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Hydrangeas: love them or loathe them? Not always an easy question for me to answer. The very word conjures up images of fusty pom-poms of flowers in a dirty, granny-knicker pink. But recently I’ve begun to see one hydrangea in particular in a new light…

When I moved into my new house back last August, there were just two plants in the garden. One was an enormous dicentra (bleeding heart, now properly called Lamprocapnos), and the other was a climbing hydrangea. Two quite boring looking plants in late summer, to be frank. As the days shortened, the dicentra disappeared totally but the hydrangea lit up, as if illuminated from within. Every leaf turned the most amazing butter-yellow colour and gave me a ray of sunshine on even the gloomiest autumn day.
Climbing hydrangea
Now, as I write in mid June, I’m still enjoying this classy climber, which rejoices in the tongue-twisting Latin name of Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris. It’s been flowering for weeks now, big white heads up to 8 inches across. Unlike many of the old-fashioned ‘mophead’ hydrangeas, they manage to be elegant despite their size, and they have a subtle lemony perfume when they first open.

How to grow the climbing hydrangea

Despite its exotic origins in the Far East, the climbing hydrangea is hardy and easy to grow. It copes well with shade and makes an excellent plant for a cold north or east-facing wall. You can plant them at any time of year. Make sure you water well while the plant gets established – after the first season no further watering is required.

Another great thing about this plant is that it sticks to the wall or fence itself – so there’s no need to fiddle around with wires or trellis. In fact it’s best to avoid trellis; I’ve seen plenty of mangled bits of trellis caught up in the sturdy branches of a well-established climbing hydrangea. Pruning is easy; simply cut it back lightly after it has flowered.

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