||Climbers and wall plants
In every garden, whether it is within sight of the sea or situated hundreds of miles inland, there is a vertical surface somewhere that could be covered by a plant. This could transform the garden from one that looks bare, with hard lines of fence and wall, into something that is horticulturally delightful.
Climbers and wall plants
Climbing plants provide the gardener with the means of adorning walls, fences and other structures such as pergolas with flowers and foliage. They can add charm and individuality to a building – be it a house, garage or even a humble garden shed – and they are great for obscuring unsightly views. Walls, of course, are particularly good for growing climbers against because they provide shelter and warmth, so you may find that you are able to grow some plants from warmer climates.
Climbing plants really come into their own in small gardens. They do not take up valuable ground space, so they still allow gardeners to enjoy and practise the hobby, regardless of what the dimensions of the garden are.
There is no great secret to growing good climbers. They need a well-prepared soil, as well as occasional feeding, watering and general nurturing, and perhaps a bit of pruning, just like any other plant. They may, however, also need occasional tying in to supports, wires, canes or trelliswork, especially in windy coastal gardens.
This chapter does not include climbing and rambling plants exclusively. There are also a number of ‘wall plants’ – shrubs that are at their best when grown in proximity to a wall. In cooler or temperate gardens, plants such as the germander, oleander and the Chilean potato vine will be at risk of suffering from exposure if they are not grown in the lee of a wall. So whilst they do not use the wall for support, as do true climbing plants, the structure is just as important to them, but for different reasons.
Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora AGM) This vigorous, rounded shrub can be evergreen or semi-evergreen and grows to around 6ft (2m) high and across. It does best near a wall. The glossy, dark green leaves are accompanied by pink, white and lilac trumpet-like flowers from mid summer to mid autumn. USDA Zone: Z5
Actinidia (Actinidia kolomikta AGM) A non-vigorous, deciduous climber from China and Japan, Actinidia is closely related to the Kiwi fruit, or Chinese gooseberry. When fully developed, the leaves have a large area of pink and white at the tips, which looks as though they have been dipped in paint. USDA Zone: Z4
Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) A twining annual, this plant has heart-shaped, mid-green leaves and showy, usually orange-yellow flowers with a long, dark brown tube, giving them a ‘black-eyed’ appearance. Flowers are carried from early to late summer. USDA Zone: Z10
Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata AGM) This covers a house wall in fiery reds, golds, oranges, yellows and purples in autumn. Its deep blue berries after leaf fall are relished by birds. Two alternatives are P. henryana AGM, with dark, purplish-green, deeply lobed leaves turning to the bright colours in autumn, and the true Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia AGM), with leaves composed of five oval leaflets. USDA Zone: Z3–7
Camellia (Camellia spp) We have seen how the Camellia can make a wonderful springtime shrub (page 132), but it is originally a woodland plant, so it does not perform well in exposed gardens or in an open, very sunny spot. It makes a good plant for the lee of a wall, preferably facing north, south or west. If the wall is east-facing, the early morning sun on a cold day can cause the camellia flowers to go brown and drop,by thawing the flowers too quickly. USDA Zone: Z8
Cape leadwort (Plumbago auriculata AGM) This is a fast-growing, evergreen, woody-stemmed, scrambling climber. It is equally at home growing along wires and into trees, as well as climbing over banks. Trusses of sky-blue flowers are produced from summer to early winter. USDA Zone: Z9
Chilean potato vine (Solanum crispum) This scrambling, semi-evergreen shrub is usually seen growing up a wall or fence. The bluish-purple, star-shaped flowers, which appear from early to late summer, have prominent, deep yellow anthers. The cultivar ‘Glasnevin’ AGM has flowers that continue into early autumn. USDA Zone: Z8
Clematis (Clematis spp) Known as the ‘Queen of Climbers’, there are hundreds of types of Clematis to choose from, and their flower colours range from white to deep purples, with every colour in between save for the orange shades. It is difficult to choose between them all, but if you had to take just one on your imaginary desert island, it probably should be Clematis montana var rubens; in late spring it just fills every spare bit of space, for about three weeks, with pale pink flowers. It can be left to ramble over buildings or up into trees. C. flammula, meanwhile, is a vigorous form with masses of almond-scented, flattish, single flowers from early summer to late autumn. C. tangutica, from central Asia, produces yellow, lantern-shaped flowers from mid summer to mid autumn; these are followed by decorative, silky seedheads. USDA Zone: Z6 (C. tangutica Z5)
Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris AGM) This climber will cover a large area, its white and cream flowerheads appearing profusely even on a shady, cold wall. It produces attractive, deep green foliage that turns to bright yellow in autumn, and large, flat, white blossom clusters in summer. It needs plenty of moisture during the first year or two after planting, but thereafter becomes quite drought-tolerant. USDA Zone: Z5
Climbing or rambling rose (Rosa spp) There are seemingly hundreds of climbing roses to choose from, and some can have vicious thorns, so it pays not to grow them really close to paths and patios. However, you do not want them to be too far away either, as the flower fragrances can be fantastic. Four favourites include ‘Pink Perpétué’ (pink), ‘Golden Showers’ AGM (yellow), ‘Dortmund’ AGM (deep pink and white) and the modern climber ‘Sir John Mills’. USDA Zone: Z2–9
Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides AGM) This evergreen vine acquired its common name from its long history of being grown in gardens of the southeastern states of the US. It grows to 15ft (4.5m) or more, and has small, dark green, glossy leaves, which turn red in the autumn. In spring and early summer, it carries clusters of fragrant, star-shaped flowers of creamy white. USDA Zone: Z9
Cup and saucer vine, or Mexican ivy (Cobaea scandens AGM) This is a tender perennial that is usually treated as an annual. It is a quick grower, using tendrils to haul itself up supports each year. It will reach 20ft (6m) if left alone. Purple, bell-shaped flowers with prominent stamens appear from late spring to the first frosts of autumn. USDA Zone: Z9
Daisy bush (Olearia x scilloniensis AGM) The chief attraction of this evergreen shrub from Australasia is the clusters of white, daisy-like flowers in late spring and early summer. This particular natural hybrid was discovered on the Isles of Scilly, just off the southwest corner of England – where conditions could not be more coastal. It reaches a height of 4ft (1.2m) and has serrated, grey-green leaves, white felted beneath. USDA Zone: Z8
Firethorn (Pyracantha spp) The firethorns are evergreen shrubs that have spiny branches and usually produce a profusion of small, bright, summer flowers. These are followed by large numbers of autumn berries in yellow and orange (page 137). They all make fine wall shrubs and hedging plants. USDA Zone: Z6–8
Flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera spp) The honeysuckles are grown chiefly for their fragrant flowers, but they are also vigorous ramblers. If you have space to grow them, they are fabulous. Just take a close-up look at the intricacy of the flower – you’ll be amazed. USDA Zone: Z2–9
Germander (Teucrium spp) This genus contains perennials and shrubs mostly from the Mediterranean region. Several, such as T. hircanicum and T. chamaedrys, make lovely wall plants. Flowers in rose-purple spikes are carried from mid- to late summer. USDA Zone: Z4–9
Indian mallow (Abutilon vitifolium) The Indian mallow (actually from Chile) is an upright shrub that needs the protection of a wall if it is to do well. The maple-like leaves are grey-green and softly hairy, whilst the white, early summer flowers are five-petalled and saucer-shaped. USDA Zone: Z8
Japanese crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae AGM) This deciduous, climbing plant grows to a height and spread of up to 82ft (25m) or so, but it can be pruned annually to be kept smaller. Thick, lobed, pale green leaves up to 12in (30cm) across turn to shades of gold, orange and purple-red in autumn. Green flowers in mid-spring are followed by barely edible purple-black fruits. USDA Zone: Z5
Oleander (Nerium oleander) This is an upright, bushy, evergreen shrub that is frequently used as a potted plant for the conservatory or sun room. If grown outdoors in a temperate climate, it needs to be in full sun and protected by a wall. Clusters of pink, white, red, apricot or yellow flowers appear from spring to autumn, often on dark red stalks. USDA Zone: Z8
Ozothamnus (Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius) Another upright, evergreen shrub, Ozothamnus has dense, woolly, white shoots and narrow leaves of deep green. The fragrant, white, early summer flowers come in clustered heads. USDA Zone: Z8
Passion flower (Passiflora caerulea AGM) This is the common, or blue, hardy passion flower. It is a vigorous climber with a dense habit. It has a height and spread of 20–30ft (6–9m) and carries light to mid-green lobed leaves. Slightly scented, white and blue-purple flowers are produced from early summer to early autumn. The variety ‘Constance Elliott’ is ivory white. USDA Zone: Z7
Persian ivy, or Colchis ivy (Hedera colchica AGM) Many people hate ivies, believing them to be a pest. In fact, they do real damage to a building only if the brickwork is already unsound. The variety of forms means that there is probably one that you’ll like. Hedera colchica is a useful garden ivy, but it tends to be overshadowed by its larger-leaved and more vigorous clone ‘Dentata’ AGM. A popular, variegated form is ‘Sulphur Heart’ AGM. USDA Zone: Z6
Rose of China (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) The Hibiscus is a large genus of annuals, and evergreen and deciduous shrubs. The Rose of China is an attractive plant best grown in the shelter of a sunny wall. In cold areas, overwinter it in a pot in a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory. Flowers come in a wide range of colours. USDA Zone: Z9
Sweet pea (Lathyrus spp) These familiar, annual climbers are sown in autumn or spring for flowering the following summer. The pea flowers have the nicest of scents. There are dozens of varieties and most will grow happily up and along supports. USDA Zone: Z5
Ti tree, or tea tree (Leptospermum spp) The Leptospermum is a genus of evergreen trees and shrubs grown for their leaf decoration and small, often profuse flowering. Although perhaps not the most attractive of garden plants, they are particularly suited to coastal gardens, provided that the position is sunny and the soil well drained. L. lanigerum can eventually make a tree 17ft (5m) or so high, but it appreciates wall protection. USDA Zone: Z8–9
Trumpet vine (Campsis spp) These perennial climbers produce scarlet and orange (or sometimes yellow) trumpet-like flowers in summer. They are drought-tolerant and are happy in full sun or partial shade. Watch out for the vines growing into openings – windows, eaves, gutters etc. These are very hardy and can be grown close to the seashore. USDA Zone: Z4
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum AGM) This is a hardy, deciduous, rambling plant, growing to around 10–15ft (3–4.5m). It needs to have a sturdy wall to clamber over. Bright yellow flowers grow along bare, green stems from late autumn until mid winter. USDA Zone: Z6
Wisteria (Wisteria spp) Wisteria sinensis is arguably the grandest climber of them all. It originates from China, and many who have grown it wish it had stayed there. During its peak season, it can send shoots up into a tree or neighbours’ gardens in a few weeks. Prune in mid winter and in high summer to keep it under control. The highly scented, large, lilac-coloured flower clusters are utterly ravishing. USDA Zone: Z4–8