2. Hydrangea paniculata

Hardy, Showy Panicle Hydrangeas

When the days grow short, one of the most spectacular plants on village greens across New England is PeeGee Hydrangea, formally, Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora. Fountains of large white cones of flowers spill from vase-shaped shrubs, ten feet tall. As they age, the blooms take on rosy pink earth tones.

A fall display of PeeGees in zone 5 New Hampshire. Panicles are hardy to zone 3.  Photo by Susan

Some garden writers insist that this non-native from China and Japan is overplanted and over-sized, a monstrosity in today’s suburban gardens.

Perhaps, but if they suddenly vanished, our fall family visits to New England would be the poorer. We look for them in every town, probably because we’ve never seen a knock-your-socks-off peegee close to home in the south.

A ‘Pink Diamond’ we purchased years ago comes close. It’s a survivor in drought. It needs less water and can take more sun than big leaf hydrangeas. It wilts only in very hot, dry weather. It’s one of those plants you cain’t hardly kill.

Tiny fertile flowers and showy white sepals combine to create an elegant bloom

Ours is planted in soil that can be wet in winter and dry in summer, definitely not the cushy moist but well drained soil that it would like. Over time we have added barrows and barrows of shredded garden wastes which compost in place, and the wet-dry extremes seem to be moderating.

To beat the invasion of the weeds each spring, we do the opposite of what our neighbors are doing. We don’t rake leaves off the garden bed. We rake them onto the bed to make a blanket so thick no weeds will ever get to see the light of day. (We hope.) The beds may look like unfinished business in early spring, but eventually the leaves compact and companion shrubs distract the eye. (That’s our story and we’re stickin’ to it.)

Our ‘Pink Diamond’ was a tyke when we planted it, barely a foot high in a four-inch pot, but it took off. So quickly, in fact, that some of its branches grew in scraggly. We had to take these off to give it some shape. Scary work on a little tyke, but the plant survived and grew.

Now we do light annual shaping. We take out crossing branches and odd stragglers. We thin out old, heavy stems. If the plant seems out-of-bounds, we cut it down to a height we like. Panicle hydrangeas flower on new wood, so we do not lose blooms if we prune in late February or March. If we miss that deadline, we leave it alone.

Today the plant is the autumn anchor for our semi-manicured jungle of equally

‘Pink Diamond’ towers over viburnum and nandina in the foreground

bodacious shrubs: hydrangeas, groundsel bush, viburnum, rose of sharon ‘Diane,’ . Oh, and did I mention a large wax myrtle we inherited with the property.

Competition notwithstanding, at almost ten feet it outshines its neighbors when panicles of creamy blossoms come into their own. With such splendor above, who would look down at a pile of dead leaves below?

As the flowers age, they become pink diamonds, even in a dry year. When other plants are flagging, pink diamonds are a gardener’s best friend. Eventually the

As they age, ‘Pink Diamonds’ truly are a gardener’s best friend

diamonds lose their sparkle, but we do not remove them until spring. The plant would look like a stack of sticks all winter. Maybe, just maybe, some insect might find a cozy haven from a cold winter rain under a petal-umbrella.

Our ‘Pink Diamond’ is such a dependable show, we decided to add a ‘Limelight’ to our collection. It has had a checkered career in our garden.

Nonetheless, it has soldiered on. During its early years it was rabbit chow. It eventually outgrew the rabbits, blessing us with

‘Limelight’s’ soft creamy blossom with a hint of lime adds subtle color to the garden

hope, until it became deer dessert. That is the penalty for buying small plants in small pots.

But as we said, you cain’t hardly kill these hydrangeas. It’s taken a few years, but today it is lighting up the back of the border with its bloom, despite being planted in more shade than sun. Bloom would be more prolific with more sunlight, but the contrast between creamy blossoms and a dark woodland backdrop almost matches the peegee show in New England. (Almost.)

Our most recent acquisition is ‘Tardiva.’ No, not another toddler. This one was an impulse buy, three feet tall and ready to bloom, no waiting. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that it was severely potbound. The nursery

No, this is not our newly purchased ‘Tardiva.’ Even in winter the aged panicles create a striking display.   Photo by Susan

assured us it was fine. Well, buyer beware. We sliced into its roots, repotted it in a larger pot with coarse potting soil (mostly ground pine bark) and will wait until fall to plant it.

Meanwhile, I might start looking for other relatives: ‘Bridal Veil,’ ‘Brussels Lace,’ and the little cousins, ‘White Moth’ and ‘PeeWee.’

Now, I wonder if there is space for another plant in the garden. No matter, I will find some.

You might also enjoy these entries on hydrangeas:

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea paniculata

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

The Hydrangea that Climbs

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom? Part I

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom? Part II

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom? Part III

Putting the Blue in your Hydrangea Bloom

Drying Hydrangeas

The Romantic Hydrangeas

The Grand Hydrangeas of Ireland

Letter to Lovers of the Blue


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