Breaking our hearts and coming back for more



Last summer, I followed a long thread (41 comments) on Cold Climate Gardening discussing the attributes (or lack thereof) of the Endless Summer hydrangea. This cultivar is supposed to bloom continuously on new wood, thus enabling gardeners in colder zones to enjoy macrophylla blooms on a hardier plant.

Bah, humbug, said many of the CCG commenters, speaking of 1-2 measly blooms per season, bushes barely making it to 6 inches above ground, muddy coloring, and other horrors. Yet, this is a plant that has been hyped to high heaven and still is: “a range from Florida to Zone 4!,” “amazing prospects,” “Flowers virtually all season long!”

A couple days ago, I came across some verbiage for another new-and-improved hydrangea, “Blushing Bride:” As the ‘Blushing Bride’ continues to grow, it is continuously forming buds that will flower all season long. Prompt removal of the faded blooms will encourage new growth and even more new blooms. (Who promptly removes hydrangea blooms?)

How gullible do they think we are (you might ask)? Sadly, the horticultural marketing world has every reason to believe that gardeners are right up there with buyers of wrinkle cream and diet pills in America’s vast kingdom of suckers. Look at all the roses, especially hybrid teas, that bloom continuously, are strongly scented, and disease resistant. Then there are the first-year-bloom wisterias. Then there are all the full-sun plants marked for “partial shade.” (That’s my personal sucker cue.) Like the hydrangea, the promises are endless and free of any consequences. After all, who’s to say what might happen in any given yard with any given conditions, no matter how incredible.

I’m jilted every season by at least one plant if not many. Most recently, the culprits have been a brugmansia (never did anything), 3 veronicas (disappeared), and 3 rudbeckia maximas (don’t remember seeing them a few weeks after after I planted them). It’s easy (if horrible and scary), to check the mail order ones beccause I save the confirmation emails; plus, they’re the most hype-laden. This is why I grow so many annuals; they’re much easier to track and you learn your lesson in one season.

Though will we ever learn? Gardeners are easy to fleece.

Previous articleMother Nature Is Easy
Next articleRule Britannia

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I see you’ve had the experience of disappearing veronicas, too. Unfortunately, my pink ones are like rabbits – ever growing and multiplying. It’s the blue ones I can’t seem to keep. And I have to laugh – blooms on hydrangeas? If I want them, I’ll have to cage my plants because the deer ate the stems to the ground this year. Ah, well. Live and learn.

  2. What a great post! A lot of other marketers have figured out it’s not nice to lie to the customers–but not nurseries. I think there is a general assumption in the horticulture industry that amateur gardeners are idiots–how else can you explain most of the garden ornaments on offer–but that’s a subject for another post.

    I bought five “Endless Summer” hydrangeas three years ago from Fedco–I’ve wanted blue hydrangeas my whole gardening life and always lived somewhere too cold for them.

    Well, I was pretty bitter about the “Endless Summer” experience. They wilt pathetically in my sandy soil even in part-shade, barely bloom, and when they do, do it in pastel-tinted white rather than a vibrant pink or blue. But last season, I suddenly caught a glimmer of hope–they’ve gotten taller, produced more blooms, at least three of which were kind of interesting. So they are not getting yanked out yet.

    But man, they do not hold a candle to my indestructible “Annabelle” white hydrangeas.

  3. What IS it with the hype over new plants, anyway? My thought is that so many are being produced and released, and they’re all in competition for our (apparently dwindling, or going to dwindle) dollars that the nurseries go into hyperbole in describing them.

    I do my best to test plants out for a year or more before I write too much about them, or if I do mention them in articles I note that they’re new to me and I can only go on what the nurseries say until I kill the plant or have it thrive. (Truth in journalism! )

    I too bought an Endless Summer, I think three years ago now, and have been less than impressed by it. Our soil is clay though amended with lots of organic matter, yet this #&@* plant wilts almost daily. My tough Annabelle-type hydrangeas, the two lacecaps I have, and the paniculata don’t do that.

    So this year Endless Summer is getting moved to a different spot–it’s in a pretty choice location now,–and I will plant something more deserving and interesting where it is. If it lives after suffering such an insult, fine; if it fails to thrive, the next stop will be the compost heap. Toughlove for plants, (except my Meconopsis, which I DO baby slightly.)

  4. I went back and read the discussion on Kathy’s site, and saw you were intrigued by ‘Limelight’ paniculata. Now THAT one has been a star for me. Going into its third season, it has grown profusely and flowered marvelously, with big heads of light green flowers that held their colour for weeks, and still some tan flowerheads are holding on (it’s right outside my office window.) The ‘Endless Summer’ is planted only a few feet away, and as I said it’ll be moving on IF spring ever remembers where we live.

  5. How very true! Let us see a plant a vendor has on display, and we are but mere sheeps to slaughter. What looked so lush and thriving, can in a few weeks shrivel and die. And then we are heartbroken all over again!

  6. Well let’s see,
    “Given a mild winter,early warm spring, copious amounts of water and the right combination of chemical additives you too can experience the promises of abundant beauty.”

    How about…
    “If you live in an Alabama clearing in the woods, have rich leaf mold enriched soil kept cool and moist through the hottest summer by the tall open canopy allowing just the right amount of sun for full blossom capacity then you will have excellent success with this plant.”

    Should I apply for a job writing catalog plant discriptions?

  7. Ha! That’s great Gloria. I just want to let you all know that the hydrangea shown here is from my garden–it’s Forever Pink, and it really lives up to its name. I give it some winter protection and it performs wonderfully all summer and well into fall. What I hate is a muddy colored hydrangea.

    Jodi, I did buy the Limelight–last fall, so I am eagerly awaiting its 2008 performance.

  8. On the topic of playing us gardeners for suckers: How about the added complication of trademarked plant names? Why, so-and-so is just whats-it-called with a pseudonym, as if the plant needs to hide from the paparazzi! I don’t care if Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” trademarked plant names are marketing hype.

  9. This is a personal peeve with me.

    I call ‘Endless Summer’ and other plants like PJM’s, Northern Light Azaleas, the myriads of variegated sedges and grasses (think Hakkone grass) and Tea Roses expensive annuals in my neck of the woods – zone 5 with clay soil.

    Another scam they’ve been running is the recent marketing Hellebores as the be all and end all of flowering groundcovers. At between $12 to $20 a pot – that’s just plain wrong.

    Someones’ raking in a fortune on royalties off these trademarked plants – my cue to “not” recommend a cultivar to a client or plant one in a garden is if I see it listed on the Chicago Botanic Garden or University of Minnesota’s list of recommended plants. I think they’re more honest over at the Morton Arboretum.

    Remember that goofy “Meadowbrite” Rudbeckia – Pretty color but they bred the native right out of the plant and it couldn’t stand up to our harsh summers and wet winters.

    What’s next, growing Bananna trees in zone 5?

  10. The tale of the ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea may be a good example of a good thing getting good too fast.

    I wrote about the plant prior to its introduction, it was developed by Bailey nursery in St. Paul, a freak discovery, a plantsman for Bailey started wondering why the H. macrophylla in his next door neighbor’s back yard (in St. Paul, MN) kept blooming in summer following two extremely bitter winters in the mid-1970s. His, and no other hydrangeas he knew of, did.

    He discovered that the plant was blooming on new wood. He took some cuttings, Bailey started working on it, and 25 years later, Endless Summer was cleared for takeoff.

    But here’s what happened … at least a theory I heard from a reliable source … the plant proved so popular, that as the licensing for propagation was quickly expanded, the variety became unstable (through no fault of Bailey), to the point where there are genetically weakened forms of ‘ES’ on the market.

    Some people in MN love them, have strong, blooming plants … another person might buy ES from the next nursery down the road, run into a different batch, and get a lemon.

    A good example of how the science behind plant production is not always fool-proof.

    One thing I know, ES needs well-drained soil (clay soil amended with organic matter might not drain as well as you think), and if you are going to have any luck at all, you need to fertilize it as if it were a hybrid tea rose. And it’s not fond of intense afternoon heat in zone 6 and warmer.

  11. I wholesale perennials and have learned to stay away from offering new varieties at inflated prices until they prove themselves. By then the price has dropped or they have vanished.Then they’re part of the fold.
    Happy trails,

  12. What’s happening is that they’re no longer even test gardening plants. It’s cheaper to just release them and see if they survive. If they don’t, it’s just a bunch of angry gardeners. If the plants do survive, they’ve made more money because we tested them. It’s like cars now; never buy a new model the first year.

  13. Some of us prefer the quiet joys of satisfying performers. For me, gardening is about serenity, being in tune and touch with nature, and That Sort of Stuff. Not about roulette wheels.

    Maybe the thrill of risking a fleecing makes up for the disappointments. If so, have at it! Gambling has its place in any field.

  14. I am so sorry to hear that you had no luck with ‘Endless Summer’ which has been a good performer for me. I cannot grow the other macrophyllas with any luck of bloom because they bloom on old wood and the flower buds are winter killed. ES has bloomed well for me. As for muddy color, some of you might try Aluminum Sulfate as it is the presence of aluminum in the soil along with lower pH which is necessary for bright blue. Blue hydrangeas aren’t for everyone but blue is such a desirable color and this shrub has worked in my garden. One of the problems of marketing is that regional conditions do play a role. It is great to be able to hear what other gardeners experience via their blogs.

  15. Elizabeth, this post helped me figure out why I’m not very excited about garden catalogs anymore – too many disappointments. Except for spring bulbs and heirloom seeds, I stopped ordering from catalogs. I purchase perennials and natives from local nurseries or am given starts by friends. Was it Michael Pollan that said to do what Grandma used to do?

  16. I bought an ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea at Lowe’s last fall. On clearance. For a dollar. I duly planted it, and I have yet to determine whether it survived the winter or not (a lot of things are still dormant here). I figure for a dollar, I had nothing to lose, and an excuse to dig in the dirt to gain.

    Unless it’s a genus and/or species I’ve already come to know and love, I tend to not rush out and buy/order the newest and hottest plants. I wait until season two or three has passed, and THEN buy my own plant to kill. 🙂

  17. I am just catching up on my blogs and I had to laugh out loud at this post. I too get suckered into buying shrubs for my shade garden that say “part-shade” and don’t do well. I never bought or planted an Endless Summer for anyone (I am a landscape designer & gardener) because it always looked so fake to me and there are so many nicer hydrangeas to choose from. I guess that was a blessing in disguise. I did plant a Limelight last year after having seen 3 at a customer’s yard that were just gorgeous. My gripe is the amazing colored echinaceas – the organges and yellows – that always disappear. Without fail I am always left with the reliable Echinacea purpurea – the pink ones – which always come back.

  18. I start rudbeckia early inside like my tomatoes, plant them out and they have done well for me. They are one of my favorite seeds to start. I treat it like an annual. We get hot weather here too and they did just fine. 95-105 all summer.

Comments are closed.