How To Position Climbing Plants

The following are suggestions for suitable plants for different purposes. You may want a plant for a particular aspect, or for a situation that demands a self-clinging rather than a twining climber, or yet again, you may want a fragrant plant. You will find ideas here for special requirements and most of the plants suggested have been included in the A-Z chapters where you will find further details.


A wall that faces north or one that is in deep shade may sound like a hopeless proposition as far as climbers or screening plants are concerned, but there are a surprisingly large number of good-tempered climbers and shrubs that are willing to put up with this situation. The first and most obvious problem is lack of sunshine. Most north-facing walls get little, if any, sun throughout the year and any wall that is overshadowed by another building, while it may have a different aspect, may get no sun at all. Exposure may be a problem too, if the wall is in the path of prevailing cold winds. But there are some advantages in the situation: watering is seldom a problem since, without sun, the soil will be very unlikely to dry out. So plants that prefer a cool root run can be happy under these conditions. When looking for suitable climbers and wall plants for this special situation, you will be thinking in the main in terms of coloured foliage and berries, rather than a bright show of flowers, and the plants must, of course, be very hardy. How To Position Climbing Plants

Cotoneaster horizontalis with its small glossy leaves and scarlet berries makes a brave show against walls in this situation, especially if the brickwork behind it is painted white. Ivies (hedera) in all their differing shapes and sizes will go well on a sun-less wall. Hedera canariensis ‘Variegata’, for instance, has silver and white variegated leaves and will cover a wall space surprisingly fast. Hedera helix ‘Buttercup’ has golden leaves, while Hedera helix ‘Goldheare has rich green leaves with yellow centres. For swift growth and large green leaves, Hedera hibernica is a good choice. The ivies, like the cotoneaster, are, of course, evergreens and so give good value all year round. The climbing hydrangea – Hydrangea petiolaris is perfectly happy on a north wall, and although it is deciduous it tends to keep its leaves well into autumn and rewards you with attractive white flowers that are more delicate than those of the rest of the hydrangea family.

Chaenomeles, the flowering quinces, will thrive against a north wall, and can be trained against an east wall, too. The best variety to choose is Chaenomeles speciosa . ‘Moerloesii’ has pretty flowers, pale pink on the outside, white inside, while ‘Nivalis’ has pure white flowers and ‘Umbilicata’, the best-known version, has salmon-pink flowers. The fruits are edible, of course.

The winter jasmine – Jasminum nudiflorum with its bright yellow flowers on bare stems throughout the winter, makes a welcome appearance on a north wall, whereas other versions of this popular climber prefer more friendly aspects. One of the most vigorous of the honeysuckles, Lonicera x americana, will flower happily from June to September against a north wall, but for a more unusual choice, Lonkera tragophylla, an even more rampant climber, produces a profusion of yellow blooms from the very beginning of summer right through almost until winter.

The Russian vine, Polygonum baldschuanicum, is one of the fastest of all climbers, making as much as 6 m (20 ft) of growth in the space of one summer and, kept suitably under control, it makes an ideal Polygonum baldschuanicumplant for a north wall. It likes cool shade and a moist soil and can be trained to cover a wall swiftly or clipped so that it almost turns into a hedge in front of it. A shady situation does not mean that roses have to be ruled out for there are one or two varieties that thrive in it. The splendid ‘Gloire de Dijon’ will take kindly to a wall of this aspect, giving double blooms with an orange centre and yellow and apricot tinted petals. It is also richly scented. Another suitable candidate is ‘Madame Alfred Corriere’ which has delightful pale pink buds that open into white flowers. ‘Etoile de Hollande’, too, with its sweetly scented dark red flowers will grow against a north wall, and so will ‘Madame Gregoire Staechelin’, with pink flowers tinged with carmine red. Another favourite climber, the clematis, provided you stay with the large-flowered varieties, will cope with shady conditions. The best group to choose is C. viticella which seems to be able to stand cold winds better than other varieties. Choose from ‘Ville de Lyon’ with its veined carmine-red flowers, ‘Lady Betty Balfour’ which has blooms of an almost violet shade in the autumn and ‘Ernest Markham’, one of the oldest varieties, with dark red, velvety flowers.

Among the herbaceous climbers that can cope with a north wall is Tropaeolum speciosum, the flame flower, which in fact will not thrive at all unless it grows in cool, perpetually moist soil. It is well worth persevering with this climber as it will give you brilliant red flowers in the shadiest, coolest conditions.

An east-facing wall poses very similar problems to one that has a northerly aspect and, with a few exceptions, most plants that grow well against the one will be suitable for the other. There are, however, just one or two that cannot cope with drying yet very cold winds and that can take the shade of a northerly situation, but are not happy facing east. Aristolochia macrophylla, the Dutchman’s pipe, is one of these, escallonia another, and Jasminum nudiflorum another. Celastrus scandens, however, with its very unusual autumn fruits, bright orange with scarlet seeds, will grow happily against an east-facing wall, so will Forsythia suspensa with its golden-yellow flowers in spring. Instead of frisminum nudiflorum, Jasminum primulinum, an evergreen, will give you pale yellow flowers in early spring but should not be planted if it is to be in an exposed position. Clematis montana is hardy enough to cope with an east wall and makes a picture in spring when its starry white flowers come out, but it must be given space to thrive. C. montana ‘Rubens’ has deep pink flowers and foliage that is tinged with purple and it too can be put against an east wall. Roses need not be ruled out, either: in addition to those already listed for a north-facing wall, you will find that ‘Caroline Testout’ with strongly scented, double pink flowers will thrive, and ‘Danse du Feu’, a repeat flowering climber with orange-scarlet blooms can also cope with an east-facing situation. Another variety worth trying is ‘Aloha’, a modern rose (it was introduced in 1949), which can either be grown against a wall as a shrub rose, or trained over a pillar or pergola for use as a screen. It has attractive pink flowers tinged with crimson.

When it comes to south-facing walls there is a much larger choice of climbers and screening plants, but care must be taken to pick plants that can take sunshine and occasional bouts of near-drought which may occur in a sunny flower bed. Clematis, for instance, are not happy growing against a wall that faces due south, since they need a cool root-run, but you can afford to take chances with plants that are ‘tender’ – that is, not really hardy in Britain:

Clematis and a climbing rose flowering with a profusion of colour myrtle (Myrtus communis), for instance, a fragrant wall plant that grows very well in planters and pots and has attractive green leaves and white, scented flowers in summer. This variety will grow to 1.8m (6 ft) or more, and there is a smaller version M. communis ‘Tarentina’, which has leaves attractively outlined in pale green but does not grow so high. Another ‘tender’ plant for a south-facing wall is ceanothus which is very unhappy in cold, biting winds. Choisya ternata, the Mexican orange blossom, is another plant that prefers a warm wall since it dislikes cold wintry weather. The winter sweet, Chimonanthus praecox, will thrive against a south-facing wall and bloom in most winters if it is grown against a wall with a southern aspect. Since drying out can be a problem in summer, it is a good idea to give beds in front of a south-facing wall a thorough mulch of compost or peat or even lawn clippings to preserve as much moisture as possible.

A west-facing wall is generally the most favourable one on which to grow climbers because it usually gives the most shelter to tender plants. Camellia japonica, one of the most handsome of all wall shrubs, will bloom profusely given the shelter of a west wall, and problems such as damage to the blooms by frost are far less likely to occur. Camellias prefer a cool root-run so they are better sited in this situation than in a south-facing aspect. Wisteria is another climber that dislikes a very dry situation, and since its flower buds and new growth are liable to damage by cold winds and frost, it appreciates the shelter of a west wall and the soil conditions slightly moister than it would get if it faced south. Another candidate for siting against a west-facing wall is buddleia, particularly Buddleia auriculata, which is not as hardy as the more widely known Buddleia davidii. The passion flower, passiflora, which many people look upon as a tender plant, appreciates the shelter that a west-facing wall will give it (although if it does succumb to frost it will usually recover. Humulus japonicus, the Japanese hop, which is often grown as an annual in this country may well survive from one year to another, given a west wall instead of one that is more exposed. Among wall shrubs that appreciate this situation, Viburnum x burkwoodii, an evergreen with sweet-scented, waxy flowers will make a good show, and Prunus triloba, an attractive version of the ornamental almond with double pink flowers, thrives in this situation.

Finally, do remember that if you have a west-facing wall near the house, it is a good idea to plant some fragrant climbers and shrubs – Clematis flammula with its white, honey-scented blossoms, for instance; honeysuckles such as Lonicera periclymenum ‘Belgica’ and L. periclymenum ‘Serotina’, the heavily scented Dutch varieties, or the semi-evergreen Lonicera japonica, which produces scented blooms all summer through. Magnolia grand iflora has flowers that smell delicately of lemon and is happiest against a wall facing west.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.