How cute is he? Honestly, this little guy is among the most endearing shrubs around, contributing a bit of whimsy, a dash of color and a dose of humor to just about any garden. Technically, his name is Hydrangea paniculata ‘ILVOBO’, but that’s a mouthful for such a diminutive shrub. We just call him Bobo®.

Weighing in at the light end of the scale, Bobo packs a lot of punch for such a little contender. Reaching about 32 to 36 inches tall and wide, and maintaining a reliably uniform, mounded shape, this dwarf hydrangea is versatile beyond description. Grown in containers, used as an eye-catching small specimen in the perennial garden, or positioned in a mixed bed of perennials and shrubs, Bobo is a standout. Incredibly dense, large white flowers pack the plant early in the season; they emerge with a slight, light-green tinge and become sparkling white before turning soft pink in fall. Blooms are abundant and are held on strong stems, practically covering the plant and hiding foliage, which remains a reliably clean, medium to dark green. Fall foliage color is not a highlight, but with the rich, often bicolor tones of the aging flower panicles, who would even notice?

Maintenance is a snap; in fact, I’ve performed practically none, which is pretty much my standard operating procedure in the garden. A bit of pruning now and then, but only because I happen to have the clippers in hand, merely encourages happier flowering, as the plant blooms on new wood. Although it prefers loamy soil, it’s adaptable to a range of soils and is not picky about pH, flowering profusely regardless of what I’ve managed to do — or not do — to it. Even during my first plants’ establishment period in a garden about a mile from my current bed, I was typically lax about regular watering and they thrived. (That approach is not recommended, however, and adequate, moderate moisture should be applied. It’s only fair.)

Full sun to partial shade — or partial shade to full sun — is preferred, and this small shrub seems to be happy either way. One of mine receives at least 8 hours of strong sunlight each day; the other gets about half of that. There’s such a slight difference in flower production that, if I switched them, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell.

If Bobo has any enemies, we haven’t yet met them. There are no reported serious insect or disease problems although, like all hydrangeas, Bobo can be a good indicator of the need to water: If leaves begin to sag a bit, it’s time to give it a drink. Even so, I’ve found that Bobo is remarkably more rugged than the larger hydrangeas I’ve grown, which are the first plants to wilt during dry periods.

Bobo is of European origin, the result of a controlled breeding program in Belgium, between mother H. paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’ and an unknown H. paniculata father. He probably gets his flush of pink in the fall from his mother, and we’d like to think that his dad contributed, perhaps, his rather diminutive habit. (‘Pink Diamond’ is a tall drink of water, topping out at nearly 15 feet in optimal conditions, so it stands to reason, doesn’t it?)

Name: Hydrangea paniculata Bobo®

Common name: Bobo panicled hydrangea

Hardiness: Zones 3 to 8

Mature height: Up to 36 inches

Mature spread: Up to 36 inches

Classification: Flowering shrub

Landscape use: Perfect for a cottage garden; can be grown in a container or in the mixed border, providing a transition between perennials and larger shrubs; excellent specimen plant; strong stems allow for exceptional cut flowers

Ornamental characteristics: Dwarf form that tends to retain a pleasing, softly mounded shape; clean, medium to dark green foliage; abundant, dense panicles of flowers emerge somewhat chartreuse and develop to full, brilliant white clusters that bloom during summer, turning a soft pink in fall

I’ve recently planted a couple of new Bobos — these are the plants pictured on this page — and aside from the difference in size, they’re every bit the performers the more mature plants have proved to be. This little shrub is such a gift to those of us with limited space, because it fits neatly into nearly any size or type of garden and still provides that irresistible cloud of white panicled blooms.

A sturdy little guy that is beautiful, versatile and tough as nails — how can you miss?

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