Sociable climbers Posted on March 22, 2017

How you cover the walls is absolutely key to a little hemmed-in garden like this one. Intense competition, for root-run as well as for light, is taken for granted; the question is how many place-earning climbers can you persuade up the walls and trellis. The total length of our walls is 2 x 55 + 17 = 127 feet. (The house end is all paved; so no soil to plant. We collect ferns in pots in the permanent shade). I count 21 climbers, or wall plants, so far, that’s six feet per plant, which sounds pretty generous, but they have no inhibitions about invading each other’s space.

One side is entirely dominated by ivy. There’s nothing I can do about it except cut off its shoots. I don’t even know where its trunks are. It shares almost half the west-facing wall and the trellis, to a height of 10 feet, with a climbing hydrangea, whose bright green shoots are just waking up against the dusty green of the ivy.

Two roses and two clematis share this space; the clematis doing better than the roses. C. alba luxurians in particular is never short of energy, and sends its exiguous shoots way up in the ivy to splatter it with its green and white flowers all summer.

I always think of clematis as high-risk, though. Last year two started lustily before they collapsed; a highly-prized C montana ‘Wilsonii’ and a C. tangutica I intended to fill a yellow-and-green Canariensis ivy with inappropriate blossom. The evergreen Clematis armandii, which I planted on the west-side trellis to obscure activities next door, grew strongly from April to June, then stopped, then started again in late September in time for its new growth to be blasted by an early frost. What signal of temperature or day-length can have pressed “Go’ as summer was winding down? This year it shows no sign of growing on from the height it achieved last year: it has started again from almost the bottom.

All this makes me apprehensive when I give a viticella the statutory February chop down to two feet.. Those thin paper-covered stems show no hint anywhere of incipient buds. Then suddenly a fat red shoot appears from under the paper covering and away it goes..

Of all our climbers the most fragile-looking is Eccremocarpus scaber (or ‘Chilean Glory Flower’, though I’ve never heard anyone call it that – and glory is slightly hyperbolic for flowers barely an inch long). A tiny wisp of a seedling (they are evergreen) sat under the wall in deep dank shade all winter, in a slug safari park, and put out its tendrils no thicker than a daddy-longlegs’s legs when it felt the first breath of spring warmth. I was lucky enough to inherit the yellow-flowered version; in fact it’s the colour of clotted cream. It will scramble up the bare trunk of a Viburnum x burkwoodii trained against the wall. It will flower all summer and scatter fertile seedlings; there’s one just coming up in a camellia pot right now.

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