Saturday 24 March 2018

Diarmuid Gavin's top picks of climbing plants

Create a fusion between your home and garden with my top picks of climbing plants

Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Kip Carroll
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Kip Carroll

Diarmuid Gavin

One of the first steps when you are creating a new garden is to disguise boundaries. This is especially so when you are dealing with ugly fences or concrete walls. It's a job that you can do in your garden at the earliest stages even when you haven't made big plans for an overall design, or when the garden will be given over to the children for a few years as a football field or trampoline carrier.

Climbing plants are the first thing in vertical gardening, they help to melt the architecture of your home into your plot. They soften unsightly features and create a super environment for wildlife. However, they can take a bit of time and patience to get established. In my own garden (right), I planted a series of climbers at the base of cast iron pillars, which support a first floor verandah, four years ago. I used a mix of wisteria, star jasmine, roses and evergreen clematis and now they are beginning to fulfil their potential, winding upwards, creeping along the railings and framing the upstairs windows in glorious foliage and flowers.

High hopes: roses and wisteria clambering over Diarmuid's verandah
High hopes: roses and wisteria clambering over Diarmuid's verandah

Planning and patience really are the key. Start off by considering what you want the plant to do. Would you go for something like an ivy that is dependable, that will take all sorts of abuse and will grow even in dry areas and won't be bothered by shade, or do you want something like a beautiful rose to adorn the outside of your cottage? There's a vast amount of choice - evergreen, deciduous, as well as flowering and fruiting. But the trick is to understand the type of conditions that they love.

Often climbers will be panted at the base of a wall where the concrete and foundations suck in any available water. Be aware of this and remember that a new plant going into the ground is going to be a bit stressed. It's coming to you from perfect nursery conditions where its every need is tended to and your environment might be in some way inhospitable. So, rather than planting right up against the wall, lead your new plant in on a bamboo cane from about eight inches. Taking time to prepare the soil is important no matter what you are planting - dig in plenty of good organic manure if possible. Water liberally in the first month, especially if you are planting at this time of the year.

Below I have lists of useful plants for height. My favourites include an ivy called Buttercup (with a small, almost golden yellow leaf), lilac wisteria, abutilon (which is more of a wall shrub), and of course that wonderful woodland escapee, honeysuckle.

Climbers for north- and east-facing aspects

Conditions here will be cold and dry in winter, and dry in summer so choose vigorous, deep-rooting plants.

Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Sweat pea
Sweat pea

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)

Crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae)

Clematis Montana

Hedera species (ivies)

Pink Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydranegoides 'Roseum')

Climbers for south- and west-facing aspects

Suitable for more tender plants requiring moist and warm conditions.

Kolomikta vine (Actinidia kolomikta)

Golden hops (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus')

Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)

Evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii)

Potato tree (Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin')

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale)

Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea)

Vitis vinifera (grape vine)

Shrubs that can be wall trained


Fremontedendron 'California Glory'

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles)




Rose 'zepherine drouhin'

Rose 'new dawn'

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasmonoides)

Honeysuckle (Lonicera pericylmenum)

Annual Climbers

Not all climbers take an age to grow. There are some which you plant as seeds or small plants which will rapidly cover a couple of metres, often being smothered in cheerful flowers with wonderful scent. So for instant solutions, why not plan on sowing these selections directly into the ground when the fear of frost has dismissed next spring?

Morning glory heavenly blue (Ipomoea) - absolutely wonderful heart-shaped leaves, and the flowers are glorious blue funnels you want to dive into. Also comes in pink, maroon and white. Closely related to the bindweed but with none of the disadvantages. Young plants can be planted outdoors after frost has gone.

Nasturtium - who wouldn't want to cover any structure with these bursts of sunshine in shades of orange, red and yellow, some even with stripes! Again luscious leaves which are interesting too and you can eat the flowers and foliage in salads. The seeds are large and easy to handle and they germinate quickly making them an ideal plant to get kids interested in a bit of gardening. Sow outdoors now in situ where you want them to grow.

iw Depositpho_112.jpg
Sweat pea

Sweet pea - these are everybody's favourites (above). For a while dismissed as old fashioned, they are the epitome of the English summer garden. The colours are a flower arranger's dream. Get a mixed pack of seeds, they'll all match beautifully when you collect them in a hand posy, but their crowning asset has to be their scent in the garden or in the house. You can sow outdoors in situ now or transplant indoor seedlings, avoiding frost.

Weekend Magazine

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life