2017 was a great year for Hydrangeas

In 2017, we’ve had rain, we’ve had rain, we’ve had more rain. It’s raining now! My annuals are slow to bloom, probably due to lack of sunshine. But one thing for sure seems to be doing well around Toronto. Hydrangeas!

The smooth hydrangea or Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ in my dry-shade front garden (above) is mammoth! Lots of rain and coolish weather must agree with it. On the occasional hot day, all that lush growth sulks. But before I can get out the watering can, it rains again. Happy ‘Annabelle’ – and happy gardener.

In my backyard Microgarden, it’s the same with H. paniculata ‘Quick Fire,’ which I prune back hard every spring so it doesn’t outgrow the narrow bed. This doesn’t hurt flower production, because panicle hydrangeas, like smooth hydrangeas, flower on the stems they produce this year. This year, it’s particularly generous with its flowers.

The white flowers on the loose cones of H.’Quick Fire’ will gradually turn pink.

As you can see, though I prune for width it still gets tall. (Some years, it also goes fiery red.) ‘Quick Fire’ opens a month earlier than other panicle hydrangeas (ones with cone-shaped flowers like H. ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Limelight’ – I also have both) for an extra-long display, optimizing impact in my small garden over time and space.

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) and oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) are both native to eastern North America – though not native to our zone. But panicle hydrangeas are especially attractive to pollinators. The true flowers aren’t the showy bits on the outside, they’re the wee florets in the middle.

Between rain showers, ‘Quick Fire’ is alive with pollinators. The other day, it was butterflies; today, it was abuzz with honeybees, bumblebees, thread-waisted wasps, and more.

For reference, if you have plenty of space and full sun (my Microgarden is part-sun), ‘Quick Fire’ might look like this picture below in September. Not in my garden, unfortunately.

It’s hard to convey the sense of scale in this picture, taken last fall. Let me assure you, it’s big. Well over two meters/six feet tall, and half again as wide. Jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ at the Montreal Botanical Garden, September 2016.

But back to Toronto in 2017.

Walking in East York today, I couldn’t help admiring fantastic display after fantastic display of hydrangeas. Other Toronto gardeners say they’re having good luck with theirs this year, too. How about you?

Here are just two, close enough to the sidewalk that I could grab a shot without trespassing. I’m no hydrangea expert (and there are so many now!), but I’m taking a stab at identification. Feel free to tell me if I err.

This gorgeous, compact pink one might be bigleaf hydrangea Cityline® Paris (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Paris Rapa’). Bigleaf hydrangeas are among the ones that made their flower buds last year “on old wood,” so maybe our mild winter 2016/17 contributed to this flowerful display. Sometimes the buds on those “old wood” flowering hydrangeas get killed by cold winters.
The sheer size of these flower heads makes me wonder if this is the improved smooth hydrangea called Incrediball® (H. arborescens ‘Abetwo’), which has huge flowers and, usually, stronger, more upright stems than my notoriously floppy ‘Annabelle.’ Is our rainy year causing even this tough guy to flop? What do you think?

Updating my post to note that I’m trialing some improved hydrangeas from Bloomin’ Easy courtesy of Van Belle Nurseries in B.C. They include one called Lavalamp™ Candelabra™ (Hydrangea paniculata ‘HPOPR013’). You can see why they sometimes replace the official cultivar name. I’ll let you know how mine do next year.


  1. I pruned back my ‘Limelight’ hydrangea rather severely this year and it is just now beginning to blossom. This spring I planted a smooth hydrangea and it bloomed some. Walking around the neighborhood and driving around town, I see lots of hydrangeas – it’s a good year for them here, too! I’m considering a Pistachio hydrangea for the front yard, but ‘Quick Fire’ looks like another likely contender.

    1. ‘Pistachio’ is beautiful – a very unusual colour combo (pink and green). And it’s one of those “endless summer-style” hydrangeas that bloom on both old wood and new wood. Or they say. It would be borderline hardy in Toronto, so might not be reliable here. I really do have to put in a plug for ‘Quick Fire’ which has been a winner for me in every way.

  2. Mine are amazing this year too! Wasn’t sure if it was the weather or just the wonderful job I did on mulching the beds last year 😉

    1. I’m sure the mulching did no harm, Margaret. Hydrangeas do have shallow roots so can be set back by heat and dryness.

  3. Also have bountiful blooms this year on my (florist?) hydrangeas. Last summer,(hot & dry) almost none. They are in sheltered spots and have survived several hard winters, but clearly prefer the mild ones! I garden in south Etobicoke.

    1. The ones that produce next year’s buds on this year’s stems, like the “florist” hydrangeas that colour up pink or blue (Hydrangea macrophylla), are showing their appreciation for last winter’s mildness with abundant blooms. There are wonderful gardens in south Etobicoke, and I’m sure yours is one, Jessica!

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