Russian Hardy

I recently had the opportunity to speak to the Russian Nursery Stock Association at their annual conference in Moscow. This is the second time I have spoken at this conference and the attendees were once again eager to learn about new flowering shrubs that are hardy enough for Russian winters. 

The winters in Moscow are very cold and similar to what we experience in Michigan. It has a continental climate so they get plenty of snow and have unpredictable spring weather. Of all of the plants that I spoke about at the conference, the Invincibelle® line of Hydrangea arborescens drew the most attention. In Russian they have the same issues with Hydrangea macrophylla that we have, losing their flower buds and failing to flower. So having a broad line of winter hardy, reliable blooming hydrangeas was good news to the Russians (as it is for most of us in the US and Canada). 

This last year Proven Winners introduced three new hydrangeas in the Invincibelle® line bringing the total to five unique shrubs with an expanded color range of mauve, green, white, pink and red. The series offers a number of dwarf sized plant sizes starting at two and a half feet tall and a few plants that reach four to five feet in height. Add to that three additional varieties of Hydrangea arborescens, the Incrediball® series and Lime Rickey®, and you have eight hardy hydrangeas that can easily handle the worst Moscow winter. If you live in a climate where Hydrangea macrophylla flowering can be hit or miss, this is welcome news. If you own a garden center and you are tired of dealing with customers complaining about their hydrangeas not flowering, this is great news. Here is a synopsis of the hydrangeas I shared with our Russian cohorts at the APPM conference.

Invincibelle Limetta®

One of my favorites, Invincibelle Limetta® hydrangea has a unique short stature with iridescent green flowers from head-to-toe. It was a standout in our test field garnering attention from everyone including Rosie our nursery dog. It glowed in our trial garden where we planted it as a low border hedge, showing off its design value in the landscape. In full sun, particularly in the South, the flowers will transition to white before aging to dark green.    

Rosie knows how to pick out the best plants

Invincibelle Limetta® as a low border hedge in our trail garden

Excellent flower coverage makes this plant a standout!

Invincibelle Mini Mauvette®

There is a lot to like about Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® hydrangea. The mauve colored flowers are a major breakthrough. The color varies depending upon the age of the bloom. In bud the flowers open a rich purple and lighten as the flowers mature. Eventually, the flowers age to a blue-green dusted with shades of purple and red. The leaves and stems have a very strong substance to them, keeping the plant neat and tidy throughout the summer. Its dwarf, compact habit make it a good companion with Invincibelle® Limetta, Ruby and Wee White.

Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® unique flower color

Strong stem strength makes Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® an excellent garden plant

Blooms age to a blend of green, purple and red

Invincibelle® Ruby

Dr. Tom Ranney knew he had a winner when it first saw Invincibelle® Ruby in bloom in his breeding field. This dwarf, compact selection brings us another color breakthrough in Hydrangea arborescens. Dark burgundy-red buds expand in mid-summer and mature to a rich reddish-pink. The undersides of the petals remain dark while upper side lightens to pink giving the blooms a two-toned contrast. Eventually the flowers lighten to pink and change to green. Invincibelle® Ruby hydrangea has been a standout plant in our test field and our trial gardens. 

Dr. Tom Ranney admiring the original Invincibelle® Ruby 

The unique flower color is a first.

Invincibelle® Ruby in our trail garden in Michigan.

Invincibelle® Spirit II

Even though Invincibelle® Spirit was a breakthrough plant, being the first ever pink Annabelle-type hydrangea, it did have its problems. It did not look good in a container at retail and it took a few years in the garden to build up a body. Invincibelle® Spirit II has solved these issues and gives us even richer flower color. The foliage is also darker and more substantial and the blooms age to a pleasing, rich green. This is a big, bold plant that makes a statement in the garden. It has been a performer in our test field and in our trial garden. And like the original, which it replaces, $1.00 per plant sold supports breast cancer research.   

Version 2.0 has stronger stems and richer flower color.

Invincibelle® Spirit II - a standout plant in our test field.

Improved flower color with version 2.0.

The aged, green blooms are are another improvment.

Invincibelle Wee White®

Normally, white flowered shrubs don't get people all that excited, but Invincibelle Wee White® breaks all the rules. The smallest of all the plants in the series, this little beauty is a button of blooms. The flowers start out a soft green then change to white, occasionally showing a whisper of pink just to make things interesting. Year after year, this plant shined in our test field and drew lots of attention in our trial garden. Based on our trials and initial sales, you're going to be seeing a lot of this plant in landscapes near you.    

Blooms all the way to the ground.

The smallest of all the Invincibelle® selections.

Invincibelle Wee White® flowers will at times show a touch of pink and green.


While Incrediball® hydrangea is not a new plant, it is new in Russia. Again, despite being white, this plant has defied all sales expectations. The numbers just keep going up and up, year after year. I think that consumers are just getting to know this plant. Skeptical at first, people that have grown Incrediball® hydrangea have come to be true believers. As an example, two years ago I gave a talk at the International Hydrangea Conference on Cape Cod. During the conference there was a thunderstorm. Afterwards, when we visited the garden, a bed containing both Annabelle and Incrediball made everyone at the conference believers, including Dr. Michael Dirr. The Incrediball® hydrangea was unfazed, while Annabelle, planted right next to it, was a twisted wreck.    

Incrediball® continues to grow in popularity. 

An Incrediball® flowering hedge in our trial garden.

Incrediball® Blush

For some people, the bigger the better. And just like Incrediball®, Incrediball® Blush has really big flower blooms. This is a fulled sized plant with large, silver-pink flowers held high on super strong stems. As you can see below, Incrediball® Blush was a stand out plant in our test field. Even after a number of rain storms these plants looked great. The flower buds open a rich pink and then take on its silver-lavender-pink coloration as the blooms mature.  

Incrediball® Blush a standout plant in our test field.

Big silver-pink blooms on super strong stems.

Lime Rickey®

This plant was a late save. Initially we did not put it in the Proven Winners program because we knew we had a green flowered hydrangea coming with Invincibelle Limetta®. But after watching it year after year in our trial garden we had a change of heart. This plant is definitely Proven Winners worthy. It shines like a beacon in the garden, drawing your eye and your admiration. The contrast between the bright lime-green flowers and dark green leaves adds to it uniqueness and charm.  It stands up to rain storms never missing a beat. The flower heads are not supper big, but that's OK, it just adds to its grace and beauty.  

Lime Rickey® looking good in our trial garden.

A range of green colors delight the eye.

Lime Rickey® hydrangea blooms contrasting with dark green leaves.

I had some extra time after the conference in Moscow, so I took a high speed train to Saint Petersburg for some sight seeing. It's a beautiful city filled with fascinating history and awesome architecture. The people were friendly, the food was tasty and I always felt safe. If you ever have the opportunity to go there, I highly recommend it. Here are a few of the sights I saw. Perhaps they might tempt you into taking the trip. Until next time.

Bronze statue of Peter I

                                                                         Kazan Cathedral

Pushkin Catherine Summer Palace

That's me in front of Church of the Savior on Blood

The Hermitage Museum - former Winter Palace