Climbing plants are opportunists that will try every trick in the book to get your attention
Climbers cling to and twine themselves around wire and pole structures to end up in a shameless cloud of colour above your head. It’s virtually impossible to ascertain the precise mature size of a typical climber, as most are promiscuous growers that send their side branches far and wide, even beyond the boundaries set for them by the gardener. Some people question whether it’s worth growing climbing plants in a garden, if they are so undisciplined and are always trying to escape its confines, which means they need regular ‘taming’ sessions with sharp tools to keep them in check. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Not only are they valuable for aesthetical reasons, but also as a solution to many gardening headaches.
Trees can take years to grow large enough to supply enough shade for you to sit under. But climbing plants growing over a pergola or similar supporting structure will, with good care, supply enough shade to sit under in only a few years, creating a lush, cool and often flowerbedecked enclosure. If you pick the right climber you can also control sun and shade according to your needs. For shade in summer and sun in winter, plant the deciduous Wisteria sinensis (blue rain), which produces magnificent clusters of fragrant flowers on bare branches in late winter and early spring, while clothing itself in crisp green foliage during summer. It’s both cold hardy and water-wise. Another stalwart is Vitis vinifera (ornamental vine), which is a fast grower that covers a pergola with the lush look of a normal grapevine in summer (even producing inedible bunches of black fruit) while discarding it’s fiery leaves in autumn. In winter there’s an intricate network of dried twigs to look at as you bask in the soft sunlight beneath.
In modern high-density housing, you need privacy, and climbers are one way to deter prying eyes. If you build a narrow pergola against a boundary wall, you can plant an evergreen climber like Jasminum polyanthum (Chinese jasmine), which flowers fragrantly in spring, or Pandorea jasminoides ‘Rosea’ (bower plant), which will celebrate all summer long with light pink trumpet flowers with deep pink throats. Both are frost and cold hardy.
Formal fencing or boundary walls are a huge expense. If you have a beer budget (wire fence) and champagne taste (the need to cover said wire fence fast with something spectacular!), plant bougainvilleas, which will grow wild in temperate climes and result in an impenetrable hedge in only a few years. Bougainvilleas are also ideal climbers to cover a sturdy pergola and responds extremely well to really drastic pruning should they outgrow their allotted space. They provide magnificent colour that is easy on water and easy to maintain!
Say hello with grace
What is prettier than a garden arch or dainty pergola covered with a lovely climbing rose at your garden gate? The combination of a climbing rose and an elegant supportive structure is also a great design element if you need to block off one part of your garden from another, to create a different ‘garden room’ with a spectacular entrance.
General advice for creeper culture
Some deciduous creepers can be very messy in autumn when they shed their leaves. Keep in mind that you will have to spend a few weeks every year raking them up.
Deciduous creepers generally grow fast and need constant light pruning in summer to keep them in check. In late winter you have to prune them more drastically.
Climbing plants can become very heavy over time. Make sure that your supporting structure is sturdy enough to carry the weight of a mature plant.
If you’re going to plant a creeper against a supporting trellis panel placed in front of a brick and cement boundary wall, plant it at a distance of about 30cm away from the wall. This will give you space to clean up behind the plant and also allows for good air circulation, which can curb pest infestations like red spider mites.
More climbing beauties
Gelsemium sempervirens (Carolina jasmine) is a dainty creeper ideal for trellis work or twining around poles. A fast grower, it produces masses of fragrant yellow flowers from late winter into many hotter months ahead. It is also evergreen and hardy.
Jasminum angulare (wild jasmine) is an indigenous evergreen climber with scented white flowers in summer. It is drought resistant and semi-hardy.
Mandevilla laxa (Chilean jasmine) has attractive heart-shaped leaves with masses of white, scented flower clusters in summer. It is deciduous and semihardy.
Pyrostegia venusta (golden shower) is a breathtaking sight when in full flower in winter, with cascades of orange trumpets. It is cold and frost tender.
Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) is probably the most popular creeper in the country and is often used as a groundcover beneath trees too, as it grows in sun and shade. The foliage is attractive and glossy, and masses of white, star-like flowers with a sweet scent cover the plants in late spring to summer. It is cold and frost hardy.