Hydrangea petiolaris

This is one of the loveliest of climbers if you can give it plenty of space – either the full height of your house, or a sturdy tree with rough bark to which the aerial roots can cling, like those of ivy, for the plant needs no artificial support. Though deciduous, it is a plant of year-round beauty. One of the most cheerful signs of spring is the unfolding of the fresh young leaves, which are later bright green, heart-shaped and deeply toothed. Masses of large, pure white flowers follow in mid-summer, typical hydrangea lacecaps, up to 10 inches (25 cm) across. They remain on the plant for months, looking decorative even when sere, like most hydrangeas. In the darkest months, the network of rich brown branches has its own charm if you have an eye for the skeleton effects of winter.

Hydrangea petiolaris likes good soil, so enrich it generously at planting time, and prefers a north wall to an east or south wall, where morning sun after night frost can cause damage. It grows well on lime, or even chalk. It may not flower for the first two or three years, after which it will climb rapidly. I have seen it growing to the top of a three-storey house, where the only care needed is to prune it round the windows and watch the drainpipes, and it will climb 60 feet (18 m) up a tree. The great W. J. Bean also suggested growing it as a mound over a tree stump, but (who am I to challenge the master?) I am never happy with climbers in mounds, for tall weeds, like nettles or wild parsnip, always seem to come up through them waving defiantly from impenetrable depths.

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