on this subject. Her post got me thinking how I managed to maneuver through this obstacle. A creative trick that helped me to design a personal garden was to treat it as if it weren't mine. I designed it so that it pleased my wife and children. That gave it a theme, a focus and direction. However, after it was completed and started to bloom, I began tweaking it because the act of making it pleasing to others sensitized me to my own garden needs. Now, whenever time permits, I make incremental changes to my flower beds in order to convert them into the garden that I didn't know I wanted.

This has been a busy planting season, one in which I have worked 12 hour days since the first week of May. Now is the time to take a well deserved rest before bulb-planting and harvesting of perennials begin. Therefore, I will be away from my computer and this blog, until the week of September 5.

 A bientot!