Climbing plants are a valuable addition to any size garden, bringing a touch of elegance and romance.
As a proud new homeowner and fledgling gardener back in the early 1990s, my first priority was to establish some climbers to clothe my recently converted barn. I planted ivy, pyracantha, wisteria and vines which are maturing beautifully. The wisteria must have been grown from seed, as I had to wait seven years to enjoy its first blossom, but what blossom - certainly worth the wait.
Pergolas, fences, walls and arbours all provide opportunity to add extra to dimension to a garden, and with the threat of frost diminishing, now is the perfect time to get climbers under way.
The most important factor when choosing climbers is the aspect, the best being south or southwest where the most sun is available. However, there is climbing potential for any aspect. One of my favourites is ivy (hedera helix Goldheart), an evergreen with a splash of yellow that's ideal for shady walls. It makes a great backdrop for blue or pulple clematis such as c. alpina Lasurstem or viticelIa Etoile Violette. In my garden it makes a great partner to pyracantha Orange Glow which has becn trained on a wall with horizontal galvanised wires approximately 30 cm apart.
From September through to December it is an evergreen tapestry of colour and texture, and you're also treated to a midsummer mass of tiny cream coloured f1owers. Simply tie in lateral stems and keep the leader vertical until it reaches your desired height. You could also try growing a climbing rose with pyracantha-Maigold f1owers all summer and late into the autumn, and echoes the orange berries beautifully. Climbers with nodding heads or pendulous f1ower heads such as wisteria and robinia hispida are ideal for growing up arches, as is the frost hardy carnpsis x tagliabuana Madame Galen, which f1owers in orange-pink clusters from late summer to autumn. For a leafy climber, actinidia kolomikta has long leaves with cream and pink markings. It has a twining habit and would look lovely planted with pink or white clematis, or a climbing rose. Pergolas, arches and walls are not the only kinds of support for climbing plants-hedges, tree stumps and living trees can all play host.
Evergreen shrubs and conifers can be brought to new life with clematis, as it enjoys having its roots in the shade and is rarely too vigorous. It is best therefore to plant clematis on the shaded side of the host plant and beneath the rim of the branches, running the clematis along a cane to attach. Clematis serratifolia or tangutica, with their yellow parchment - like flowers and feathery seed heads, would make a lovely choice to liven up a dull evergreen tree from midsummer into winter.
There are dozens of roses that can be trained on walls, onto trees, pergolas and over arbours. I think it's best to go for roses that flower over a long period. Mme Alfred Carriere grows on my pergola and produces flowers recurrently all summer and into autumn. It has fragrant creamy blooms which I love, and will do well on a north facing wall. Rosa Climbing Etoile de Hollande is deep red with golden anthers and also flowers repeatedly.
If you have an old tree that needs brightening up, grow a Rambling Rector rose which flowers in June and provides pretty red hips in the autumn. The best host trees for these roses are ones with lots of branches for the rose to scramble into. Vigorous ramblers such as rosa filipes Kiftsgate are also ideal camouflage for eyesores like battered sheds and garages.
- Give all plants a flying start with fresh soil, leaf mould and bone meal all in a large hole. Remember that most climbing plants will live in the same place for many years. Mushroom compost, well-rotted manure and homemade compost or leaf mould are also excellent.
- In normal circumstances, a hole roughly 46 x 46cm is large enough to accommodate climbers.
- Most wall shrubs are not happy in a heavy clay soil, so add plenty of sharp grit to help aereate it and also improve drainage.
- When planting against a wall, place the climber at least 3O cm from the wall to take into account the rain shadow (the area of ground sheltered from the rain).
- Grow fragrant climbers near seated areas to fully beneflt from their scent, which is often most noticeable in the evening.
If you have a north or east facing wall or fence which is exposed to icy winds, try planting a clematis alpina or clematis macropetala (left). They should really thrive!
Plant up a bare trellis with annual climbers for quick coverage while waiting for long-term planting to become establishcd. Plants that are easily grown from seed include cobaea scandens (cathedral bells), eccremocarpus (Chilean glory flower), ipomoea (morning glory) and nasturtjums (tall variety). All of thesc thrive in sunny, well drained positions.
Jasmine and honeysuckle both have a lovely fragrance. Trachelospermum jasminoides is evergreen and has very fragrant white flowers in summer. The honeysuckle lonicera japonica Halliana is semi-evergreen with pretly white flowers that age to pale yellow from summer through to autumn.
Scented clematis include armandii 'Snowdrift' which has loose clusters of white, scented flowers through March and April, montanas Elizabeth, with a very popular pink vanilla scent, and triternata rubra marginata which has star-like flowers with red edges during summer.
Grow sweet peas for their lovely fragrance as well as their rapid climbing habit. The annual lathyrus odoratus (right) has a unique scent and is available in many colours. This flowers from June to September, especially if the blooms are picked regularly to stop the seeds being set.
Supporting your plants
With the exception of all self-clinging climbers, some kind of support will be vital. Trellis or galvanised wire attached to vine eyes will do for most climbers.
- Any structure that you want plants to grow up will need supports to be fitted. You'll need to be ready to tie in any loose ends on a regular basis until the plant is well on its way.
- Plant the climber at a slight angle to encourage it to grow towards its support (below).
- Use lengths of garden twine to secure tender plants to avoid darnaging sterns (below).
- Climbers that don't need any support, but produce aerial roots or suckers which will cling easily to the surface, include campsis radicans, all varieties of hedera (ivy), all species of parthenocissus and euonymus fortunei Silver Queen.
Give your lawn a springtime boost
After the cold, waterlogged winter, here's how to get your lawn into tip top condition.
Having been through months of neglect and nasty weather, your lawn is probably in need of a bit of loving care. As soon as the grass starts to dry out, it's time to coax it back into life again. And any time you spend on it now will repay you in the summer, when you're relaxing out there with a glass of Pimm's.
- Mow the lawn with the blades at their highest setting. Leave it a few days before you go on to the next stages.
- Rake over the entire lawn, using the rake to drag out any moss that has had a chance to establish itself among the grass. This will also help to clear out any dead leaves.
- Prick the lawn all over with a garden fork - this will help to get air rlght down to the base of the roots and dry out the lawn. It's a painstaking process but well worth the effort. If you have a large lawn, it's a good idea to invest in a machine which does the work for you.
- The next task is to weed the lawn. You can pull the odd weed or two out by hand, but if you have loads you might need to use a lawn weed killer which kills weeds but doesn't harm grass. (Don't do this on the same day that you cut the grass.)
- When weeding by hand, apply a lawn fertiliser to the grass once you've finished. If you are using weed killer, wait for a few days before you apply the fertiliser. Or you can use a product which feeds and weeds the lawn at the same time.
- About a week or two later, give the lawn another cut - you should see an improvement already.
Q: My pot grown bay tree has been attacked by small, scaly insects which stick to the under-sides of the leaves. They have made the leaves go crinkly and give off a sticky substance. How do I get rid of them?
A They sound like scale insects which cause damage by sucking the sap out of leaves. Get rid of them by spraying your tree with Murphy Liquid Malathion. II you don't want to use pesticides, gently rub the scales off with your fingers. Keep an eye on your plant for re-infection, though.
Help save Britain's bumblebees
In this country, five out of 16 of our bumblebee species are endangered, but Gale's Honey has launched a scheme to help save them. Their special seed mix contains a colourful mixture of wildflowers and grasses, including red clover, an essential source of nectar. Gale's Honey, along with the Bumblebee Working Group and Cotswold Seeds, has 1,500 seed mixes to give away. So if you want to do your bit to help save our triend the bee, write to Prima [...]
Things to do in May
- Feed trees, shrubs and hedges with bonemeal or manure pellets by raking fertiliser into the soil around the base. This gives them a good start for the growing season.
- Plant lily bulbs, sunflower seeds, gladiolus corms and sweet peas.
- As soon as the flowers die back, divide any clumps of snowdrops which are congested.
- Prune winter flowering shrubs as soon as the blossom has fallen. Jasminum nudiflorum, witch hazel and dimonanthus will all benefit from a quick trim to keep their shapes.
In bioom this month
The garden is well and truly waking up and becoming a wonderful mass of colour. Here are a few favourite flowering plants for May.
Viburnum plicatum Mariesli is full of lacy white flower heads and, as an added bonus, the leaves turn a lovely bronze colour in the autumn. This plant grows well when it's positioned in a sunny spot.
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus repens
This creeping blue blossom, also known as the Californian lilac, is a riot of small blue flowers. It needs well drained soil and sun and grows into quite a large shrub.
A May garden wouldn't be complete without a beautiful ornamental cherry. Prunus sargentii has lovely scented pink flowers and pretty red foliage in the autumn months.
Well worth a visit
What could be more lovely than a walk in a garden full of spring flowers? Here are two places that you should really try to see this month.
(01539441396) Beautiful bluebells, rhododendrons and azaleas combine to create a glorious garden full of scent and colour
Chelsea Flower Show
(0870906 3781 for tickets) From 23 to 26 May you can visit the show which is packed with the latest ideas, trends and products.