Four seasons of beauty: ‘Annabelle’

In the spring

On this Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, I’m going to focus on one plant: my ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea arborescens. Until I met ‘Annabelle,’ I didn’t have much luck with hydrangeas. Their performance was just so-so. We have extremely hot summers, and even in the shade, my hydrangeas often sulked. Once again, I must credit my friend, Wanda, for my love of ‘Annabelle’ as she introduced us two years ago. Her shade garden was bordered with these beauties which she grew from cuttings. Thank you, Wanda. For several years, I grew an old fashioned mophead hydrangea (I don’t know the variety,) and it did pretty well, except that we also have cold winters, and late freezes. The mophead often had beautiful leaves, but no flowers due to being nipped late in the spring. Because ‘Annabelle’ flowers on new growth, she is never badly hurt.

I also grow the Everblooming series of hydrangeas. Thus far, I am not that impressed.

Like a wallflower at the big dance, ‘Annabelle’ sits at the back of two shade borders looking nondescript until she starts to bloom. Her large blooms start out as tight green balls which expand until they are ten inches across. At this point, they turn a beautiful snowy white, the perfect thing to brighten shady spots. After a month of blooming white, they turn a lovely light green again as they age with their final color a soothing light brown.

In my garden, the beautiful ‘Annabelle’ blooms from early June through September. She begins with the daylilies and is so constant that sometimes I forget her, so I am remedying that now. Those who don’t know her sometimes mistake her for an Eastern Snowball bush Viburnum opulus, but her flowers are much larger and more delicate, and she blooms later than the snowball.

Later in the summer
Later in the summer

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, ‘Annabelle’ is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9, so almost everyone can enjoy her beauty. She is considered a smooth leaved hydrangea, and I can attest to that. Her foliage is somewhat different from the other hydrangeas I grow, but I don’t grow her for her foliar attributes. I grow her for the luscious blooms and easy care.

I read that she is not drought tolerant, but I would say she is more so than my other hydrangeas. When she starts to wilt, she is a good indicator that I need to water the shade garden. Her flowers are so large that they droop to the ground after the rain. They can be staked, but I like the drooping effect.

Next year, I’m planting another ‘Annabelle’ on the other side of this arbor. Maybe they will both droop toward the center aisle for a pleasing effect. Plans like these are what keep me gardening. It’s always the dreams of what to do next.

‘Annabelle’ has excellent disease resistence, and she is bothered little by insects.

Arbor with 'Annabelle' on the right
Arbor with 'Annabelle' on the right

Again from MOBOT, “This species blooms on new wood, and may be pruned back close to the ground in late winter each year to revitalize and to encourage vigorous stem growth and best form. Plants may die to the ground in harsh winters. If not pruned back, any weakened and/or damaged stems should be removed in early spring.”

Those prunings can be turned into more plants with rooting hormone and potting soil. There’s nothing like rooting your own ‘Annabelles’ and then spreading them throughout the shade garden.

According to MOBOT, ‘Annabelle’ is a native and was found near Anna, Illinois. I’m sure glad someone found her. She’s a great example of an easy to grow native who found a permanent home here.


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  2. I enjoyed this in-depth look at the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. Now I want one! or three!

  3. Les says:

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. If you see Dr. Whitcomb again, tell him thanks for all of the great Crape Myrtles, especially my current favorite – Dynamite. We sell several of his cultivars at work.

    I also like Annabelle, especially the fact that they start off so green, and the pruning instructions are dead simple compared to H. macrophylla.

    Les, thanks for visiting. I will tell Dr. Whitcomb for you when I see him. He has created some beautiful plants. As to pruning instructions, I need dead simple. 🙂 ~~Dee

  4. Nancy says:

    I think, like many of the commentors above, I’ll be looking for Annabelle as well. I’ve JUST the spot for her!

    Nancy, I don’t think you’ll regret it.~~Dee

  5. Martha/All the Dirt on Gardening says:

    You make us all want one of those Annabelle hydrangeas, Dee.
    I have tried 4 other varieties and remain unimpressed with all but Annabelle.
    Maybe next year I’ll get one.

    Hi Martha, I think you’ll be pleased with Annabelle. I love her very much.~~Dee

  6. Muum says:

    Good info, I”ll check into Annabelle, she sounds like a winner!

    Thanks, Muum.~~Dee

  7. Annabelle certainly seems to be well worth growing. And a beauty too! Nothing beats white flowers in shady spots!

    Thanks for the advice on my clematis General Sikorski. I won’t dig him up…just yet. ; )

    Hi Katarina, I hope the General graces you with his presence again.~~Dee

  8. Your ‘Annabelle’ is definitely a beauty. Thank you for giving her such a thorough review here. 🙂

    Kim, thanks for visiting.~~Dee

  9. Gail says:


    She is a great plant…my first arborecens in the garden were Hydrangea arborescens sps that a friend let me take from her woodlands…they really are great indicators that it’s time to water the garden!

    She will look good with her twin sister across the path from her and showcase very nicely your wonderful gate!

    Have you heard about the variety Ryan Gainey? It is supposed to rebloom after cutting the just turning brown flowers!

    Gail, when I did research on this plant, it was the first time I heard of this cultivar. Hmmm, that would be good, wouldn’t it?~~Dee

  10. Anna says:

    I saw some Annabelles this weekend and almost bought one. I think it’s one of trhe prettiest blooms. Yours is nice and big too. I was surprised it was that drought tolerant.

    Anna, it’s drought tolerant in my garden once established, and drought tolerant is relative to other hydrangeas.~~Dee

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Poor Annabelle has died in my garden. I could never figure out why. Perhaps it was a dry summer when I planted her. After reading your post I might give her another try. I have a new bed that could use a hydrangea.

    Oh, Lisa, and I am so sorry. She needs quite a bit of supplemental water until well established. Maybe the dry summer did it.~~Dee

  12. Leslie says:

    Nice post…I enjoyed learning so much about a plant I’ve never grown…they’re not really happy here but maybe Annabelle would be a good choice if I ever found space!

    Hi Leslie, and thank you.~~Dee

  13. Cindy says:

    Annabelle is definitely a beauty and I look forward to seeing pictures when Annabelle #1 is joined by Annabelle #2. I can picture it there and I feel quite sure it’s going to look splendid!

    Dreams of what I’m going to do in the garden when cooler weather arrives are what get me through our seemingly interminable summers!

    Cindy, I have to be careful not to make my garden too matchy-matchy, but I think it will frame the space. Thanks.~~Dee

  14. carolyngail says:

    Hi Dee,

    Folks start calling us at the garden center as early as April to ask if we have Annabelle yet.

    She can be seen all around Chicagoland now. A very pretty girl.

    Another fave of mine you should try is Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight. ‘ It is one that will take full sun and not wilt. It blooms for about 3 months. She is just starting to bud out in my garden.

    Carolyn, I saw ‘Limelight’ for the first time this year. I think I will give it a try. I only have so much shade.~~Dee

  15. Believe it or not, I’ve never grown this one. It’s such a no-brainer around here, you’d think I’d have tried it. There must be some spot I could put one. It’s so easy to overlook the plants that perform without fussing. It’s good that you spotlighted this old workhorse.

    MMD, you should give her a try somewhere in your beautiful space. You have the shade for it.~~Dee

  16. Amy says:

    What a gorgeous hydrangea, and hardy in my zone too! I’m thinking now of where one of these would be happy in my yard – perhaps next to my rain barrels on the shady side of my house…

    I loved your description of how the bush and blossoms look through the seasons.

    Amy, I hope she’ll work for you. I think the rain barrel idea is a good one.~~Dee

  17. mss @ Zanthan Gardens says:

    Thanks for introducing ‘Annabelle’. She’s a beauty. I’m interested in reading how you use her as an indicator that a certain section of your garden is dry. I have certain bellwether plants for that purpose too. When I look out the window and see them drooping, I know it’s time for action.

    MSS, when her leaves droop, it’s time. That’s for sure.~~Dee

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