PeeGee hydrangeas
Amateur Gardening|August 14, 2021
Want something more elegant than the traditional mophead hydrangea? Why not try a PeeGee, says Graham Rice, as he explains the benefits of these spectacular plants
Graham Rice

PEEGEE hydrangea – that’s an odd name. Where did it come from? You can probably guess that it’s not from Brighton or Blackburn, but from across the Atlantic. In fact, it’s derived from the first widely grown variety of this type – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, so PG/PeeGee.

Originally grown in Japan in the 1860s, it was the first of a simple, easyto-grow, easy-to-prune hydrangea with cone-shaped summer and autumn flowerheads. The heads feature a mix of small insignificant flowers, and bigger and brighter flowers that give the flowerheads their appeal.

In many varieties the flowers change colour as they mature. This produces intriguing combinations of white, pink, red and green tones, and with secondary spikes developing below the first one the flowering season can be a long one.

Although these hydrangeas are so much more elegant than the clumpy mopheads (H. macrophylla) that used to cling sadly to life in just about every suburban front garden, it took a while for them to catch on, perhaps because they come in a limited range of shades. So it’s only in the past 20 years that a wide range of varieties has been developed.

Advantages over the mopheads

Varieties of Hydrangea paniculata have a number of advantages over the mophead types. They tolerate drought better, they’re happy in both full sun and part shade, and they’re happy in acid or alkaline conditions so long as the soil is not waterlogged. They’re also exceptionally hardy and their new growth is not damaged by late frosts.

It was a trial run by the RHS at its garden at Wisley in Surrey that sparked enthusiasm for these essential shrubs. From 2004-2008, 68 entries – including promising new varieties from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the USA – were grown side by side, in ordinary soil, in full sun and regularly assessed by experts. Three pruning regimes were also tested to assess whether the size of mature plants could be controlled.

The results were spectacular, and you can now bring this spectacle to your own garden.

9 top PeeGee hydrangeas

‘Big Ben’ AGM

Fairly upright with red stems and conical heads over 12in (30cm) long. Opens white with green tints turning to purplishpink. Smaller than its name suggests. Flowers August-October. H: 4ft (1.2m).

‘Grandiflora’

White, lightly scented heads mature to pink but may become floppy after rain. The original, but outclassed by more recent varieties. Good as a standard. Flowers July-October. H: 40in (1m).

Diamant Rouge (‘Rendia’)

Large heads of flowers up to 14in (35cm) long open in white, then soon turn pink and finally mature to rich dark-red with all three colours in the spike at the same time. Flowers June-August. H: 5ft (1.5m).

Sundae Fraise (‘Rensun’)

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