The Beautiful Annabelle

Ilona Erwin

There have been times when the full blossomed Annabelle fairly burst forth in the garden, and I was embarrassed by her almost obscene abundance of giant orbs of bloom.

Ah, Annabelle, “my darling, my darling” – as the famous Poe poem goes, in the right place is no longer brazen, but a sumptuous hydrangea which can look lovely lining an allée, or in an awkward space created by the jog of a house corner. It has a very long blooming season since the pale cream inflorescence of sterile florets turns a soft green white, and then a deeper lime color which lasts until they brown late in the season. Even then, the flowers remain intact to catch the snow and give interest through the winter. This is one reason I like them paired with Sedum spectabile, which also is tough and holds its flower heads through winter.

Annabelle flowers

Annabelle flowers

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ grows well in cold climates, even to Zones 2 and 3. It is native to the Eastern United States. They have a height of 4-5′ and spread of 3-5′.

This hydrangea grows best when cut back in the new season, but since the old flower heads look very artistic in the winter landscape, simply wait until early spring and then cut the stalks to the ground. They will soon sprout new growth of rich green leaves that are a perfect foil for the blooms. Heavy rain can cause the plants to droop, like peonies, but they often have strong enough stalks to keep upright most of the growing season.

How to Grow

It is tolerant of most soils, and thrives in a range of light levels. Some say it needs moisture and doesn’t do well in full sun. That is not my experience. While that may be true of the mop heads like ‘Endless Summer‘ (which I love), I find that I can grow ‘Annabelle’ under the worst of dry conditions and in full sun. Perhaps that is because I live where the water table tends to be high, and moisture percolates up through it in droughty conditions. But I have found the smooth hydrangea to be a very tough plant, needing care only when first getting established. Like all newly transplanted plants, it then should receive regular moisture and some added organic matter. Hydrangeas do appreciate humus.

She Makes Herself at Home

These shrubs tend to spread on their own through their roots, although not in a threatening way. Hydrangeas are easy to pull up and you can make new plants with just a little of the root attached.
I may have to modify that statement a little, because as the years have progressed I find that when given ideal conditions of watering, good soil, and sunny aspect, Annabelle not only produces huge blooms, it can be a bit of a challenge to control. I’ve seen advice that promotes placing this shrub in a perennial border, but I would have to caution anyone thinking of this. If they have the good conditions of the perennial bed and any restraints on the size of the garden, this plant might be too vigorous.

But I still think this is a garden worthy and beautiful plant. Just wishing to share some observations on it, as it grows here in Ohio.

Plants with pretty green-tinted flowers: Sedum spectabile, Annabelle Hydrangea, ‘Green Ice’ miniature rose, Alchemilla mollis.

Other hydrangeas:
‘Endless Summer’, Hydrangea macrophylla has beautiful blue to pinkish blooms.

panicle hydrangea
Late Panicle Hydrangea

You can purchase Annabelle: Hydrangea – Annabelle
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.