Climbers and Trailers

You can almost double the potential growing space of your patio or garden if you use the boundary walls or fences in an imaginative way. Climbers on the walls of a house, for instance, can turn them into part of the garden scheme and bring flowers close to the windows. Climbers can also be used to hide unsightly items.

A climber can be used to frame a window. Morning glory (Ipomoea), grown in pots, for instance, can be trained up lines of twine around the window. Or you can build a narrow trellis and grow climbers up that. Even a humble chain-link fence can have a climber, such as common ivy (Hedera helix), trained and tied to it so that it is completely covered and becomes a lush green ‘wall’.

A warm and sheltered wall, which usually retains heat either from the house or from the sun, can be used to give protection to the more tender plants which might perish if grown in the open. Climbers trained to scale a post, archway or pergola can provide an accent or a focal point. Similarly, an ugly dead tree can be turned into an object of beauty if it has an attractive plant growing over it.

Climbing shrubs do not always have to be grown upwards: training them in the reverse direction can be decorative as well as useful. A somewhat plain bank can be covered effectively by planting several climbers at the top and allowing them to trail downwards.

Some evergreens should be included in a planting scheme of this type to ensure that walls and fences do not become bare in winter. During the summer, when flower-beds are blooming, it is not so important to plant climbers on the boundaries to give bright colours. In winter, however, when most plants are bare, some winter- or autumn-flowering climbers and wall plants give great pleasure. Examples are flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), which has rosy red flowers in January, at least in mild winters; its cultivar ‘Aurora’, which has salmon-pink blooms in October; the winter sweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which has sweedy scented, pale yellow flowers from December to February; and Clematis cirrhosa balearica, which produces pale yellow blossoms, spotted reddish purple, throughout the winter.

Climbing roses should be sited with care if space is restricted, as their prickles may become a nuisance. They grow best of all on open trellis or laths set slightly away from a brick wall, because they need plenty of air around them to discourage the scourge of mildew. For a small wall the ‘Lemon Pillar’ rose (which is in fact white) or ‘Crimson Coral Satin’ is a good choice. If you prefer pink, ‘Conrad F. Meyer’, a rugosa rose, is a pretty one to choose. Ramblers, on the other hand, behave exactly as their name suggests – ramble all over the place and are not so suitable for a small area.

Clematis and other ‘softer’ climbers, such as winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) and honeysuckle (Lonicera) will need plenty of wire-netting or trellis to cling to and climb over and to protect them from strong winds. But they do tend to make fast growth and flower quickly and they do not need tying in. They can also be grown easily in pots, as can the passion flower (Passiflora caerulea), which actually flowers better if it has some root restriction.

If you are planning on climbers for pergolas and posts around a terrace, a vine, traditionally, makes an attractive network of leaves under which to dine out or sit. The most vigorous variety to choose is Vitis vinifera ‘Brandt’, which has foliage that colours in the autumn and tempting dark red grapes that can be used for desserts or for making wine.

If you have a wall, or an unsightly building that you want to cover rapidly, then the fastest, most vigorous climber you are likely to come across is Russian vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum), which can cover 6 m (20 ft) of wall in one season. However, the trouble is that once having started it, it is difficult to get it to stop. It is deciduous, too, so you are left with bare branches in winter. But if judiciously clipped and pruned back, it quite quickly forms a thick network of trunks which makes it an attractive proposition for, say, a pergola where you want leaves overhead; and its long delicate racemes of white flowers hang down in an attractive way. It is a good choice to compensate for a slower-growing, more attractive climber like a vine or wisteria, provided you keep it under control. Two other rapid climbers to look for are Clematis montana varieties and Rosafilipes ‘Kiftsgate’, a very vigorous rambler with white flowers that will eventually need checking. Clematis can also be used to scramble over an existing bush or tree. More instant cover is provided by the perennial climbing nasturtium, Scottish Flame (Tropaeolum speciosum), which grows fast while permanent climbers are becoming established.

Tall plants to consider putting against a wall to brighten it up on a temporary basis include sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), tall delphiniums, foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), hollyhocks (Althaea rosea), and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

North walls can be a problem, but fortunately there are a number of attractive climbers that will cope with them, notably Hydrangea petiolaris. This bears little or no resemblance to the ordinary hydrangea, having delicate lace-like white flowers and dark, glossy green leaves; it reaches a height of 14 m (46 ft).

Do not be tempted to choose the tallest plant in the garden centre: take a good hard look at it first for it may be drawn out and straggly. A climber that is shorter but has several stems may be a better bet and will soon catch up in height when it is in the ground. If it is container-grown, make sure that it is not pot-bound (that is, with overcrowded roots).


Wisterias are among the most showy and colourful climbing shrubs. They support themselves by twining stems, and their long tassels of pea flowers, lilac purple in most forms, are a magnificent sight in May and June. Wisteria sinensis is the most popular species, with flower clusters 200-300 mm (8-12 in) long. These appear before the leaves. The white form, ‘Alba’, is also well worth growing. W. floribunda, the Japanese wisteria, has the most striking cultivar of all, ‘Macrobotrys’, with pendant lilac flower trusses up to 1 m (3/4ft) long. Wisteria flowers have a spicy scent, reminiscent of lupins.

Summer jasmine (Jasminus officinale) is a vigorous twiner which produces masses of small white, intensely fragrant flowers from June to Sept-ember. Its rather untidy and straggling habit of growth makes it most suitable for growing through trees or over sheds or other outbuildings.

Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are grown as much for their perfume as for their decorative display. Cultivars of our native woodbine (L. periclymenum) are among the most fragrant, although some other species and hybrids are showier and more colourful.


Most garden climbers attach themselves to sup-ports by means of twining stems or leaf tendrils. A few, however, require no support, gripping walls or other vertical surfaces with aerial roots or self-clinging pads. The following are typical self-supporters.

North American trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), a deciduous shrub, has light green leaves, and in August and September produces brilliant orange and scarlet, trumpet-shaped flowers. It grows to a height of about 12 m (40 ft) and likes enriched, well-drained soil in shelter and full sun. The much less vigorous C. X tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’ has large, pink-red trumpets.

Among the ivies the Canary Island form (Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’) is a rapid-growing evergreen with leathery leaves, dark green in the centre, becoming silvery grey and then white at the margin. Older leaves are sometimes flecked crimson. Thrives in any soil in sun or shade but is not hardy in severe winters. It grows to about 6 m (20 ft) and needs pruning to keep it in bounds.

Persian ivy (H. colchica) is strong and quick-growing, with dark green leaves, glossy and leathery and grows in any soil. Needs pruning in late winter to control its size. Height 7.5 m (25 ft). Its variety ‘Dentata Variegata’ has large, shiny leaves soft green in colour with marked, deep yellow variegations; and grows to less than half the height.

Common ivy (H. helix) is a hardy evergreen with glossy dark green leaves. Happy in any soil, it needs pruning to control shape and size. Height 30 m (100 ft). Its varieties ‘Buttercup’, ‘Golden Cloud’ and ‘Russell’s Gold’ have small, yellow, evergreen leaves, and are very slow-growing; ‘Purpurea’ has small evergreen leaves, green-coloured during the summer, turning deep purple in inter; ‘Sagittaefolia Variegata’ has small, evergreen leaves, shaped like an arrowhead with creamy white markings.

Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) is deciduous and strong-growing, with rich, dark green, serrated leaves, pale green and downy underneath and turning lemon-coloured in autumn, and reddish-brown, peeling bark. Produces white flowers in June. Thrives on a north wall. Height 15 m (50 ft).

Chinese Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) is deciduous and not quite hardy. Its dark green leaves, with white and pink veinal variegations, turn red in autumn. Height 9 m (30 ft).

True Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia) is hardy and deciduous, with green leaves that change to bright orange and red in autumn. Grows in moist, rich soil. Needs pruning in summer to control its denseness and spread. Height 21m (70 ft).


Apart from Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’, already mentioned, there are many attractive roses suitable for growing against vertical supports. They can be divided into three main types. The first are the large-flowered climbers, of which the fol-lowing are typical: ‘Aloha’ yields large, very full, fragrant flowers, deep rose-pink suffused with orange-salmon, from June onwards. Excellent for small gardens; moderately vigorous, it will grow on a north wall to a height of 1.8 m (6 ft). ‘Casino’ is repeat-flowering, has soft yellow, very fragrant flowers that open from deeper yellow buds, and dark green foliage. Vigorous and grows to a height of 2.7 m (9 ft). ‘Compassion’ has pale salmon-orange flowers with apricot shading that is lighter on the reverse. They are full and very fragrant and appear from June onwards. Very vigorous, grows to a height of 3 m (10 ft). ‘Danse de Feu’ produces full blooms of bright orange-red from June throughout the summer. Moderately vigorous, it will grow on a north wall and reaches a height of 2.4m (8 ft). ‘Parkdirektor Riggers’ has dark green leaves and blood-red, semi-double, recurrent flowers borne in clusters from mid-June onwards. It will grow on a north wall and is vigorous, reaching a height of 3.5 m (12 ft).

Rambler roses have vigorous but looser growth than the climbers but can readily be trained to take up the shape of their supports.

Four good ones are: ‘Alberic Barbier’, a veteran, having been introduced in 1900, with white, yellow-centred, fragrant flowers in June. The shiny foliage is semi-evergreen. Grows to a height of 7.5 m (25 ft). ‘Crimson Shower’ has clusters of small, rosette flowers in July and August. Vigorous; grows to a height of 2.4m (8 ft). ‘Emily Gray’ has golden-buff, scented blooms in early summer, and semi-evergreen foliage. Very vigorous: grows to a height of 3.5 m (12 ft). ‘New Dawn’ is a repeat-flowering rambler with pale flesh-pink, full, perfumed flowers. Moderately vigorous: grows to 3 m (10ft).

Sprawling roses are particularly good for covering tree stumps, training up steep banks, or using as ground cover. Two recommended varieties: ‘Max Graf, a modern hybrid Rugosa shrub, has bright pink, single flowers with white centres and golden stamens in mid- to late-June. Vigorous and trailing, it reaches a height of 300 mm (1ft). Good for quick ground-cover. ‘Nozomi’ has trusses of pearl-pink, single flowers. It has a spreading habit and will extend to a width of 600 mm (2 ft). Unsupported it grows to a height of 450 mm (IV2 ft); supported it will grow up to 1.5 m (5 ft).

09. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Climbers and Trailers


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