Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is not what you would call a demure shrub. This Hydrangea is not a shy and retiring woodland plant. It is an exuberant cheerleader in the garden, with large pompoms.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' flower closeup
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' flower closeup

This flower cluster is 20 cm (8 inches) across.  For such small shrubs, they usually  produce a large number of these jumbo sized blooms. Typically, an Annabelle hydrangea is covered in these large white flowers.

My shrub is in a very shady area of the garden, so it doesn’t get as many blooms. It is on the northern side of my house, and gets about an hour or less of direct sunlight a day. This seems to be enough to produce about five large pompoms at this point. Although Annabelle can take shade, this might be too shady of a location. I’ve only had this one for two years, so it might get more flowers as it matures, or it could be that this Annabelle is just blooming the best it can with the small amount of sunlight I give it.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' flowers
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' flowers

As the green buds open, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ produces these showy, white flower heads. The flowers last for over a month in summer, and then gradually fade to tan in fall.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' shrub
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' shrub

Here are the five blooms on my 60 cm by 60 cm (2 ft by 2 ft) Annabelle shrub. :) You can see that some of the blooms are still green, and the buds have just started opening.   I could move the shrub to a brighter part shade location, but I think I’ll leave Annabelle here for now, and see how it blooms as it matures. After all, it would only take another five of those giant bloom clusters, fully open, to cover this shrub.

This Annabelle hydrangea is planted in the garden next to my front steps. Every time I come home in August, it waves its pompoms and cheers:  “Give me an ‘N’  —  ‘ N’. Give me an ‘O’  —  ‘ O’. Give me an ‘R’  —  ‘R’. … Yeaaaaaah, Northern.” You have to admire such an enthusiastic shrub, even if it doesn’t have its full compliment of pompoms.

27 thoughts on “Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’”

  1. Lovely pictures & great post!! So funny to picture your Annabelle actually cheerleading, but it’s a perfect description with the big round pom poms. Couldn’t be any more different from my understated Kyushu, but they are all so lovely. Do your flower heads weigh down the plant much, or is it able to stay more or less upright since it doesn’t bloom as it would in full sun? I actually prefer the look of yours, with the more sparse blooming pattern, you can see the shape/size of each one and it doesn’t seem as overwhelming to the plant or visually. :)

    1. Rebecca, my Annabelle hydrangea manages to hold the flowers upright. It’s really short, just above my knees, but the stems are sturdy enough to hold the blooms. Even the largest one is upright. It gets snow pruned, as that is where the snow from my steps gets shoveled in winter.

      Although there are many hydrangeas we can’t grow here, we are lucky to have such a good variety of H. paniculata that do well, and of course hardy ‘Annabelle’. I’m going to add a new hydrangea where I took out a Viburnum this summer, so I’ve been looking at them at nurseries lately.

      Beth, how sweet to have a hydrangea in your garden that it is so evocative of your daughter. I love the connections in the garden to memories of family members, even flower scents can bring up strong emotions and memories.

      Since this shrub only had 5 blooms last year, too, I could move it to a part shade location (your eastern exposure sounds good). I might keep it here, since it does brighten the shady entrance in late summer, and I could plant another one in a little more light.

  2. Annabelle’s are one of my all-time favorites (of course, it’s also my daughter’s name so it will always hold a special place in my heart!)

    I planted one in deep shade and it didn’t do very well at all. I have 3 on the eastside of the house that are absolute showstoppers. They love the afternoon shade and the blooms are the size of basketballs!

  3. Since adding my first hydrangea recently I’ve also been having a closer look at them, just for fun. I think little lamb would be my next choice if I were to have a second, but there are so many lovely ones to choose from.

  4. Your little Annabelle has a lot of spirit. How nice to have your very own cheerleader :) I love those big mophead flower clusters.
    My 2 Oakhill hydrangeas are blooming well this year after a disappointing show last summer. The flower clusters are huge and beautiful.

    1. Kerri, Annabelle gets the Hydrangea season started in my garden, with the first flowers. The H. paniculata are just forming small buds now. I look forward to when they all start to bloom.

      Isn’t it great when a shrub rebounds with a good show the next season? Your Oakhill hydrangeas must like the site.

  5. Very cute post. And it is determined to maintain its status in your garden! I bought my first two hydrangeas last Fall. I transplanted them this Spring to their permanent homes. They’re growing well and one is just putting forth a couple of minute blooms. Next year they’ll be great! Wish I had a camera for photos! I will make up my mind, but it’s taking the step of purchasing “the one” that’s making me pause.

    1. Shady Gardener, I like the way the white Annabelle blooms brighten up the entry way. They are all open now, and even five of them make a good display at their full size. These are much earlier than my Hydrangea paniculata, so they spread out the Hydrangea flowering time even longer. The slow poke paniculata are still at the early bud stage. You’ll enjoy your shrubs as they mature. They put on a good show, with very little maintenance.

      There is such a variety of features to compare when choosing a new camera. It’s a good thing you have a large garden to try it out on when you find the perfect one.

  6. Love that cheering hydrangea Northern Shade! Anyone could use their very own cheer squad, couldn’t they? I have an oakleaf hydrangea planted in mostly shade too and it produces very few blooms as well. It’s five years old now and very healthy in every other way. I’ve decided to leave it in it’s current position too since I don’t want to risk it finding a new spot less desirable. The foliage is very attractive so I’m finding myself content with just having it for that. The blooms you do have are very nice and full.

    1. Kathleen, the Annabelle blooms have expanded in the past week, and look very large for such a small shrub. It makes me smile to see the bright white flowers when I come up to the door. Sometimes I try to find the perfect location for a plant, but more often I try to find plants will will tolerate less than ideal conditions. You have to appreciate plants that are good sports about it.

      I wish that oakleaf hydrangeas were hardy here. They are very attractive shrubs.

  7. Annabelle indeed is a fantastic plant. I want to have a second one planted this autumn. However, I think, this hydrangea is not so reliable as the other sorts (at least in my garden). This year it only showed two (2) flowers instead the 20 to 30 blooms it usually has. (Probably the winter was too long and cold!).

    1. Barbara, I was thinking of planting another Annabelle too. The flower heads have really expanded over the last few weeks, and the five manage to cover a great deal of the shrub. I’m always surprised that such a little plant can hold up those large panicles. At least with 2 flowers, your Annabelle can still cheer for you. I just picked up a new Little Lamb hydrangea as well, to replace a Viburnum that I took out.

  8. I was wondering if you had any recommendations on hydrangeas in colors other then white. I’m particularly interested in pink varieties — as I am locating to Nobleford, AB from Pennsylvania, I am not sure what grows here and how to get started.

    I feel the loss of weeping cherry trees profoundly, if anyone had any advice on pink flowering trees, that do not bear fruit, I’d love to hear those recommendations also.

    1. Carolyn, one that I grow that is hardy in Alberta is Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’. The blossoms go from a light pink on one end, to darker pink on the other. ‘H. paniculata ‘Quickfire’ goes from dark pink to almost red. I haven’t tried the Endless Summer series of Hydrangea, such as ‘Blushing Bride’, which is light pink. I’ve read mixed reviews about the Endless Summer Hydrangea in our climate, but they do bloom on new wood, and are supposed to be hardy.

  9. where are the Annabelle hydrangea planted…Castledowns, Millwoods, Westlock, Morinville, ????
    My Endless Summer did not survive in St Albert.

    1. Tomato planter, my garden is in Edmonton. The Annabelle Hydrangea do fine, and the Hydrangea paniculata, like PG and Little Lamb do well, too. I haven’t tried Endless Summer, and I’ve heard mixed reviews about them.

  10. I have four healthy Annabelle shrubs on the east side of our home. The sturdy branches grow to a height of 30 inches and each plant supports at least ten blooms. The problem is the blooms are a light green colour, and they never turn white. What is the problem?

    1. Red, my Annabelle are green for a short while, but have a long white period, and then fade to a tan colour at the end. I’m not sure sure why yours are skipping the white phase. These Hydrangea don’t change colour according to soil pH either.

  11. Thanks for all these ideas for Northern shade gardens zone 3!
    Getting ready to put in a new northeast shade garden at the church, in anchorage, Alaska.
    We are zone 4 ( I think) . Been a cold, rainy Spring so far. 40 at night, 50-55 days ( but 22 hours daylight in June)

    Surprised you don’t use more hostas, bleeding hearts, astilbe, columbine,ligallaria in shady , zone 3gardening
    And surprised to see you over wintering hydrangea. I just winter over in heated greenhouse and treat as annuals.
    Thanks again, going to look for the above shade plants for this new shade garden. Hope the moose don’t like them!

    1. Lisa, I enjoy our long daylight hours for gardening right now, but you get to garden even later than me. :)

      I do use quite a few astilbe and hosta in the garden. If you put Hosta in the search box in the top right corner, it will pull up a number of articles and photos of my hosta, and the same with astilbe, to see the different ones I grow. I have some of the white bleeding hearts in different garden beds, and like the way they look great with other perennials.

      You are fortunate to have a heated greenhouse. That must really extend the number and type of plants you can grow.

      Good luck with your new garden.

  12. I love the annabelle hydrangea. While i was searching on the internet there was a picture posted with a long row of annabelle hydrangeas with small dark blue flowers peaking through the annabelle hydrangea. It was beautiful. Does anyone know what kind of flower this might have been. I really should have book marked it but didn’t now I’m sad. It look great. Hope someone can help me. Thank you so much

    1. Donna, the combination of Annabelle Hydrangea with the blue flowers sounds beautiful. I underplant some of my Hydrangea with Campanula poscharskyana (Serbian bellflower). You can see what they look like in that article. The short bellflowers don’t mind the shade under the shrubs, and they have pretty blue flowers through the summer and fall. I also have some Scilla (squills) planted underneath the Hydrangea for pretty blue flowers in the early spring. Here’s another article showing the Campanula (bellflowers) as an underplanting.

  13. I have 20+ Annabelle hydrangeas. All. It 4 have flowers. 3 don’t have any and 1 has 3. They are around a wrap-around deck and the non bloomers are intermittent. Any suggestions?

    1. Elle, in deeper shade the Annabelle hydrangeas don’t get as many flowers. Is the light exposure different around the sides of your deck, and are the ones with fewer flowers on the shadier side? Are some of the sides creating more of a protective space for some of the shrubs? I’m in zone 3 and mine have been hardy, but if you are in an area that is borderline for the shrubs, the more sheltered ones would do better at blooming. Do they all receive the same amount of moisture?

  14. Hi Donna,
    I saw the same picture with the annabelle hydrangeas in a row with the dark blue flowers peaking through. I wish i had book marked it too. Will you let me know if you find out what the blue flowers are. I loved the look.

    1. Donna, I’m not sure of the blue flowers in that photo, but I have planted blue flowered scilla (squill) bulbs that flower in spring under some Hydrangea, but not when the shrub is in bloom. One perennial that would work well is Geranium ‘Rozanne’. The hardy geranium doesn’t mind the shade, and ‘Rozanne has blue flower from summer into fall, so they would flower with ‘Annabelle’. I have some photos of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ under a lilac shrub.

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