'Firefly' adds a new dimension to Climbing Hydrangea

A few years back, I gave a Hydrangea talk at Swarthmore College and I told the audience that there were no cultivars of Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomela ssp. petiolaris). This is no longer the case for there are now four new cultivars available in North America. The most intriguing of these is a new variegated form called ‘Firefly’. Ironically this plant was discovered by Horticulturist Dan Benarcik just thirty miles from Swarthmore.

Firefly is quite typical for climbing hydrangea when it comes to flowers and form. It has a beautiful display of lacy white blooms in early summer, and like the species it is a great choice for training up a tall tree. It takes a few years for climbing hydrangea to establish itself and to start climbing, but once it does it can grow about two feet per year. It is well worth the wait for few things are as beautiful as a tall tree covered with climbing hydrangea, especially when in full bloom. What makes ‘Firefly’ special is its attractive lime-yellow leaf margin that gives the vine an additional season of interest. Its foliage display is at its best in spring when the buds break and the variegation is at its brightest. The vine literally glows at this time of year. As the season progresses the variegation becomes less pronounced and in the autumn, long after the flowers have faded ‘Firefly’ looks just like your standard climbing hydrangea.

As a plant hunter, one of my goals is to find new plants that have additional seasons of interest. This plant certainly fits the bill. Garden space is a precious commodity and personally I have limited room for plants that provide only a few weeks of bloom and nothing more. Plants should look good when they’re not in bloom and foliage is the attribute that I look to first to provide interest. The flowers should be the icing on the cake.

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