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Sun-loving hydrangea makes a stunning addition to any garden

When the late Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society (www.americanhydrangeasociety.org), decided to landscape the front of her typical suburban property to the street, she chose Annabelle hydrangea as the mass planting of shrubs to greet visitors and passersby.

Calling her property typical means only that it was in a subdivision and had an ordinary-shaped lot. Nothing else was typical. She had a fairyland of blooming shrubs, and that included many types of hydrangeas.

Choosing Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle') for front-row seating was wise and wicked. She knew she wanted to show off.

Annabelle has round, white blooms that grow up to 1 foot across. It begins blooming in mid-June and will hang on to the dried blossoms throughout winter. The blooms are so big that after a rain they will sag, sometimes to the ground, but will rise up again.

This hydrangea is a sun-loving hydrangea, and it performs poorly without it. There is no doubting when to prune Annabelle hydrangea - late winter to spring, because she blooms on new wood. The much more common blue mophead hydrangea, H. macrophylla, blooms on old wood and causes great discussion about the best pruning time.

If you want to keep producing the large blooms with Annabelle, you will have to prune her each year. When pruning, take the shrub down to 6 to 10 inches. Shape the pruning similar to half a basketball or half a beach ball, depending on the size of your bush. Without pruning, she will continue to bloom quite freely, but the blooms will be much smaller. The choice is yours.

There is typically no worry about a late frost damaging or killing the new season's flower buds on Annabelle hydrangea, which is always a concern with the blue mophead hydrangea. By winter, Annabelle has lost all of her leaves, careless girl, and is a fountain of beige sticks with flowers at their tips.

Camellia sasanqua and dwarf conifers are perfect companions for the naked girl. Both are evergreen. The camellia blooms from October to December and the dwarf conifers are at the peak of their color January through March. With so much lushness, your eyes will bypass the nakedness of Annabelle in winter.

Aside from being showoffs in any landscape, there is another advantage to planting Annabelle - she is extremely drought-tolerant. While the mopheads need water once a week during a drought, I've had my girls go 43 days without rain and still look content.

Yes, Penny did show off with her summer blooming Annabelle, but I've done something worse in that department. I spray-paint the dried winter blossoms of Annabelle, while they're still on the bush, a bright turquoise blue.

Penny did her mentoring well. I planted many Annabelle hydrangeas, and with wicked pleasure, I show off their painted heads each winter. They are stunning.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. E-mail her at TaraDillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.