Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Garden Climbers


I first became aware of the possibilities of climbing plants at the beginning of my gardening career when my small council house garden was just not big enough to grow all these plants I was learning about. By utilising all walls and fences I could extend the range.
It soon became clear that there were plants that would enjoy a north facing wall, whereas the more exotic climbers would thrive on a south facing wall.
A new world emerged for the young very keen apprentice gardener who lost no time in covering every available wall and fence space. The house soon blended into the landscape.
Fences erected along property boundaries, or separating garden areas, or creating privacy and shelter around patios would all be enhanced with scented flowers and autumn berries.
Being a fruit lover these walls and fences would provide the correct conditions to grow many fruit trees and bushes where space was at a premium.
As life moves on the garden is now a lot bigger, but so is my knowledge of plants that I want to grow or experiment with. So I am back to the original problem of not having enough room. I need to be quite selective on what plants I choose to grow..

Special needs

My first success was finding plants that would grow on a north facing wall where good sunshine was a problem. To convert a dull dark north wall to one with flowers was a great achievement. Climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier, or Ena Harkness and  Jasmine are all  good.
Then what about the east wall where early sun would affect any late spring flowers if there was a late frost. Choose something that flowers in summer.
I placed a great value on walls next to main front doors. These needed scented flowers to enhance the feel good factor for anyone going into the house.  Climbing rose Zephirine Drouhin and Gertrude Jekyll are both perfect pinks for this spot.
Property security can be improved by planting Pyracantha around any vulnerable windows. They can also thrive on north facing walls and although very vigorous, they adapt very well to spur pruning to keep them close to the wall while retaining their thorny framework and bright autumn berries. Blackbirds just love to nest in them.
Walls and fences are becoming very popular places to plant fruit trees and bushes on as people now want an apple, pear, cherry or peach but normally they would grow quite large, so nurseries now cater for this use. Espalier trained trees, smaller growing stepover trees, and dwarf cherries are all now available. Now cherries grown on the new Gisela 5 rootstock will only grow to six to eight feet tall, so can easily be netted against birds so you get the fruit and not the birds.


Some plants support themselves and climb using their twining tendrils e.g. vines. Others will twine around any support, e.g. honeysuckle and clematis, some attach themselves with adventitious roots appearing in the shoots, e.g. ivies, but many others require an artificial support to be trained against. Most climbing roses will need support as will Pyracantha, and fruit trees. Wooden fences may give support by way of their construction, but can be enhanced with strong wires stapled firmly along its length. Trellis is very useful as well as six inch weldmesh. Walls can be drilled and vine eyes inserted to hold strong horizontal wires for training. Every situation will be different and each plant will have its own particular needs.
An overgrown leyland cypress hedge can be cut back to ten feet or so and most of the branches removed, just retaining enough to keep them alive and give support to a few climbers. Allow some regrowth, but not too much to create a nuisance. Clematis will thrive here and some climbing roses can be added. In time the clematis will hold onto the climbing rose  and keep it upright.


Very often there will be a perfect house wall space but totally paved with no soil near it. Most plants only need enough soil to get them started. I have frequently removed a two by two slab against the house wall then excavate ten inches of builders rubble before loosing up a further six inches. Backfill with some decent top soil adding a bit of compost and some fertiliser to the pit. Keep any new plant well watered till it gets established. It will soon find spaces to grow in the builders rubble and be perfectly happy. My climbing rose Dublin Bay will reach seven feet in height according to the catalogue. However once the roots found the rubble it just grew and grew and now I have had to severely prune it to keep in down to twelve feet.


Climbing plants can add interest all year round by using the benefits of each different wall. South facing walls catch the most sunshine so will bring plants on earlier and retain colour longer at the end of the season while north facing walls extend the plant range to those that would otherwise suffer too much sun.
North facing walls are perfect for the yellow winter flowering Jasminum nudiflorum which starts to flower at the beginning of winter and continues for a few months. Camelias on a north wall can follow on into the early spring, and being a woodland fringe plant they do not mind shade as long as they get some sun in summer to ripen up the wood to allow flower buds to develop.
Clematis in its numerous varieties and hybrids will give a display from spring till late summer. Clematis montana rubens may be very common, but it is one of the best for a mass display of pink flowers. It is very reliable, quite vigorous and loves to scramble into old trees, over sheds, tall fences, conifers, etc.
Where scent and flowers are both important go for a honeysuckle. That will take you into summer. Now there are numerous climbers and ramblers to choose from. Roses are very adaptable, but choose a variety that has disease free foliage able to resist black spot, mildew and rust. Chemicals available at garden centres have to be very safe for public use so are usually quite dilute and do not always work effectively unless you spray at fortnightly intervals and each spray does not get washed off with rain soon after application.
My favourite autumn climber for any wall is the Firethorn, Pyracantha Orange Glow, though there are several yellow and orange berried forms.

Fruit bushes

Redcurrants and gooseberries can be trained as cordons on an east or west wall, but keep your south facing walls and fences for those fruit that can benefit from more sunshine.
Apples and pears trained as fans or espaliers thrive on a south wall, but so also do figs, cherries, peaches and the vine Vitis vinifera Brant. The vine needs support for its tendrils to hold onto. It has small but very edible fruit and brilliant autumn colour.
All of the fruit trained against walls require pruning specific to their individual needs to control growth, expose fruit to the sun and ripen up shoots to fruit the following year.



  1. Hi. Can you tell me what the top photo on this page is please? Thanks!

  2. The top photo shows Bramble Helen in full flower tied to support on my allotment shed. It fruits in late July and August.