On Gardening: Panicle hydrangea partners only limited by your imagination


Panicle hydrangeas, or Hydrangea paniculata varieties, have skyrocketed in popularity, largely thanks to producers that have given us more varieties than we could have ever imagined. The Garden Guy is here to tell you the panicle partnerships for the landscape are only limited by your imagination.

If you find yourself asking “What panicle partnerships?” I assure you, you are not alone.

As I drive through neighborhoods, I can tell we’ve got the shrub look down pat. In other words, we are great at using it against a backdrop of evergreen plant material like hollies, junipers or magnolias. But incorporating them in the border with flowers must make many gardeners a little uneasy.

My first encounter with the possibilities was in the cottage garden when I was director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, Georgia. I suspect it happened by accident, but our horticultural coordinator was the poster picture of creativity, so it could have been planned.

The hydrangea was Little Lime, a more compact or dwarf cousin to the award-winning Limelight. The combination wasn’t far from my office. Imagine my surprise one day walking to my car when there was Little Lime blooming among a cluster of bright orange Crocosmia or Montbretia. Lesson No. 1 here is the white blooms, which are most prevalent in the Deep South will partner with any color you wish.

Now my son James, who I mention frequently, is like a fierce tiger when it comes to making partnerships with all varieties of Hydrangea paniculata. Last year he used Quick Fire hydrangeas in mixed containers at The Landings Shopping Center in Columbus, Georgia. Throughout the late spring and early summer, clients didn’t even know they were there. Suddenly, in early August, the containers exploded in color, looking as though each had been carefully designed by an artist.

Partners included Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana, Truffula Pink gomphrena and Rockin Fuchsia salvia. There were also mandevillas, whose blossoms mimicked antique climbing roses. Lesson No. 2 is Hydrangea paniculatas can also work in containers.

While the containers were a little higher on the challenge scale, the planting at a home in Old Town was as simple as two plus two, and two it was in the partnership. This combination featured Limelight, the one that started all the hydrangea love, along with a drift or sweep if you will, of the lavender blue Meteor Shower verbena. The marriage of the tall airy-looking verbena and giant white panicle blossoms against blue sky and white clouds was a Kodak moment. Lesson No. 3 is simple combinations can be most effective.

These combinations encouraged The Garden Guy to try his hand in designing hydrangea combinations. I planted Miss Molly buddleia in the background, with Fire Light Tidbit hydrangea and Pugster Amethyst buddleia in the front. Truffula Pink gomphrena was also added in pockets. Lesson No. 4 is hydrangeas can work anywhere, including a pollinator habitat.

I have always contended that if these hydrangeas were growing in the Caribbean, we would think they were the most wonderful tropical on earth. So I planted a Red Abyssinian banana in between a triangular cluster of three newly released Limelight Prime hydrangeas. In the late afternoon with just the right angle of backlit sun, the look takes me to the islands with the sounds of gentle waves and steel drums. Lesson No. 5 is the Hydrangea paniculata is only limited by your imagination.

Out of 49 hydrangea varieties that Proven Winners offers, 13 are Hydrangea paniculata selections. They are recommended from zones 3 to 8b, which is a huge geographic section of the country. As you pick out the varieties you want, don’t forget to let your inner Monet come out. You too can create some incredible combinations.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)

This story was originally published September 16, 2021 4:00 AM.

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