May 12, 2010

Climbing Hydrangea

Hydrangea anomala petiolaris

Many gardeners know of Whiteflower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut from their very upscale plant catalog.  Those who have visited the garden store in person have also seen the absolutely stunning LLoyd border, created by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter --- almost 300 feet of wild chaotic abandonment that is the most gorgeous riot of perennials and shrubs you could hope to see in one place.

The entire farm has acres of display gardens (including one of all white flowers of course) that are a destination visit in themselves.  White wisteria in great cascades, a giant beech you can hide in for days, tulips in spring, dahlias in summer ... it's just a gardener's delight.

But most of that was wasted on me when I first visited, because I was struck dead in my tracks by the mountain of foliage and blooms smack in front of the store:
 Photo from Whiteflower Farm's website catalog

A huge mass of Hydrangea anomala petiolaris - climbing hydrangea - was smothering the entire length of the stone wall at the entrance.  It didn't climb so much as drape and mound over the wall.

So of course I came home with a gallon plant.  I didn't have a stone wall for it to smother, but I thought I could get it to grow up over a wooden pergola that frames the top of the garage doors. 

Doesn't this bare structure cry out for a big flowering vine to cover it?  I thought about wisteria, maybe honeysuckle, but in the end I really wanted the glorious mass of that climbing hydrangea with all of its attributes: creamy white flowers in June, glossy green foliage, peeling cinnamon colored twisted stems in winter.

So in 2006, I put the hydrangea in, right next to the left corner of the garage.  But the pergola that I wanted it to cover is about 8 feet high.  The plant was two feet high.  Climbing hydrangeas have air rootlets that will cling to any flat surface, which lets it climb so beautifully over everything, even rising up a flat wall.  But how to get it to grow up, reach for the pergola, and then hop onto it?

I caged it to start, so it wouldn't just mound and flop over in a heap.

By 2008 it looked like this, a slow grower for the first few years, but then it takes off:

In 2009 it was filling out, but I still couldn't see how it would make the leap from the top of its tutelier cage to the edge of the pergola.  Jump!  Leap!  Get up there dammit!  I gave it a lattice support to climb on its way up:

Will it ever get there?  It's leaning heavily on the flimsy lattice panel: 

This spring it's getting closer.  Does it realize I want it to keep going upward, or is it going to just mound over into a pile, taking the lattice panel with it, completely blocking the garage door?

Help!  Should I prune it below to make it less dense and encourage only the top growing stems to keep going?  Should I let it just keep massing on its own, and wait for it to be tall enough to drape over the pergola?  Should I keep talking to it (you do talk to your plants, don't you?) and remind it that there is a goal here and I need a little cooperation?

I love how lush and full it is.  It's healthy and growing like crazy now, 4 years after planting.  It does have nice creamy blooms in summer and beautiful dark foliage.  I'm inviting you to come back in a couple years and see if it ever makes it up over that pergola.


  1. Oh Laurrie, You won't have to do anything! Another year or two and it will just take off - you could trim out growth at the base to make room for other plants, but time is all it needs, I think. My fifteen foot boat shed is all but hidden - with absolutely no tlc in a difficult spot. I like your garage pergola!

  2. I'd let it keep going.

    If that was grown here you'd probably eventually have a hard time getting into the garage.

  3. Cyndy, I went back to your older post on your blog showing the evolution of your boat shed, and I was knocked over... your climbing hydrangea is gorgeous. Exactly the look I'm going for. I must be patient!

    Sweet bay, I do worry that it is massing too much right at the garage entrance, and even up north here it might block us out!

  4. I could write a similar post. I have one that has been in the same place for 6 years and is just now starting to climb. Very frustrating. I can't wait for the growing crazy stage.

  5. Wow, Laurrie, you are patient. I will be sure and check in a couple of years to see it make the leap to the top.

  6. Laurrie, what a great project! I think we will see the success before you know it. Be sure to post the "launch" when it heads over the top! :)

  7. Definitely prune the lower branches to encourage upward growth. One of my garden clients has a 5 ft cedar fence covered with climbing hydrangea. I've pruned it every year for the last 5 or so so to encourage side, rather than upward, growth and now the fence is nearly covered on both sides. It's a striking wall of green and when in bloom it is stunning.

  8. Lisa, they do seem awfully slow at first, but mine started taking off in the 4th year.

    Deborah, come back in a few years... it will be over the top. I'm sure.

    Garden Ms. S, I do intend to put up a post showing the leap to the top. Soon I hope.

    Joene, thanks for the info. I did try pruning out the lower branches, but I was tentative. I need to really get back in there and thin out those lateral lower branches.

  9. I don't mean that you shouldn't have planted it there -- we have a longer growing season here and I've seen this vine in the Sister's Garden in Chapel Hill. Not out of control by any means, just large. There is grows on a stone retaining wall between the sisters' property and a neighbors'.

  10. Your “bio” was delightful to read.


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.