26 June 2014

History of Annabelle Hydrangea

Almost everyone has seen or has grown the Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). So, I wanted to present something interesting for my featured plant - something most people do not know -- like "who was Annabelle?"

Obtained three years ago as a wee baby from the landscape architect friends, it was planted on the shady side of the back yard fence. I was filling in the areas along the fence. Having no plan or consideration, I take contributions of anything that grows. Normally my gardener's brain works backwards to most logical thinking: first get a plant, then find a place for it.

Our story begins in 1910 when Harriet Kirkpatrick was out horeseback riding along a wooded trail in the country outside Anna, Illinois. First, here's some interesting background on the family. Kirkpatrick Pottery was known for utilitarian and ceremonial presentation pottery (mostly ceramic pigs) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The family was wealthy so its could participate in activities like horseback riding. Pottery manufacturing was located where the clay and railroads were, and geologists reported that some of the finest clay was found in and around Anna, Illinois. Today the Kirkpatrick's Anna Pottery pieces have found their way to museums and collectors.

So wealthy Harriet was galloping through the woods, and noticed a wild hydrangea with large, more robust snowball-like blooms than the others. She summoned her sister-in-law Amy. "Have you ever seen a wild Hydrangea with snowball blooms?" So what would you do?

As we would have done, they scarfed it up and planted it in their garden. And also as we would have done, they proudly shared it with their neighbors and friends around town. 50 years later and growing 20 miles away (32 km) in an Urbana Illinois garden, it was brought to the attention of J.C. McDaniel, famous plantsman and professor of horticulture. Two years later after some nursery propagation and further investigation, it was introduced to the world. He first wanted to register the hydrangea as "Ballerina" (are ballerinas big and rotund?) but a name was selected to honor the belles of Anna who discovered it.

Its size and flower heads command attention and anchor one part of the back yard. Like dogwoods, the 'flowers' are actually flower bracts, which is probably why they last so long. I wrote this during the morning after an evening rain, and it reminded me of a known issue with Annabelle -- the tendency of the extra large heads to droop over, especially after collecting water.

Mother Nature did her own plant breeding to produce this hydrangea, easy to grow, large long lasting blooms, with few pests.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with gypsum
    & organic amendments
  • Mostly shade with morning sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: daisies, hydrangea,
    poppies, rudbeckia, echinacea,
    daylilies, bachelor buttons,
    hostas, cosmos
  • Harvested: green beans