Just as I was installing a wire cage around 'Annabelle' the other day, I got an email about a new version of this favorite old hydrangea. I adore 'Annabelle' for her creamy, near-basketball-sized flower heads, which dry to a lovely soft chartreuse. The flowers cut and dry beautifully, the plant has great presence all summer long - until we have a hard rain, which splays open the spindly branches so that they droop their fluffy flowers into the mud. Really, it's hard-breaking, hence the wire cage to keep 'Annabelle' upright through summer rainstorms.
New in nurseries this spring are "dramatically improved" Hydrangea aborescens 'Annabelle'. The one that appeals is 'Incrediball' (well, the name doesn't appeal...) which has sturdier stems, even larger flowers, and four times as many of them... Really....four times the flowers? Where would they fit on the plant? Here's my 'Annabelle' last July...these hydrangeas are pretty prolific already..
But if 'Invinciball' has stems sturdy enough to hold up wet flower heads it'd be a great improvement. 'Incrediball' is being advertised as "Annabelle on steroids" so if you want an even beefier 'Annabelle', this might be worth a try.
The second new Annabelle is 'Invincibelle Spirit', the first ever pink version. It supposedly more compact, growing 3-4 feet high, and has a hundred flower heads per plant, although they're a little smaller than the traditional 'Annabelle'. It has the same charming round flowers, and I bet they dry to a lovely shade of dusky mauve. Like its parent, this pink version is easy to grow and blooms continuously from June through frost.