Climbing Plants and Some Unusual Climbers

Climbing Plants for the Garden

climbing plants - Clematis ‘Perle d'Azur' If you think of your garden only in terms of how much ground it consists of and how many plants you can possibly fit into the area available, you may be forgetting the wonderful amount of empty space that lies above the ground, that is yours to fill with beautiful flowering plants that climb. These plants may grace your walls, ramble through trees, entwine themselves through shrubs, tumble from banks, and drape themselves in graceful swags from arch or trellis or pergola. They may even be planted on the flat in the flower border, where they will soon adapt to a new life at ground level. Little purple bells of Clematis viticella, planted to grow over a prostrate juniper or a patch of winter-flowering heather, can provide summer entertainment, or plant Clematis ‘Perk d’Azur’ to climb through Cotoneaster horizontalis ‘Variegates’ for a pretty effect of cream and green leaves embroidered with blue flowers.

The first important thing to know about growing clematis is never, on any account, to lose the label. It is essential to remember the name of the particular species or cultivar so that you can check how it should be pruned. Some of the large-flowered clematis require little pruning (just the odd tidy-up of dead or weak stems), while others that flower later in the season are cut down to about 90cm (3ft) in late winter. Clematis viticella cultivars are also cut hard back at the same time. If you are planting a clematis to grow through a delicate shrub, remember that the host plant will need its annual release from the weight of clematis stems, so you should choose a clematis that needs hard pruning. And if you are growing clematis up walls, a useful way to support them is by fixing wire netting (chicken-wire, quite large gauge) on to the wall — this weathers quickly and is not too intrusive.

Growing climbers up trees

The romantic idea of growing climbers such as roses and clematis up trees needs a little thought: if you dig a small hole near the trunk of a healthy, established tree, hastily shove in a young plant just out of its container, and forget to water it all summer, do not be surprised if it languishes and finally dies. To give it a chance in life, dig a really decent-sized hole (90cm/3ft square and 60cm/2ft deep) several metres out from the base of the tree. Work in all the compost and manure you can spare and fill it up with good soil. Some support will be needed to guide the young plant into the tree. Copious watering during summer will help to redress the balance between the climber and its more forceful host. Covering a large expanse of wall One of the few flowering climbers that will do well on a north wall is the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris). Although it is vigorous once established, it can be dispiritingly slow to -get started, as it is easy to forget how dry the soil can be in such a place. So the better you look after it in the early stages, with generous watering (9 litres/2 gallons twice a week) and feeding, the quicker you will be rewarded with its beautiful corymbs of sweetly scented, lacy flowers. The new leaves, unfolding into a fresh spring green early in the year and the flaking warm brown bark of the mature stems in winter, are little bonus points.

clematis varieties Clematis montana will festoon a large wall, pergola or old tree with its stems wreathed in late spring with white blossom. It must have plenty of room in the first place, because pruning it cuts off next year’s flowers. (If you have inherited an old specimen that has turned into a tangle, you could give it a major cut-back in early summer and let it start again.)

The true virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is a superb rampant climber that clings to walls with the tips of its sticky tendrils. As it has a cavalier attitude towards gutters and can easily bring them down with over-enthusiastic growth, try giving it its head by planting it up a tall tree. You will then be treated to the sight of its leaves ablaze with crimson in autumn, backlit by the setting sun.

For a large sunny wall there is nothing more beautiful than a Wisteria, with long racemes of lilac blossom. Tempting as it is to let it cover the wall quickly, it must be properly pruned to encourage it to flower. In late summer cut all the young stems (except the one or two needed to build a framework) back to within 15cm (6in) of the old wood, and do the same again in the winter to two or three buds.

Some unusual climbers

Although you can never have enough clematis or, indeed, climbing roses, it is stimulating to give some of the more unusual climbing plants a chance. They might, of course, be more difficult to acquire, but you may well enjoy the challenge of tracking them down. All the following are easily grown, provided you choose them carefully to suit your soil and climate.

Calystegia hederacea ‘Fiore Pleno’ is guaranteed to fool those who see it for the first time. The flowers look a little like pretty pale pink, slightly crumpled roses. But one glance at the leaves will remind you suspiciously of bindweed, and once you examine the plant a little closer and see its winding stems, the truth will dawn. For the double Calystegia is a close, albeit rather special, relative. But on account of its talent to amuse, you will probably forgive its wandering ways and uncontrollable behaviour.

Dicentra scandens has flowers just like the bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis). But instead of the rosy red or pure white of that much-loved spring flower, in this interesting climbing member of the fumitory family the late summer flowers, massed together in little clusters among the ferny foliage, are a cool, lemony-green. It comes from the Himalayas and sets copious seed every year that seems hard to germinate (but although you would not expect that such delicate stems would root from cuttings, Dicentra scandens is easy to propagate this way in early autumn). It seems equally happy on a sunny or shady wall, and as it dies to the ground each year you can dig it up and move it if necessary.

Aconitum hemsleyanum may not be the showiest of climbers, and it is only when you glimpse its brooding, helmeted, murky blue flowers suspended in the air above you that you can appreciate its quiet appeal. This climbing relative of the border monkshoods is, like all its genus, very poisonous. But still it takes up little room, and can be left to entwine its way through a shrub or up bare steins of a lanky climbing rose.

A mild garden, a warm wall and a neutral or lime-free soil are required to grow Billardiera longiflora, a delightful twining plant from Tasmania. In summer it has little greenish yellow bells that are followed in autumn by large, shining bright blue fruits. (You can also get forms with white or plum-red berries.) Its growth is delicate enough to allow it to ramble through choice small shrubs.

A gorgeous climber from Chile, Berberidopsis corallina, enjoys the same conditions but slightly alkaline soil can be adjusted to suit it by the liberal addition of organic matter. When it is happy, this climber can cover a large expanse of wall with evergreen foliage and racemes of beautiful pendent crimson blossoms in late summer.

If you have a very mild garden, one of the most exciting plants you can grow is Bomarea caldasii, in effect a climbing Alstroemeria (to which it is closely related). It spends the summer weaving its fleshy stems up its support on your hottest wall. In autumn, just when you think it is never going to bloom, umbels of brilliant orange flowers burst forth; the inside of some of the petals are spotted with crimson. You could also try the somewhat hardier B. x cantabrigiensis.

Codonopsis tangshen has flowers that are well-camouflaged to the human eye, greenish bells fascinatingly veined with maroon, and immensely attractive to wasps. If a buzzing noise reminds you to lift up a bell and look inside, you will be charmed with the intricate pattern therein, despite the foxy odour that is the signature of the genus. This is a long-lived, easy, herbaceous twining plant that does not need a place on a wall since it will insinuate itself happily up neighbouring plants.

Tropaeolum pentaphyllum Codonopsis convolvulacea is an altogether different matter: a very beautiful plant, its fragile twining stems are so slender and so easily damaged that a choice spot, preferably in a shady raised bed should be chosen. As it disappears in winter, and does not turn up again until quite well on into the following summer, mark its position carefully and watch out for slugs. Codonopsis convolvulacea has large, open, bell-shaped flowers in mid-blue and there is also an exquisite white form.

There are some interesting perennial relations of the showy annual climber, Tropaeolum majus, or nasturtium. There is Tropaeolum pentaphyllum, with dainty little red and green flowers like elfin hats; blue-flowered Tropaeolum azureum; and Tropaeolum tricolorum, that is several colours all at once. These are all admittedly tender, but Tropaeolum tuberosum ‘Ken Aslet’ is considerably hardier, especially when deeply planted under a sunny wall. It will rush up a wall and have a delightful summer affair with any nearby shrub, its bright orange red flowers dancing about on their long stalks above the prettily lobed leaves. In colder areas the tubers (curiously marked with purple and reputed to be edible) may be lifted and stored.

Tropaeolum speciosum (flame nasturtium, scottish flame flower) is a plant that is either the despair of those who wish to grow it, or else it grows with indecent abandon and swamps everything in sight —there seems to be no half-way measure. You may have to make several attempts to establish it, and although it is said to prefer acid soil, perhaps it is cool conditions and plenty of moisture that are the more essential. Although it can be a nuisance in a bed full of choice ericaceous plants, if you ever saw its dazzling little scarlet flowers trailing over a sombre yew hedge, all would be forgiven.

27. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Climbing Plants, Planning and Design, Plants | Tags: , | Comments Off on Climbing Plants and Some Unusual Climbers


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