There are many different categories of plant, from ground cover and hedging to flowering shrubs and herbaceous perennials. But none of them are as practical and as adaptable as climbing plants.
Climbers use items around them for general support – fences, trees, trellis, pergolas, walls and so on – enabling them to rise up and fill a space vertically. Some climbers hang on using tendrils, others have little suckers, while some use roots or literally twine themselves around structures and supports – but all of them are great garden assets. Not only are they an attractive addition, but they have some practical positives, too. Just watch out for really vigorous types like Clematis which can grow like billy-o.
The first place you naturally think of positioning climbers is on a wall or adorning a fence panel. A perfect plant for walls is honeysuckle, which has beautiful trumpetlike flowers that bees love. Their heady, perfumed scent and evergreen or deciduous foliage is often joined by glossy, red autumnal fruits, which are highly popular with the birds.
Ideally, honeysuckle needs a trellis or wire frame to grow up, because it will twine its flexible stems around the structure.
The beautifully scented variety, ‘Halliana’, blooms white and yellow flowers, which will grow up to eight metres tall in a sunny or partially shaded spot.
There is also an early Dutch that flowers in early summer and a late Dutch honeysuckle, which blooms a little later.
By planting them together in a sunny or partially-shaded spot with moist but well-drained soil, they will intertwine, giving a really long flowering time on your wall.
Another popular choice is Garrya elliptica (silk tassel bush) which has lovely catkins during the winter months. This evergreen shrub provides structure all year round, making a great nesting spot for birds. If you’ve got space to fill on the side of your home, Garrya elliptica is certainly a great choice to add colour. It will lean itself onto the wall, but it may need some initial tying in place to get it going.
If you want a charming cottage look, Virginia creeper can grow more than 12 metres high by using little suckers to attach itself to walls. It enjoys utterly spectacular autumn colour, as well as greenery throughout the season, but it will lose its leaves in winter, leaving a lattice framework of the branches on the side of the property.
Be warned – some people find it frustrating when they’ve decided not to have a Virginia creeper any more but are still left with some of the framework of branches and suckers on the wall, until they fall away over time.
Another classic choice for a cottage climber is the rose. There are many different climbing rose varieties, and a personal favourite is ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ which grows to four metres tall in full sun. It is also a thornless variety, making it the perfect addition to a family garden where the little ones may wander.
Other popular places to grow climbers are arbours, arches or pergolas, where plants can trail, twine and climb over.
Clematis is a really vigorous grower that will climb almost any garden structure. There are many stunning varieties to choose from and you can plant them any time up until the mid-autumn. Its roots like to be cool and moist, so plant the base of a clematis in light shade or surround with ground cover plants or a dressing of pebbles or mulch.
The white, pink and purple flowers of ‘Nelly Moser’, the pale pink flowers of ‘Bees Jubilee’ and violet-purple blooms of ‘The President’ are three marvellous options to choose from. They never fail to produce and perform brilliantly in the garden, growing up pergolas.
Wisteria, with its beautiful racemes of blooms, also suits pergolas. These grow well on the sides of houses too and will be with you for decades, providing real character. Just be sure to plant them in well drained soil in a sunny spot.
Pergolas are a great way of positioning a relaxing seating area or a hidden nook to escape – and what better to keep you company than some delightful fragrances? Jasminum x stephanense is a strong-growing deciduous choice that has small fragrant, pale-pink flowers that can be enjoyed in summer.
Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) is an evergreen, providing colour all year round with its deep glossy foliage. The white, star-shaped flowers that bloom in summer will also complement any space with their sweet-smelling scent.
Screen and secure
The evergreen nature of many climbers mean they can cover walls and fences all year round, with the added bonus of helping burglar-proof your home.
If you’ve got areas at the bottom of the garden or the side of your home where you may prefer to have a plant that’s quite impenetrable, rambling roses certainly fit the bill. ‘Albertine’ is a thorny variety with fragrant double flowers and a salmon-pink colouring. It’d be like getting through the castle to Sleeping Beauty.
Another great one for the front of the house is Pyracantha, known as firethorn for its red, orange, or yellow berries that fruit in autumn and winter.
Asian firethorn has orange-red berries that follow clusters or white flowers blooming in spring, and the spiny branches make them great to grow underneath windows, so burglars won’t be too keen to get past it.
Old drainpipe segments filled with
straw make a brilliant garden habitat for
Whether you’re looking to achieve that classic cottage look, secure some screening or protect your home, there’s a colourful climber with fantastic fragrance to add to your garden.
Happy gardening everyone!
I found an old pack of lettuce seeds. Can I still use them?
Seeds deteriorate over time and the chances of germination reduce, but why not give them a go and see what happens? After all, you have nothing to lose. You can sow lettuce seeds between March and September in rows 30cm apart. As soon as the first leaves appear, thin the seedlings out to give them room to grow.
When should I put bird boxes up?
You can do this at any time of year – the birds will simply get used to the space and prepare it for nesting the following year. Put out food to keep them coming back. Make your own bird feeder by filling a plastic bottle with seeds, cutting a small window into it and inserting a wooden spoon through another hole below as a place to perch.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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