Climbing plants are invaluable for giving the garden a well-furnished, finished look. And as a bonus, if you have anything to hide (an ugly wall, a dilapidated shed), they’ll do it beautifully.
We’ll be introducing you to some of the better wall shrubs here, too – plants like ceanothus and pyracantha, which will benefit from the warmth and shelter of a wall, and add height and interest. So although they’re not climbers, they deserve honorary membership.
Preparing the planting site is dull work, but vital for success, so don’t take short cuts, especially when you’re planting close to walls where the soil is usually poor and dry. It’s doubly important when planting a climber to grow up a tree, where it will always face fierce competition from the tree’s roots.
First water the plant thoroughly, then dig a hole that’s twice the width of the container and 12 in/30cm deep. Ideally, set the hole at least 18 in/45cm from the wall or tree, though in confined spaces this isn’t always possible. Improve the excavated soil by mixing it with equal parts organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure.
Now carefully tip the plant out of the pot and free any roots that have wound around the rootball. Place the plant in the hole, checking that the surface of the soil is at the ground level, and spread out the loosened roots. Fill in with your soil mix, firming gently as you go and being careful not to leave air pockets. If the stems are not yet long enough to reach the wall, tie them on to angled bamboo stakes so that they’re heading in the right direction. Water well and keep evenly moist for the next few months.
Whether your plant is a c linger or a twiner, it will need a little training to make a good, even cover. Tie in new growths with plastic -covered plant ties rather than string (Which rots) or wire (which can damage soft stems). Twist the ties so that they’re secure, but never knot them – as the stems thicken, a knotted tie can bite in and strangle them, whereas a twisted tie will give.
A sunless wall might seem an inhospitable place for climbers and wall shrubs, but as long as it isn’t overshadowed by nearby buildings, a surprising number of plants will thrive there.
The all-purpose ivy, in any of the plain green or the variegated forms with white or gold markings on the leaves, will be perfectly happy, as will that other adaptable plants, Euonymusfortunei ‘Silver Queen’, a variegated shrub that, remarkably, turns into a climber if you position it against a wall.
Pyracanthas, too. We tend to associate them with sunny spots, but as long as they’re not in a constant wind. They’ll enjoy the shelter of the wall and produce a good crop of berries. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), with its wands to gold flowers through the winter, is another showy plant that does well.
For large expanses of the wall, any of the Virginia creepers (Parthcnoc’issus) will do well, providing good cover and wonderful fall color. And Hydrangea petiolaris and Schizophragma integrifolium are two other vigorous climbers to treasure for a north wall, with their lacy white flowerheads. Schizophragma isn’t easy to find, but well worth tracking down.
And how about clematis? Any number of them flowers well in a north-facing position, but just to get you going, take your pick from white ‘Marie Boisselot’, shell-pink ‘Hagley Hybrid’, mauve-pink ‘Nelly Moser’, violet ‘Vyvyan Pennell’ (one of the best of the double-flowered clematis), sky blue ‘Perle d’Azur’, and deep purplejackmanii and ‘The President’.