Cloak your walls with climbing plants
Growing climbing plants is a brilliant and beautiful way of bringing life to your dead vertical surfaces, like a wall, fence or pergola. Increasing the amount of plants in our concrete and brick world provides a food source to all kinds of wildlife. And it can make our spaces look much nicer, too. There are a range of wall climbers that you can plant at any time of year.
Select your spot.
Identify where you have a bare, vertical surface and identify what conditions you're working with. Is it sunny or shady? Is it typically damp or dry? Could you plant it in the ground, or will it need a planter or pot?
Choose your plant.
As with all gardening, choose the right plant for the right location. We've got some excellent recommendations for you below, but start by being aware:
- which direction your vertical surface faces i.e. north, south, east or west
- how tall your surface is
- whether you can fix a trellis or whether your plant will have to be self-clinging.
Take extra care when choosing a plant for the outside of a house that it won't cause you maintenance problems in years to come.
The best climbers for your house wall.
If you can erect a support like a trellis, choose something like wisteria or a climbing rose that can be tied to the framework. Wisterias like sunny positions, plenty of space and will need sturdy support and annual pruning. Climbing roses like sun or partial shade, with some coping with north-facing walls or other shady positions.
A self-clinging climber, like Boston ivy, is suited to north and east-facing walls. It's vigorous, but its clinging pads are less damaging than ivy's aerial roots. Beware of ivy and the damage its aerial roots can do to brickwork, should you ever need to remove them. You may eventually need to do annual pruning to stop them from covering the roof or windows.
The best climbers for a garden wall or fence.
Ivy grows better in the shade, but its all-important autumn flowers bloom once it’s climbed as far as it’s able to and gets its ‘head into the sun’. If you can erect a trellis, try common jasmine or a passionflower. Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is self-clinging and grows best against a sunny wall. Avoid mile-a-minute plant (Polygonum baldschuanicum), cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), as these are invasive.
The best climbers for a pergola.
A few clematis species are excellent for bees (look out for the glorious Clematis rehderiana), hops are a food plant for the comma butterfly's caterpillars, and honeysuckles have beautiful flowers that offer nectar to long-tongued moths, plus berries for the birds.
Erect any structure you need for the plant to climb up.
If your plant needs a climbing frame, like a trellis, put it up now. Don't skimp on this – you'll regret it if in a few years the trellis has rotted. Screw wooden trellis to battens so there’s plenty of space for climbers to wind behind. If your trellis is on battens, it might be easier to unscrew them and lower the climber to undertake routine maintenance, such as replacing a fence panel or painting a wall.
Plant your climber.
If you’re planting into the ground, dig a hole at least 30cm away from the wall or fence, to avoid being in the dry spot under the roof of your home. Mix in some well-rotted compost. Plant the climber leaning in towards the surface it will climb up, firm in well and give them a good drink.
If you’re planting in a pot, it will need lots of water. Ideally, locate it near a water butt. Use as large a pot as you can – your plant will be happier and need less watering. Make sure there is good drainage (put some broken bits of pot in the bottom) and use a good, peat-free compost.
Some climbers will need pruning – wisteria, for example, needs two prunes a year (in January/February and July/August). However, many can be left to 'do their thing', providing all the pleasure with very little effort from you. Keep those growing in pots well watered in dry weather.
What you'll see.
It will take a little while for your climber to become large enough to be good for wildlife, so be patient. Probably the first thing you'll notice is when your climber starts to flower and begins to attract bees. In the longer term, as your climber thickens up, it will provide a place for birds to roost and nest. Why not tuck a robin nestbox in behind the cover, an ideal place for them.