When I retired, my staff gave me a large, beautiful climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomela ssp. petiolaris) as a goodbye gift. I planted it in spring 2006. I put it inside a cedar tower to help it stay upright until it could reach the pergola frame above the garage doors.
Here it was the following year, in spring, 2007, large and leafy and healthy:
It is on the west side of the house, in too much direct sun, right up against the asphalt driveway and smack in front of the dryer vent. It has forgiven me for putting it in such a horrid site. It thrives, but in the way of climbing hydrangeas, which is slowly and cautiously.
After six years it is ready to start its seventh year aiming for the pergola. This is the year it finally might make it.
In May of 2010 it was full and glossy green and bottom heavy. It just didn't want to reach for that pergola, it wanted to fill out below and go over to see what was happening under the guest room window to the left. It was not interested in climbing up to the top of the garage doors.
This winter, in 2012, I pruned it severely, lopping off a lot of the woody stems below.
It was very hard to prune. After six years, the stems are brittle and woody and won't bend. Most of its growth was headed left. I wanted stems to go to the right and up.
But do you see it now, in April?
Do you see that tentative reach for the edge of the pergola?
It still doesn't want to go there --- I had to tie the topmost branches to the pergola frame and a few branches still wistfully stretch to the left, and the whole thing sags down in the middle.
Artistic? Sinuous and elegant? Or twisted and bent looking?
This is what I am after. I photographed this at a home that was on our local garden tour last year. How beautifully the climbing hydrangea scrambles across the top of the garage doors. And in bloom, too.
At this home the woody stems were limbed up and are quite bare until the leafy mass reaches the top of the frame. See, it can be done.
Mine will get there. It's been six years (have I really been retired that long?) and this is the year the branches are actually resting on a few inches of the top of the pergola.