Hardy climbers

Blur boundaries and make use of vertical space

Climbers are invaluable in any garden. A big mistake is to have everything at ground level, ignoring the vertical growing space.

However, you can create a real sense of depth by growing upwards on obelisks or wigwams and make it appear that your plot’s bigger than it is by blurring the boundaries.

My top 10 hardy climbers are:

Clematis montana (and C. montana Elizabeth): from the palest pink of the original to the stronger colour and purple-flushed, mid-green leaves of Elizabeth, this fast-growing clematis is a star of late spring. Ideal for covering an eyesore, although be prepared for its bare, bird’s nest branches in winter. Prune immediately after flowering.

Clematis viticella Mme Julia Correvon:  12cm flowers of rich claret-red from mid to late summer. Ideal for a large container. Cut back stems to a pair of strong buds 15-20cm (6-8in) above ground level before growth begins in early spring. Stems unhelpfully snap if you try to train it.

Clematis Dr. Ruppel: large mauve and red blooms, flowering June, sometimes again in September, growing to about 8 feet. The spherical seed heads add interest into autumn. Excellent for containers. Prune in late winter or early spring and after the first flush of flowers in summer. (Mine’s never made it to 8ft but it’s in a relatively shady place).

Ivy Paddy’s Pride (aka Sulphur Heart): I’m a fan of ivy, even the plain green sort – a marvellous wildlife habitat. If you want a fancier type, try Paddy’s Pride. The label on mine said it was Goldheart, so I lived under an illusion with this plant for years before somebody put me right on Twitter. It has heart-shaped, dark green leaves with pale gold centres and pink stems. Suitable for shade. If anyone would like to correct it back, feel free.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica Halliana): scented white, tubular flowers, ageing to yellow, from April to August. Many of the glossy, dark green leaves are retained all year, tolerates partial shade. Cut back established plants after flowering, removing a third of the flowered shoots. This and the rambler are the only things holding up my ageing cheapo arch.

Invading golden hop
Golden hop invading the conservatory, which is on the first floor, bringing with it snails and aphids
Very fetching allergic reaction from hop leaves
Very fetching allergic reaction from hop leaves

Golden hop (Humulus lupulus aureus): vigorous climber with deep-lobed, yellow-green leaves, greenish-yellow, cone-like flowers in early autumn. It will grow 6mx6m in a season. Beware – hairs on the leaves can cause an allergic reaction. Don’t plant in a windy spot – the leaves look tatty. WARNING: don’t plant near a path unless you want to hurt people and it’s invasive.

Jasmine Clotted Cream (Jasminum officinale): larger flowers than the common jasmine and more fragrant. This deciduous climber needs a sheltered, sunny, well-drained site, and can cope with dry conditions. My three have coped with North East winters no problem – but they have added grit and we aren’t in a high rainfall area.

Climbing rose James Galway: warm pink in the centre, getting paler gradually towards the edges and packed with petals with a medium Old Rose fragrance. The strong stems are almost thornless. Flowers freely and repeats well, growing up to 8ft. Oddly, it was much paler pink in its second year, as other people reported too.

Climbing rose ‘Harlequin’: True Harlequin roses have yellow buds, fading to orange-red, giving a multi-tonal effect. Mine were ordered in a bargain bundle – two turned out to be cream and two orange. Not what I had in mind, but the orange one has rich red/green foliage, stands a lot of neglect and looks great in a pot. So good in a pot, I moved it into a new bed this year.

Everlasting (perennial) sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius): great if you want sweet pea flowers without the hassle and a quick grower. The downside – no scent and impossible to move. I grow it at soil level to hide the ‘bare legs’ of sunflowers. It will climb 6ft to give a summer boost to spring-flowering shrubs or hedges.