'Annabelle' Is the Showiest Hydrangea of All
How do we love thee, hydrangea? Let us count the ways. Your bountiful showy blossoms, your vibrant green foliage, your dependable growing habits, your ability to boost curb appeal throughout the year. There's nothing not to love about the South's favorite flowering shrub. The secret to hydrangeas' crowd-pleasing nature might be the different shapes of flowers available for gardeners—like the popular 'Limelight' variety's conical blooms or the French hydrangeas' famous mophead shape—or the range of bloom colors on the market—like the rosy-pink 'Vanilla Strawberry' or violet 'Let's Dance Rave' selections.
For a classic cottage garden, our top choice is the showy 'Annabelle' hydrangea. And it truly is a classic—'Annabelle' was discovered in 1910 growing near the Southern Illinois town of Anna. It's part of the Hydrangea arborescens family, which are commonly known as smooth hydrangeas. Smooth hydrangeas are big-leaved, deciduous shrubs that grow wild in most of the eastern half of the country, as well as in Kansas and Oklahoma. The cultivar 'Annabelle' is a particularly hardy, widespread grower, performing well in yards as far north as New York, west as Iowa, and south as Louisiana and Florida. The shrub had such superior flowers to most wild versions that gardeners couldn't resist passing it around until a professor finally took notice and started producing 'Annabelle' commercially in the 1960s.
Why You Should Grow 'Annabelle' Hydrangeas
'Annabelle' hydrangeas are famous for their huge clusters of greenish-to-creamy white flowers, which can grow up to a foot across over a period of time. The shrub itself reaches 3 to 6 feet tall and wide. The flowers will grow whiter as they mature over summer. These large, fluffy blooms are a hallmark of cottage gardens. The strong, sturdy stems grow straight up, eventually bending outward under the weight of heavier flower heads. It thrives in zones Upper South (US), Middle South (MS), Lower South (LS), Coastal South (CS), and USDA 6–9.
The 'Annabelle' hydrangea opens its snowball-sized blooms in late spring to early summer. The flowers will stay fresh until fall, when its leaves then begin to turn a golden yellow, eventually dropping off once the plant goes dormant for winter. The flowers dry into papery tan blooms that can be used in indoor flower arrangements. 'Annabelle' fits right into a woodland setting, in a mass planting along a fence or border, or on either side of the front steps leading up to your wraparound porch. Tuck ferns or small-leaved foliage around your hydrangea for contrasting texture.
Caring for 'Annabelle' Hydrangeas
'Annabelle,' like other Hydrangea arborescens, blooms on new wood. Prune it in late winter to avoid losing any flower buds. You can prune it hard, down to a foot or so from the ground, to prevent stems from growing overly spindly during the growing season and drooping under the weight of its flowers. This fast-growing selection will send up new shoots each spring, getting ready to show off its famous flowers throughout the summer. And like other smooth hydrangeas, 'Annabelle' will spread by suckering. That's no problem if you're looking to fill a corner of the garden with billowing blooms. There are new-fangled versions of smooth hydrangeas, like the 'Incrediball' and the 'Invincibelle,' but we'll always have a place in our hearts for 'Annabelle.'