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ONE GOOD ‘SPORT’… Endless Summer Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas have always amazed and delighted me when in bloom. I fell in love with the mophead (macrophylla) hydrangea during my childhood visits to mum-mum Sykes garden, large pink balls of tiny flowers covered her huge plant that accented the entrance to her garage. These magnificent blooms were not only beautiful but meant that spring was finally here.

That love continued in my own garden with various plantings of different hydrangeas such as macrophylla (Kaleidoscope), paniculata (Little Lime), oakleaf (Snowflake), arborescens (Annabelle) and many more for I lost count after 50 plants! But my favorite are the re-bloomers ‘Endless Summer’ that have been widely sold and heavily promoted since its introduction in 2004.

There were 1.5 million sold in the first year and millions more since. These big-leaf re-bloomers are the way to go in our area. Late freezes can damage the spring flower buds that grow on last year’s wood. Then it’s another year before you see flowers. But Endless Summer gives us the opportunity to enjoy flowers each year due to flower buds developing on both old and new growth.

The Endless Summer Hydrangea discovery is an exciting garden story. It was found growing in Dennis Bostrom garden, a retired Cottage Grove, Minnesota schoolteacher, as a unique new plant, a genetic mutation or ‘sport’. In 1981, he ordered a Nikko Blue big-leaf hydrangea from a Southern mail-order nursery. Although the variety had only a slim chance of surviving the frigid winter, he planted it in a sheltered location and mulched it well. To his surprise, the hydrangea survived the winter and grew vigorously blooming by July of its second year.

A few years later, Dennis showed his hydrangea to his neighbor Vern Black, a production manager for Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul. He immediately recognized that it was one of a kind and took a few cuttings to the Bailey greenhouse for study.

In 1998, Dr. Michael Dirr, spotted the unusual hydrangea growing in the Bailey greenhouse and was astonished to see a big-leaf hydrangea blooming on new wood. He also took a few cuttings back to the University of Georgia where he further developed the plant known as Endless Summer. And even now, the story continues with many new varieties of Endless Summer.

Dr. Dirr believes the Endless Summer Hydrangea story is like a fairy tale. And according to one Japanese legend, the hydrangea became associated with heartfelt emotion, gratitude for understanding, and apology after a Japanese emperor gave them to the family of the girl he loved to make up for neglecting her in favor of business and to show how much he cared about her.

But while the story of Endless Summer Hydrangea may be like a fairy tale, it is real and beautiful! And one cannot help but have a lot of heartfelt emotion for a ‘Hydrangea’ that blooms ‘Endlessly’ from spring to late fall. I call that, one good sport!

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