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New Haven Gardens
updated: Aug 06, 2011, 11:29 AM

By Renée Beaulieu

One of the best shrubs for home landscapes is flowering now, bringing life and color to the late summer garden. Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are bone hardy, require little pruning, and flower prodigiously. A walk through any older city neighborhood usually turns up ancient specimens of ‘PeeGee', the grandmother of panicle hydrangeas.

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After decades of benign neglect, nurserymen are once again paying attention to this venerable shrub, and have bred dozens of improved new varieties. Visit any decent independent nursery in the next couple of weeks, and you're sure to find a treasure or two to brighten your garden. Just keep your new acquisition well watered as it settles into its new home.

Most flower heads start out white and mature to multiple shades of rosy or rusty pink before finally fading to beige. They're beautiful at any stage, and provide welcome color from late July until practically Halloween. Most mature to a hefty size-6?10 feet tall and about 6 feet wide, so allow them plenty of growing room.

Some varieties to look for:

• ‘Limelight' is loaded with large, pale chartreuse flower heads that ripen to dark pink. On a mature specimen, the heads will be 6?12 inches long. ‘Limelight' can be grown as a shrub, or may be found trained to a tree form, as a single stem. Won the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Gold Medal in 2006. Patented; PP#12874

• Little Lime™ is an exciting introduction, a petite offspring of ‘Limelight' that matures to about 3?5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, so it's easier to fit into smaller landscapes, or add to a mixed perennial border, perhaps with shrub roses.

• Pinky Winky™ has large, gorgeous, pink-and-white flower heads on dark red stems. Striking. PP 16,166

• ‘Tardiva' is an old favorite, and the latest panicle hydrangea to bloom. The flower heads are very long and more lacy and open.

These hydrangeas are dazzling in fresh bouquets, and also easy to dry. Once the flowers have developed good color, simply cut and arrange them in an empty vase and allow them to dry. Or weave fresh stems into a grapevine wreath and allow them to dry in place. The dry stems become brittle, but they're easy to manage when fresh, and the wreath can last for several years.

Tolerant of full sun or part shade, panicle hydrangeas can be used as a single specimen, make a fine flowering hedge or an addition to a shrub border. Prune out spent flower heads in the fall, and prune back in early spring, if desired. Once established, panicle hydrangeas are more drought-tolerant than any of their cousins, and also somewhat less attractive to deer-but not, alas, immune to browsing.

Renée Beaulieu has already planted 10 panicle hydrangeas in her new garden. She chronicles the creation of the new landscape at GardenDoOver.com

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