Annual Climbing Plants

Cobaea scan dens Cathedral Bells or Cup-and-saucer Vine; Mexico

This plant is a half-hardy perennial but is usually treated as an annual and is emi¬nently suitable for a sunny position climbing on some strong trellis support. In good soils it can ramp away and cover a considerable area (up to 6m/20ft in height) in a comparatively short time. It clings by tendrils to either rough surfaces or to any support. The flowers are bell-shaped and open a pale green colour which deepens to violet-blue or mauve as they mature. A white form ‘Alba’ is occasionally seen. The large seed will germinate easily in a warm and sunny position. Small potted plants are usually offered by nurserymen early in the year and one plant is usually enough for anyone.

Ipomoea tricolor Morning Glory; Tropical America

This is the pure blue Morning Glory and possibly the clearest colour in any flower. The flowers, freely produced throughout summer, open in the morning and fade and close during the afternoons.

Like Cobaea scandens, it is a half-hardy peren-nial grown as an annual. Seed is reasonably easy to germinate after it has been nicked and soaked in water for about 24 hours. Young plants hate being disturbed and seeds should be planted two in a pot, and when a second seed germinates, one should be pulled out and discarded. When the weather outside is suffi¬ciently warm, the young plants should be very carefully planted in the positions they are to flower in, disturbing the roots as little as possible. A sunny position and light soil are best. Support with a light trellis or string.

Lathyrus Sweet Pea; Mediterranean

L. odoratus first arrived from Sicily in 1699. Today’s hybrids would hardly be recognized as belonging to the same family. All types of this hardy annual climber are of value to the container gardener, but perhaps the most suitable are the ‘Knee-Hi’ (60cm-1.2m/2-4ft) and ‘Jet Set’ groups. These are small to intermediate growers which need no more staking than a few twigs. They are robust and produce masses of waved and ruffled flowers in a host of different pastel colours. Taller-growing sorts will need canes, stakes or netting (or a shrub to clamber into). The Bijou strain is more bushy, reaching about 45cm/18in and seldom needs support.

Sweet Peas are hardy annuals which can be sown (after chipping each seed) outdoors in autumn or in February or March; small pots of young plants which have been germinated by the nurseryman can be bought instead. They prefer deep soil, well manured or en¬riched with bonemeal, and will not do well in poor soil nor without adequate attention. Plants should not be closer to each other than 15cm/6in to give each plant a chance to deve¬lop fully. All sorts need adequate watering and regular feeding with a general liquid fertilizer. Most of hybrids are scented (an accusation often incorrectly levelled against modern hy- brids is that they lack scent), but this can cer¬tainly be more pronounced in some kinds. Sunny positions suit them best as long as the roots are kept cool. Pick off the dead flowers, otherwise the plants set seed pods and reduce flower production.

Thunbergia alata Black-eyed-Susan; South Africa

This half-hardy annual has 5cm/2in flowers in shades of cream yellow and orange with a deep brown eye. They twine around supports and begin to flower in June. Seed should be s^wn in a little heat in March. These plants are most useful for trailing from hanging baskets and also look effective climbing up canes in a sunny sheltered position.

Tropaeolum peregrinum Canary Creeper; Peru

This lovely half-hardy annual has small pure-yellow flowers with frilled throats and blue-green leaves which are finely divided into fingers. It loves to clamber through taller plants when the stalks of its leaves will wind halfway round whatever is to hand. Seeds germinate very easily in some heat in the spring. These are very good plants for difficult positions, tolerating shade although they do best in a sunny and sheltered spot in ordinary soil.


Ferns are among the oldest groups of plants in existence and can be found practically any¬where from just at sea-level to the tops of mountains. Thousands of species are available; many are native plants and these often thrive better than the imported sorts.

There is evidence of a renewed interest in the growing of ferns, both as houseplants and outdoors where the hardy perennials will grow with JittJe attention and in shade. None will endure complete drought and all prefer a cool and a damp (but not waterlogged) soil which is rich in humus. Ferns do not like to be buffetted by winds nor to suffer drip from overhead trees.

The majority of ferns are evergreen-the new season’s fronds unfurling during spring when the old tired fronds can be removed and discarded.

The Hart’s-Tongue fern (Phyllitis scolopen- drium) and its crested form, P. s. ‘Crispum’ (with crinkly edges), are tough plants for town gardens. The Soft-Shield fern, Polystichum seti- ferum ‘Acutilobum’, is vigorous growing with intricately divided fronds growing to 90cm/ 3ft in length. This last fern develops little bul¬bils along the midribs of each frond which will grow into little rooted plants: pin the frond down onto a box of finely sieved seed mixture and keep moist and close. Propagation is usually by division in spring.

All ferns should be kept well-watered during the summer months and should receive a top dressing of leafmould or coarse fibrous peat each spring. Many self-sown ferns will spring up in the shady garden provided growing conditions are right.V


The actual planting of container-grown plants has been greatly eased in recent years by their introduction at garden centres. These temporary containers allow plants to be moved to their new sites at most times of the year, and provided that some care is exercised in taking them from their plastic-bags, tin-cans or clay-pots, they need not suffer damage or setback. They should be planted in their new containers at the same depth as before, carefully watered in and attended frequently until established. Open ground plants are a little more difficult to establish due to the unavoidable damage that lifting and subsequent transporting has on the roots. Generally speaking, deciduous shrubs and trees are best lifted from the open ground and planted in the autumn and evergreens are safer if left until April or early May. They need thorough watering in.

Firm planting is essential to all plants and any staking that will be needed should be done at the time of planting. Allow ample space between the level of the soil and the rim of the container for the plants to be given a good drink – there is nothing more annoying than trying to trickle water into a container that is too full of soil and as a result the plants will probably go short. Regular feeding should be the rule with those subjects that are obviously in really active growth -a pot full of petunias clearly should receive attention more often than a very slow-growing conifer. Keep lime away from those plants that demand an acid soil and see that use is made of a proprietary compound to turn a soil that is becoming too alkaline through the use of hard tap water back to being acid.

Try not to grow plants in containers which are too large for them. When given more space than they need, the soil in the pots becomes stagnant and the plant’s roots suffer from being in contact with permanently wet soil. Equally there will be problems if things are too tight. Flowers may be induced by underpotting but large shrubs in tiny pots will dry out too quickly, will become starved and most probably die.

The soil used in containers must be of the right consistency – able to hold moisture yet quick draining. When plants are growing freely they will need to be kept moist and this will involve frequent watering. As with other plants there is no single rule for when pots should be watered except that they should be watered when they need it – not before and certainly not when it is too late. Those grown for flowers should have a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen. Nitro¬genous fertilizers promote lush green leaves and most of the seaweed-based liquid feeds are pretty much balanced in favour of the flowering plants. Most will benefit from a springtime mulch of well-rotted leafmould, compost or peat but this should be moist at the time of application and should be watered straight away. When dry peat is applied to the surface of soil it often absorbs any water that is applied to it and prevents seepage down to the plant’s roots.

Every so often the soil used for all con¬tainers will become exhausted and will need complete replacement. The need for renewal will in most cases be obvious by a loss of vigour in the plants and probably by undue yellowing of the leaves. The best time to consider a complete reorganisation is around early March. Enough fresh soil should be to hand, any repairs to or strength¬ening of wooden containers should be attended to and the division of such plants as need it undertaken.


The simplest crop to grow is strawberries and they are ideally suited to the whims of a gardener. They can either be grown in beds, or in containers, and the range of suitable con¬tainers includes stone troughs, wheelbarrows, hollow tree stumps, and barrels – in fact, any¬thing goes! Before planting, either in spring or in late summer, treat all wooden containers with a wood preservative (not creosote), and replace any broken sections in the process. The most popular container has always been the 40-gallon barrel, which should hold 24 plants in three rows of six, plus six on the top surface. Drill 18 holes of 8cm/3in diameter between the hoops, with the top and bottom rows lined up vertically, staggering the middle row. For drainage six 2.5cm/lin holes should be drilled in the base and the barrel stood on bricks so that it is clear of the ground. Place 15cm/6in of weathered ashes or ‘crocks’ in the bottom to assist drainage, and a drainpipe filled with sand and rubble vertically in the centre of the barrel. Fill the barrel with a loam-based mixture up to the level of the first series of holes and firm it well.

From the inside push a plant through each hole and firm the roots into the soil; plant up every hole on the bottom row, raise the drainage pipe up a little, and repeat the planting process for successive rings. The drainage pipe is raised after each ring is completed and finally removed altogether leaving a drainage channel in the middle of the barrel.

Runners will be produced and these can either be removed or left to root. Every year the barrel will need a ‘once over’ when a top dressing of 250g/8oz each of a general purpose fertilizer is worked into the top few cm with a hand-fork. Repair any broken holes or sections during the winter months. Pesticides and fungi-cides should be applied when necessary, as Grey Mould may be a problem during the fruiting season.

Although the top of the barrel may be planted up with strawberries, alternatives in-clude planting melons, cucumbers, courgettes or zucchini, and marrows or squash to train up a trellis or strings.

The strawberry cultivar choice is wide. Of the standard cultivars, Redgauntlet, Cam-bridge Favourite, Royal Sovereign, or Temp¬lar in Britain; and Fairfax and Harvard 17 (early), Sparkle and Catskill (mid-season), Jersey Belle and Frontenac (late) in the United States can be grown, but the everbearing cul-tivars seem more suited for container work. Frapendula, Gento, Remont, Ozark Beauty, Streamliner and Ogallala are suitable ever-bearers fruiting from mid-June to a peak in the autumn.

Top Fruit

Top fruit in pots or tubs is a proposition worth considering, but even by choosing a tree on a dwarf rootstock, it is not an economic use of space, although they can be grown success¬fully. In any case, despite below average yields the enjoyment of home-grown produce will be gained.

The idea of growing a vine or a peach tree may appeal. Buy a one, or at most a two-year-old tree (cultivar Peregrine, Rochester, Bon¬anza or Hale Haven dwarf) and plant it firmly in a rich mixture with the roots spread out in the hole.

Hand-pollinate the flowers with a fine camel hair brush and thin the fruit when they are 3cm/l^in diameter, leaving each fruit about 23cm/9in apart.

A peach tree is ideal for growing in a large pot or wooden tub as a ‘feature’ on the patio or small container garden.


Grape vines are very hardy, withstanding tem-peratures as low as — 20°C/—6°F, but the young growth and flowers are susceptible to frost and so frost pockets should be avoided. They can be grown as bushes, cordons, espa¬liers, or fans, but for the highest yield, cordons are used. Grapes are produced on the current year’s growth, which is derived from the pre¬vious year’s shoots. A rampant uncontrolled vine will produce vegetative growth at the expense of fruit. Wood that has finished fruit¬ing is valueless except for propagation.

A rich organic soil is required for vines, so plant them in raised beds specially prepared by incorporating plenty of garden compost or peat. The space required depends on the train¬ing method: 1.2m/4ft for cordons, 3m/10ft for espaliers, and 4.6m/15ft for fans. Plant from November to March, placing the roots 10cm/ 4in below ground level, and firm in thorough- ly. Vines need very little feeding, but phos¬phates are required to encourage fruiting.

Outdoor grapes are small, but if they are being grown for wine-making, this is of little importance. Thinning will not increase the weight of the bunch, but does mean that the remaining berries are larger, so thin the bunches to maintain the shape, removing berries until none are touching. Use long pointed scissors such as special vinery scissors and do not touch the berries as this damages the ‘bloom’.

From a patio vineyard there will probably not be sufficient grapes for wine-making, so dual purpose (table/wine-making/culinary) cultivars are preferred. Suitable cultivars in¬clude Precose de Malingre, an early white grape; the standard Concorde, a blue grape; Muscat de Samur, a golden muscat-flavoured grape; Interlaken Seedless; Cataurba, a red grape; Gagarin Blue, a blue-black grape of excellent flavour; and Tereshkova, a purple-red grape.


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