By Lorraine Spooner
With all the extra time being spent in the garden under recent glorious blue skies and warm sunshine, I am wondering how much thought has been put into utilising the possible vertical elements of your gardens.
Using climbing plants to clothe not just walls but structures, can provide instant eye-catching impact, while taking up very little ground space. Consider obelisks in borders, arches over pathways, pergolas over patios and even that unsightly telegraph pole could have an evergreen Jasmine scrambling to the top. Perhaps you have been considering the removal of an old tree, but that gnarled branch structure, could become a characterful host for a rambling rose, such as ‘Albrighton Rambler’, detailed below.
Plant species survive by adapting to their environment and climbing plants have evolved to grow up vertical structures by various modifications, in order to maximise absorption of light for photosynthesis in competition with other lower growing plants. They are broadly divided into two botanical groups:
- Bines, which twine their stems around a support, such as Lonicera, and…
- Vines, which use tendrils (modified leaves or stems, such as Lathyrus), petioles and thorns (both modified stems, such as Clematis and Rosa species), adventitious roots (formed at stem nodes, such as Hedera) and even adhesive pads (formed at the end of tendrils, such as Parthenocissus), which are all adaptations of plant parts that enable them to cling to their host and traverse skywards.
Annual vegetables, such as beans and peas, with their attractive, often bi-coloured flowers, need not be confined to the edible garden, but can be used in flower borders in the French Potager style, to add vertical accents and interest.
Dependent on your chosen species, initial training and pruning care in the early years will pay dividends later, and encourage your climber to grow healthily, rather than allowing it to romp away regardless of the required etiquette in its relationship with neighbouring plants!
A selection of Climbers currently available on the Plant Centre
With striking dark red flowers in early summer, and a second flush in early autumn, this is the perfect specimen for an obelisk, growing to a compact 1.5 metres tall. Other deciduous Clematis available are the lilac flowered Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain Regal’ and the shell-pink flowered Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’.
A vigorous evergreen climber which will quickly cover a sunny house wall. The glossy foliage provides year-round interest through which other deciduous climbers could be encouraged to twine. Spring has arrived when the fragrant, creamy white flowers start to put on their show.
Lonicera similis var. delavayi
A semi-evergreen honeysuckle with fragrant tubular white flowers, which later age to yellow as they mature, giving a contrasting colour effect against the dark green foliage. Flowering later than most in early autumn, clusters of black berries follow. Another good choice for a pergola or for covering a bare fence. Also available is Lonicera henryi ‘Copper Beauty’ with dark red and coppery yellow flowers in summer, followed by red or black berries.
A familiar sight against house walls in spring–early summer, the pendant racemes of fragrant, lilac flowers, to 30cms in length, appear before the foliage. Wisteria are vigorous growers, producing their long twining stems in abundance, which need to be curtailed by pruning twice annually to encourage the formation of flowering spurs. Best sited on a South or West facing sheltered wall with vine eyes and wire to form a robust support.
One of the most popular evergreen climbers with fragrant, white flowers produced in profusion in summer. Tolerant of a range of soils and aspects, this Jasmine can be planted against walls, over pergolas or arches, and is especially effective in large containers on a terrace, where the fragrance can be best enjoyed at close quarters. In the right conditions, the foliage can turn shades of crimson in the autumn, prolonging the season.
Jasminum officinale ‘Clotted Cream’
A relatively new, cream coloured cultivar of the common deciduous Jasmine, but with larger flowers and a stronger fragrance. Attaining 3-5 metres, site in a sunny, sheltered location, such as around a doorway where the warmth of the walls will intensify the heady perfume.
Rosa ‘Albrighton Rambler’
A charming, repeat flowering rose with a light musk scent; the double pale pink blooms have their petals exquisitely arranged around a little ‘button’ eye, and hang from the branches in elegant sprays. Perfect for growing over an arch or through a small tree, especially one with purple foliage such as Malus toringo ‘Scarlett’ to offset the delicate shade of its flowers.
The Virginia Creeper is a fast-growing deciduous climber, instantly recognisable in autumn, when its distinctive palmate foliage takes on intense autumn tones of scarlet, burgundy and orange. Small cream flowers later mature to hanging clusters of blue-black berries. An excellent choice for quickly clothing an unsightly building or for training over a pergola walkway.
Passiflora caerulea ‘Lavender Lady’
A semi evergreen passion flower with deep purple, slightly reflexed petals, surrounding a showy arrangement of filaments and stamens, the complexity of which deserves closer inspection by budding botanists. Requires a warm sheltered wall and may need winter protection in colder areas. Also available is Passiflora caerulea ‘Constance Elliott’ with stunning white flowers for those who favour a more restrained colour palette.
The following plants are classified as Low Screens and Espaliers and, although not climbers, they can be used to great effect to delineate garden spaces or used to provide a living screen to an area which is best kept hidden, such as a compost heap or oil tank.
The Oleaster has dense grey/green foliage with silver undersides and small, fragrant creamy white flowers nestling in the leaf axils in autumn. These low screens at 120cms tall x 100cms wide make very effective wind breaks to protect more tender plants.
Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ and Malus ‘Evereste’
Crab apples are deservedly popular for the multitude of uses throughout the garden and for their extended season of interest. Assisting pollination of eating and cooking apples, the stunning blossom attracts many early nectar seeking insects and the red (Sentinel), orange-yellow (Evereste) crabs, not only make wonderful jelly, but persist after defoliation to provide food for hungry birds. A lovely addition for edging the vegetable garden, these crab apples are ready trained on a one metre tall framework.
The espalier tiered form produces a vertical framework of horizontal layers, which looks stunning when planted in a continuous line along a pathway or in a circular formation around a seating area. Soon to be available are the imposing 5 Tier Espalier Fruit Trees, at 1.8-2.0 metres tall, in the following varieties:
- Cherry ‘Lapins Cherokee’
- Cherry ‘Regina’
- Apple ‘Golden Pearmain’
- Apple ‘Jonagold’
- Apple ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’
- Pear ‘Charneux’
- Pear ‘Beurre Hardy’
- Pear ‘Williams bon Chretien’
- Quince ‘Champion’
- Plum ‘Opal’
- Plus ‘Czar’