Climbing Hydrangea

I have always used my personal garden as an experiment- trying different plant varieties, different plant combinations and always looking for atypical plants that will do well in our high plains environment. We are blessed with cold, often dry winters (which are brutal for broadleaf evergreens like boxwood or azaleas), searing heat in summer, but a beautiful spring and fall. Rainfall is rarely dependable, and the occasional tornado will rumble through. In short, not an easy garden environment.

That being said, there are lots of beautiful, interesting plants that will thrive here, and one of my favorites is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris). I have four vines planted on the north facing wall of my living room in raised limestone planters. The planters were open to the soil below on the bottom, so the roots had lots of room to expand. We completed the house in 1998, and the fact that it was new construction put to rest any concerns that I had about damaging the stucco. If this was a fifty year old house with original stucco in questionable shape, or a similarly aged brick or stone house with decaying mortar, I might have thought differently about growing a self-attaching vine. I’m sure that a lot of architects out there might disagree, but I see nothing wrong with using vines on new brick, stone or stucco houses. Wood siding is another matter- I wouldn’t ever plant any sort of vine on wood. The leaves hold in moisture and would hasten the decay of the siding. Vines that are woven through a metal trellis that is attached to the house (but removable) are the only way to go with a wood house.

My vines have performed admirably, for the most part climbing to the top of that wall. One is sort of my problem child- it will grow up three or four feet in a summer, and then peel away from the house and have to be cut back. No particular rhyme or reason for this- it is the exact same environment for all four vines. As a result, it is about eight feet shorter than the rest, but it has blended well and doesn’t look particularly out of place. Interestingly, the vine that was planted in an inside corner grew the fastest by far- one stem grew straight up in that corner to the top of the wall in about three seasons, and branched out horizontally really well.

You can see in the photos how the plants look in the blooming season in the spring, and in the fall. The blooms are large, and are held out from the wall anywhere from twelve to eighteen inches. They aren’t particularly long lasting (maybe a week and a half) but very showy. The fall color isn’t always dependable, but can turn a beautiful yellow. Birds like robins and mourning doves like to nest in it, and I have had ducks nest under the boxwoods planted at the base of the vines (as well as five foot long black snakes in pursuit of the duck eggs). I love the look of the vines, and feel that they give this part of my garden a very romantic, established feel. When viewed from inside the living room, the greenery that extends out from the wall frames the view through those large arch top doors, and makes you feel that you are very much a part of the garden. If you have the proper environment and are interested, I would wholeheartedly recommend the plant.

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