Saturday 18 November 2017

Big and beautiful hydrangeas

Hard pruning and good feeding helps prevents Annabelle’s foaming heads from flopping
Hard pruning and good feeding helps prevents Annabelle’s foaming heads from flopping

Gerry Daly

In recent years there has been a sizeable increase in the popularity of hydrangeas that make big foaming heads of flowers. The main reason for the new interest is an exceptional variety called 'Annabelle' with large, round white flowers.

The ordinary mophead and lace-cap hydrangeas have always been popular, especially for their late show of colour from mid-summer to autumn but 'Annabelle' brought an exuberance and vigour that is appealing to many people.

The ordinary hydrangeas are selections of Hydrangea macrophylla from Japan, while 'Annabelle' is Hydrangea arborescens, which means 'tree-like' but it is not quite tree-like.

It was called 'Annabelle' after the American town of Anna in Ohio, near where it was found.

It has a different habit of growth, flowering on the current season's growth while the older garden hydrangeas flower on last year's growth. This means that it flowers each year on new shoots and, unlike the mopheads and lacecaps, it is not affected by frost which disrupts the ordinary hydrangeas in areas away from the coast.

The popularity of 'Annabelle' has brought fresh interest in forms of the Chinese species Hydrangea paniculata, which, like 'Annabelle', flowers on current season growth. Some lovely new varieties of this species have become available. These have a loose, rather twiggy habit of growth like 'Annabelle'.

'Annabelle' has large round flowers, the others have pointed broad cone-like panicles. There are several named varieties. 'Floribunda' has plenty of large flowers and 'Grandiflora' has large flowers too - to 40cm long - often arching over.

'Tardiva' is late-flowering, upright in habit. 'Limelight' is good, white with a greenish touch. 'Pink Diamond' and 'Pinky Winky' have a touch of pink, as does 'Angels' Blush' and 'Vanille Fraise', meaning vanilla strawberry, is white, most beautifully flushed pink. There is 'Pink Annabelle' which is not as vigorous, but pretty. These hydrangeas have a tendency to flop down when the large flowers are filled with rain. They are often staked with iron hoops to keep them upright.

Hard pruning, even to ground level, and good feeding produces strong stems that stay upright with large flower heads, or light pruning and little or no feeding, and small flowers are formed that do not get as heavy.

Q: My fatsia was growing happily for many years but has developed a vertical split on the main stem and an area of rot down near the root. Leaves are turning yellow and falling off. A couple of green leaves are appearing from the root. Can the plant be saved?

P Conlon, Dublin

A:This sounds like bacterial slime flux, often smelly, a disease that occasionally affects trees and large shrubs and it is usually fatal. The green shoots might be from below the affected area and might survive if the infected top is cut away cleanly.

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