Charlie the cat

Looking after ‘Annabelle'!

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Charlie the cat sits beside her favourite nibble

Charlie the cat sits beside her favourite nibble

Summer growth is finally appearing and Charlie, the cat, has taken up her familiar position beside the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ – some cats seem to be sent into a trance-like state when they smell nepeta; eating and rolling in it. Charlie merely nibbles delicately but she is attracted to it as to no other plant so perhaps it really is a natural defence against insects and pests.

This year I am trialling our new Lobster Tops on nepeta and geraniums – the plant that Charlie is sitting by has no support but the one below has already put on strong growth and is virtually covering its large Lobster Top. I shall monitor the two plants this summer to assess how well the support keeps the nepeta from flopping.

Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with a large Lobster Top

Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with a large Lobster Top

There has been so much damage in the garden this year (the jury is still out on olive trees, lonicera nitida cloud-pruned balls, a young wisteria and eucalyptus). I have left a number of shrubs such as Ribes ‘White Icicle’ and Buddleia ‘Blue Heaven’ – both planted last spring – before cutting off the growth that seems to have taken a pounding under the snow but now it really is time to tackle Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’. 
I have always recommended our L3 Three-Ring Herbaceous Supports for Annabelles to hold up those glorious heads, too heavy for the stems that bear them. They do seem very large for young plants but I promise you that after 3 or 4 years they will completely fill the supports and give you the pleasure of their flowers rather than the unsightly sprawl of their unsupported branches.

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ in full flower’

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ in full flower’

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ flowers on new growth and so, in normal years, I trim the faded flower heads in the autumn but leave the old wood on to offer winter protection. In spring, when the new growth is beginning at the base of the plant, I prune back to a strong pair of buds 10-20cms above ground and give the plants a good mulch of compost. This year, I have just started the process.

I went to one of our clients, Mark Hayhurst, for his tips on looking after his plants. Here is what he says:

  1. Stretch your budget as much as you can to get a mature as possible specimen, you will be instantly rewarded and it will prove a solid investment for years to come

    • I bought my first ‘Annabelle’ (of which I now have quite a few) over 10 years ago at the Hampton Court Flower show from a nursery stand and am getting flower heads over 15 inches in diameter!

    • Garden shows are a great place to buy specimen plants, as nurseries bring their best to the show to show off their talent and typically sell them at the end.

    • We also visit a show on the last day to benefit from the sales and plants available! 

  2. Feed, feed and feed, on a weekly basis during the early growing season with an ericaceous liquid feed. This will really set up your hydrangea for the flowering, giving it the energy it needs to put on a stunning show.

  3. Water, water, water - as the name suggests hydrangea - it thrives on being well watered, so during periods of no rainfall, do ensure you water it well, giving it more than you think. I give mine each of mine a good soaking of at least a minute for each plant

  4. Staking - I am a self-confessed Muntons fan - their 3-Ring Herbaceous Supports with a grid fit the bill perfectly. It supports the growth wonderfully and most importantly helps to avoid the flower heads from snapping when they become top heavy after rainfall.


Growing Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ in Mark’s garden


Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ in bloom in Mark’s garden

Very good advice – well, I would say that, wouldn’t I, given Mark’s endorsement of our supports! He prefers the supports with a grid; I don’t use the grids but the shape and height of the supports I use is the same.

One garden that I always enjoy visiting is Denmans. Now curated and nurtured by Gwendolyn van Paasschen, Denmans promotes the design and legacy of John Brooks MBE. John was one of the nation’s foremost twentieth century landscape designers and his designs and gardening philosophy crystallised in the garden that he created for Mrs Joyce Robinson, a knowledgeable plantswoman, who designed a gravel garden as early as 1969. ‘Annabelles’ were John Brookes’ favourite hydrangeas and he used them all the time in his designs.

Gwendolyn continues to enhance and update Brook’s concept (no plan was ever drawn for the garden which evolved over the years) and I was very struck by her stand of ‘Annabelles’ growing strongly through their 3-Ring Supports – just the kind of massed planting that suits ‘Annabelle’.

L3 supports

Massed hydrangeas in L3 supports at Denmans

L3 supports

Getting ready for bloom!

One thing I did remember to do at the weekend was to replace the support on the Peony ‘White Wings’ that was battered by a sudden gusty shower last year, just as it reached full glory. I have replaced the Regular Peony Support with an 8mm Tall Peony – as you can see, it has already reached the top of the frame and will, I hope, be well supported as it comes into flower.

Peony ‘White Wings in an 8mm Tall Peony Support

Peony ‘White Wings in an 8mm Tall Peony Support

It’s almost Chelsea time and our next journal will come from RHS Chelsea itself, 23-27 May. Do drop by and see us on stand Pavilion Way 202.

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