Pinky Winky - Hydrangea paniculata

Hydrangea paniculata ‘DVPpinky’ pp# 16,166

Late this summer we hosted two different groups that toured our nursery. One group was in conjunction with the Northern Plant Conference, and the other was the Eastern Region of the International Plant Propagators Society. In total we had over 400 keen plants people touring our display garden and based on the comments I heard the plant that sparked the most interest was Pinky Winky™ Hydrangea.

Pinky Winky is the creation of Dr. Johan Van Huylenbroeek, a well know ornamental plant breeder within the Department of Plant Genetics and Breeding at Flemish Institute for Agriculture. He developed this new variety by treating seedlings of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’ with the chemical mutagen colchicine. In amongst the resulting seedlings emerged a superb new Hydrangea that had just recently come to market in North America.

What makes Pinky Winky so special and unique is its white and pink two-toned flower heads that appear in mid-summer. The large, 16 inch long flower heads (panicles) emerge white and the flowers at the base of the panicle quickly turn pink. The flowering is indeterminate, meaning they continue to push new white flowers from the tip of the panicle while the older flowers transform to rich pink. As an added bonus the flower heads are held upright on strong stems and don’t droop like the ever popular Pee Gee variety. The plant also exhibits dark green foliage which makes for a nice backdrop for its beautiful flowers. Like all paniculata hydrangeas Pinky Winky blooms regardless of climate, soil, pH or pruning. Use it as a specimen plant or to create a spectacular flowering hedge.

I know, I know - Pinky Winky is a strange name for such a beautiful plant but it’s a name you can’t forget. I ask Johan about the name and he told me it was derived from a character on a children’s television program called Teletubbies!

Despite the name, Pinky Winky Hydrangea will find a wide following with adults. It is distinct, beautiful and easy to grow.

“Do we really need another Hydrangea?” is the question that I often here from growers. The same is said of daylilies, Hosta, and roses. My answer is a resounding yes for all. There is always room for a better plant. Knock Out rose and Stella de Oro both prove my case. As far as Hydrangea go, Pinky Winky is distinct and superior to Pink Diamond, Tardiva, Ruby, Burgundy Lace or any other variety grown for large pink panicles. In my opinion Pinky Winky, Limelight, Little Lamb and Quick Fire are the best of their class and each is unique and deserves greater use in out landscapes and gardens. There are dozens of Hydrangea paniculata cultivars that deserve the label of heirloom because there is no good reason to grow or sell them unless you’re a collector. This list of obsolete varieties includes ‘Grandiflora’ aka Pee Gee, Tardiva, Kyushu, Burgundy Lace, Brussels Lace, Chantilly Lace, Praecox, Floribunda, Pee Wee, Dharuma, Unique and Pink Diamond. While many of these plants are very good, there are no longer the best.

It is my hope that I live long enough to see the day when growers stop offering Pee Gee. The plant gives the species a bad name, and that’s a real shame! It’s a shame because few plants offer as much a Hydrangea paniculata. It’s long blooming, reliable, showy, and easy to grow, makes a great cut flower both fresh and dry, is adaptable to difficult soils, and grows from Fargo to Fayetteville without missing a beat.

The time is right for Pinky Winky.