Annabelle was discovered growing in the woods in 1910 by Harriet Kirkpatrick. She recognized the plant as being something special, and later with her sister, she returned to the spot and took it home to plant in their garden on Chestnut Street in the town of Anna, Ill. This “pass along” plant was shared with many friends and family.
In 1960, J.C. McDaniel, a plant breeder and professor of horticulture at the University of Illinois, saw this beautiful hydrangea and traced its beginnings back to the town of Anna, where she was told the story of how it was discovered. She named it after the town and the two sisters (belles derived from the French word belle meaning “beautiful”).
Finally, in 1962, the plant made its first appearance in local garden centers and has since proven to be a wonderful addition to our zone 5 gardens. In fact, it is hardy from zones 4 to 9 and, like its ancestor, likes fertile, woodland soil.
It needs to be kept moist, not soggy, and grows best in shaded areas of the landscape.
You can plant it in full sun, but just expect it to wilt and look pretty pathetic during the hot part of the day.
H. arborescens and its cultivars flower on new growth, so you can prune these plants down to the ground every year and they will still bloom during the season.
Annabelle and Invincibelle are essentially trouble-free hydrangeas, but in dry weather they will need to be watered more often.
If you are interested in collecting and drying the blooms, it is best to cut them when the blooms are still fairly new because they will turn brown if allowed to dry on the plant. Strip the leaves from the stem and hang in bundles upside down in a cool, shaded area until they are dry. The plant will bloom again in late summer if you cut the early blooms for drying or for bouquets.
Because these hydrangeas are perennials, you can purchase them when they become available in garden centers and plant them as soon as you can work the soil in your garden.
The foil-wrapped potted hydrangeas you are offered for gift-giving are not raised to be grown in the garden.
They are greenhouse-grown and forced to bloom for our special occasions. There is no guarantee they would survive the cold in our zone if planted in the garden.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can read her What's Bloomin' blog at www.news-sentinel.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.