Saturday, 5 December 2015



In my early training days in gardening, the only way to find out about plants was to grow them, so I created a wee rock garden, a rose garden, flower beds, herbaceous border, heather garden, got a greenhouse and cold frame, then a fruit and vegetable patch. There was always more plants to discover so every available space had to be utilised. House walls, fences and pergolas all played their part, so I began to experiment with climbers. Problems soon appeared with the need for support, and soil where none existed, then I had to get a grasp of training systems, before sorting out the best plants for walls facing north, east, west and south. A few years later when I found fruit growing to be just as important as flowers, I had to choose exactly what suited my needs as the choice of plants for covering walls is huge.
Climbing rose Dublin Bay
My first success was finding plants that would grow on a north facing wall where good sunshine was a problem. Climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier, or Ena Harkness and  Jasmine and Hydrangea petiolaris are all  good, and although Camellias are not climbers, they can be trained up a north facing just fine. Property security can be improved by planting Pyracantha around any vulnerable windows. This firethorn has real vicious thorns but also orange, red and yellow berries all autumn and into winter, and blackbirds just love to nest in them.
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, and honeysuckle is another favourite.
Walls and fences are becoming very popular places to plant fruit trees and bushes on as people want an apple, pear, cherry or peach but normally they would grow quite large, so nurseries now cater for this use. Espaliers, cordons and fan trained trees, and dwarf cherries are all available. Now cherries grown on the new Gisela 5 rootstock will only grow to six to eight feet tall, so they are easy to net against birds. Figs are very successful on a south facing wall and easily pruned to prevent it taking over the garden. Grape vines are also easy to grow, but need pruning to induce fruiting and restrict excessive growth. They are not self clinging so will need a strong support, or a tall fence.
Another great climber that does very well on tall fences is the clematis in many different forms.
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.
Most climbers against house walls only need enough decent soil to get them established in the first couple of years, and then they can look after themselves.
Very often there will be a perfect house wall space but totally paved with no soil near it. I have frequently removed a two by two paving slab against the house wall then excavate ten inches of builders rubble before loosing up a further six inches. Backfill the hole 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 has to be severely pruned in winter to keep in down to twelve feet.

Wee jobs to do this week

This is a good time to put up the bird table and feeders as a lot of winter berries, apart from the cotoneasters, have now been used up, and it is the smaller birds that benefit. I have rebuilt my bird table to prevent seagulls and pigeons hovering up all the seeds leaving nothing for the robin, bluetits, chaffinch and sparrows. The blackbirds get a few chopped apples from store after cutting off any brown bits.


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