How to grow climbing plants
I’d planned to write about something entirely different for this week’s column, but on the way up to my study, I saw out of the window a robin with a beak full of food darting into the climbing hydrangea that covers the side of my house. It took everything not to spend the day glued to the window, watching this new family nest.
I often think how wonderful it would be if we decided, collectively, to soften our hard boundaries and open our homes to others. What if terrace houses disappeared behind a green cloak of climbing plants, cooling our interiors in summer? What if new-builds came prewired with vine eyes for clematis, roses, jasmines and honeysuckles? Imagine how lovely our streets would be to walk down, if they were filled with the sounds of other-than-humans getting on with life.
My climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris , is a good choice for a north-facing aspect. It’s self-clinging, too. It is in flower now and its lacy, off-white, gently honey-scented flowers are hugely appealing to all manner of pollinators, particularly bees. There’s also a pink flowering form, H. anomala subsp. glabra ‘Crûg Coral’.
By the end of the season, it starts to turn buttery yellow, and I often stand and admire its skeletal seed heads against the brilliant blue of a sunny winter’s day. I love everything about it (even having to climb a tall ladder to persuade it not to grow over the windows) because it has brought the dull walls of my house to life.
There are lots of choices for covering walls; not all of them have to take over your house, though many will need some support. If you want a rose, David Austin Roses allows you to search by the height of your wall. The star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, is a doddle to grow and perfect for sheltered city spots. It will be fine in a very large pot (think 70 litres plus) and doesn’t mind sun or semi-shade. You’ll throw open all your windows once the flowers are out and it is heady with scent.
If these are a little too predictable, then go for the elegance of Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’, which repeat-flowers through to September, or ‘Scentsation’, which is more compact and better if you’re in a ground-floor flat with no rights to the upper-storey walls.
Finally, I love the scent of the vine Akebia quinata ‘Alba’. It has the palest pink flowers that smell of spicy chocolate with a strong hint of vanilla in spring. It may produce strange, sausage-shaped, deep purple fruits, which are edible, as are the young shoots. It needs to be grown up wires, on a sunny wall.