All you need to know about climbing plants

Whether clothing bare walls, screening unsightly views and objects, or adding height to a border, climbers add a vertical dimension to your outdoor space – a must for any garden, says Kim.

Climbing plants were my first consideration when I moved into my new home back in 1990. I was lucky enough to have a variety of places to grow them, including walls, fences, outbuildings and a newly built pergola. A decade or so down the line and all are doing well.
The Vitis ‘Brant’ provides a green summer canopy, evocative of the Mediterranean, with a crop of small, sweet, black fruit from mid-October, as well as lovely autumn tints. Wisteria sinensis shares the same south-facing pergola and produces grape-like bunches of violet-blue flowers in late spring to early summer.

What are climbing plants?
Climbers are distinct from wall shrubs, in that they have a specific way to attach themselves to a support. Roses use thorns, vines use tendrils, wisteria uses twisting stems, while clematis uses twisting petioles (leaf stems). Parthenocissus species have sucker pads and ivy uses adventitious roots from stems.

Choosing a climber
First consider position, as north- and south-facing aspects often require different planting. Your climber needs plenty of soil preparation before planting if you’re to get its best performance, so soil conditions should also be addressed – check how alkaline/acid it is. Third, the height and width of the wall or structure must be suitable. Vigorous plants like honeysuckle and fallopia (Russian vine) could quickly swamp a small area and must be sited accordingly. You can buy easy-to-use soil-testing kits from garden centres.

Climbers for a north-facing aspect
The deep purple flowers of Akebia quinata can be relied on to release a delicious chocolate scent in spring. This climber’s twining stems scramble vigorously where support is given – a tall wall or an old tree, for example. It is more or less evergreen and has pretty, five-fingered leaves. Perfect for cool, shady positions.
Tolerant of all aspects but useful against cool, shady walls are the nodding heads of the Clematis macropetala group. Particularly lovely are the C. m ‘Jan Lindmark’ and C. ‘Helsingborg’.

Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet) is an unusual, decidious, fast-growing climber. Its summer foliage might be dismissed, but in autumn it transforms itself into a stunning spectacle. Yellow fruits ripen to reveal a bright, golden inner surface with vivid scarlet seeds that persist on bare branches for many weeks.
Superb for scrambling over fences, old sheds and trees. Other north-facing climbing plants include: Parthenocissus heryana, Hedera helix and Hydrangea anomala subsp petiolaris.

Climbers for a south-facing aspect
Passionflower Passiflora caerulea thrives in a sunny aspect in ruch, moisture-retentive soil. In long summers, orange fruits are formed. Train against horizontal wires in a warm spot.
A beautiful evergreen climber.
Jasminum officinale is deciduous and should be planted against a warm, sunny wall in rich, moisture-retentive soil, tied loosely to a horizontal support of wires. Bears exquisitely perfumed white flowers in summer.
Actinidia Kolomikta is a woody deciduous climber. Leaves have white tips, tinged with deep pink. Best trained on horizontal wires. An extremely hardy climber.

Soil Solutions
Climbers are at risk of drought and malnutrition. Avoid planting any closer than 45 cm away from the wall to avoid the area of ground sheltered from the rain, known as ‘rainshadow’. The soil close to a house or wall is likely to be poor, and plants given shelter in these positions are often vigorous, demanding a lot from the soil. Give climbers a good start by digging compost, well-rotted manure, leaf mould and bone meal into a 45cm x 45cm hole. Add sharp grit to heavy clay soil to aerate it and plenty of organic matter to sandy soil. Always check the soil’s pH.

Supporting roles
Horizontal and vertical wires: Use good, stout galvanised wire, held in place by vine eyes driven into the mortar course on the wall. Set the vine eyes 1.8, apart horizontally and an 45cm intervals vertically from ground level. The wires can be attached to wooden battens placedd at either end, with straining bolts used to tighten the wires.
Wooden trellis: Screw 5cm-thick wooden battens to the wall and attach wooden or plastic trellis panels. To ensure easy access to the wall behind the trellis, you can put up a hinged trellis. Hinges are fixed to the top, so you can unhook the trellis and swing it down.

Garden notebook

Perfect plants for ponds
April is the best time to plant aquatic plants and marginals, as the water is warming up. To establish them, plant in soil,m in a sack or a special mesh container (from garden centres), and lower into the water. Placing a layer of grit on top of the soil will stop it floating off. Here are some of my favourite water lovers…

The water lily, Nymphaea x helvola has dark green leaves, which grow purple underneath, and small yellow flowers. Grows in about 30cm water. Plant in good loam. Nymphaea ‘James Brydon’is a real beauty, with fragrant, showy cerise flowers. Needs about 1m of water to flourish. Hottonia palustris, the water voilet, bears delicate pale violet, lilac or white flowers in spring. It can be grown from seed in a submerged seed tray, then divided and thrown into the water in spring.

The bog arum, Calla palustris, grows bright green leaves, which enclose a white arum flower. You’re rewarded with a spire of fruits after flowering. Plant rhizome 5-6cm into water. Lysichton americanus is a favourite for pond edges, producing a tall yellow flower amid green leaves. Plant in shallow water. Iris laevigata (Japanese iris) would grace the margins of any pond, as it bears lovely mauve flowers on pale green leaves. It can thrive in water up to 15cm deep.

Prima solution

Q: Are any plants available to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee this year?
A: A striking one is the yellow hybrid tea rose ‘Gracious Queen’, boasting scented full blooms. You can order bare-rooted specimens by mail order from James Cocker & Sons (01224 313261). For each rose sold, a donation will be given to the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.

Garden to visit

Branklyn Garden, 116 Dundee Road, Perth, Perthshire PH2 7BB (01738 625535)
This National Trust for Scotland gem is a must-see. Look for the displays of spring bulbs, rhododendrons, alpine plants, and the cassiope collection, which should be in flower in late spring. Open 9.30am-6pm. Adult 3; child, 2; family ticket, 8.

What’s in bloom
  • Prunus jamasakura (cherry blossom) Bears a mass of white flowers in mid to late spring.
  • Bellis perennis Taso Series. A bright and breezy pompom daisy.
  • Aubrieta deltoidea ‘Joy’. Bears delightful, double mauve flowers – superb for ground cover.
  • Pulmonaria saccharata. Shows off pinky-purple or white funnel-shaped flowers in spring, but its spotted leaves are on display all year. Good for shady spots and front of borders.
Things to do in April
  • Put down slug protection measure – I use the biological Nemaslug method (0800 0853105)
  • Start mowing the lawn regularly, to promote growth.
  • Spray roses with fungicide
  • Cut back lavender to a bushy size and hard prune buddleia
  • Protect carrot patches from carrot fly with plastic screens.