Stunning, dark leaves on Eclipse® Bigleaf Hydrangea

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I met First Editions® Eclipse® Bigleaf Hydrangea when Bailey Nurseries hosted a tour and evening at their headquarters in St. Paul, MN, during the 2023 GardenComm (garden communicators) conference. I had never toured a growing location at that scale before.

Each attendee was given an Eclipse® Bigleaf Hydrangea to take home and trial. But I also was able to take home a larger shrub that was part of the podium garden at the meeting. GardenComm conferences offer garden tours and talks, plus opportunities to try new seeds, plant and tools.

The bigger shrub went into my front bed with a northeastern exposure. The north side is a tricky spot. You would think it would be very shady, but the hottest part of summer is also when the sun rises and sets furthest north. For a few of our hottest weeks, the late afternoon sun hits my hydrangeas and azaleas on the north side. The only tree in my front garden is no help – she and I are about the same height. So, when the temps soar, the hydrangea leaves wilt a bit, perking up overnight and ready to start again the next morning. It is important not to let the poor plants dry out during these challenging few weeks. But that direct sunlight had a benefit. Eclipse® kept its black (actually dark purple) foliage.

Eclipse Hydrangea foliage showing sun vs. no sun, by Connie Cottingham

The smaller trial shrub was on the covered patio, where I was protecting the little dear from harsh sunlight – in fact, all sunlight. She was happier in the late afternoons, but the foliage was much greener. A total lack of sunlight stopped that vibrant foliage color. This photo shows the two plants together.

This is why so many gardeners move their plants around until they find a plant’s happy place. In Minnesota these plants are grown in full sun, but the Georgia growing facility keeps Eclipse® under shadecloth – providing enough sun to ensure that rich color and enough shade to help it survive summer in the South. 

Eclipse® Bigleaf Hydrangea is a deciduous shrub that keeps its dark purple leaves all season long. The blooms are cranberry two-tone clusters. It is suggested to place it near a chartreuse plant to make both sing and that would be stunning. I like the way it stands out near a light concrete planter in my garden. It could really show off a statue. Expect this shrub to mature at 3’-5’ high and wide and do well in Zones 5-9. The brochure in my photos is a standard 8-1/2”x11”.

Would I recommend you try this plant? Absolutely! The foliage is stunning. I have not seen the blooms in person yet but am excited that both the foliage and flowers are recommended for flower arranging.

This plant will be available to the public in 2024. Friends in Georgia, I believe there will be a good supply for you. This plant was bred at Bailey’s Innovations in Athens, GA, a town that loves that Red and Black color combination.

Eclipse® Bigleaf Hydrangea can be ordered online now. Prices vary quite a bit online, but this plant can be found, perhaps in your local garden center this spring.  

Fun fact: The state of Arkansas expects 1 to 3 million visitors on April 8, 2024, when the path of the total solar eclipse goes right through the state. That’s a big deal, since the population of Arkansas is 3 million people. Many campgrounds and hotels are already sold out. Although I am not in the path of totality, I look forward to viewing a pretty good show over my garden.

Note: This was originally sent as a Love Note From the Garden:

Note: I was one of many who recieved a test plant, but have not been compensated beyond that. This is a plant I am excited to grow. I have collected many hydrangeas lately (some given to me as trial plants, some traveling from my Georgia garden to Arkansas). I need to create a planting bed on the east side of my house to grow them. I will share info on plants that make my heart sing.    


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