Do backyard climbers have you ever climbing the partitions?


Sopping wet days in January keep even me from gardening. As the rain pours from the partially clogged gutters, I’ve been thinking about one part of the garden that I’m most unsuccessful about: the walls of the house. Every householder has them unless they are confined to one dwelling. This column can therefore be edited by most of you.

A word first on the available categories: Roses, Climbing Plants and Wall Shrubs. Roses do not naturally climb vertically. They like to fixate on something else. Everyone wants them on a house wall, but they have to be held on with wall nails and wire. If you do not want to climb a ladder, you should be very careful when choosing roses. Great hikers will quickly outgrow you.

Climbers include some plants that both cling and climb. The brackets are invaluable, especially ivy and climbing hydrangea. These wall plants are the right choice if you don’t want to have any problems. I have done nothing with a climbing hydrangea, the evergreen Seemannii, for 30 years and it is my runaway success, neat, self-adhesive and covered in flowers to a height of 20 feet and a width of many more in July. It’s even happy to face east, although nursery listings sometimes suggest it’s not fully hardy.

I highly recommend her and her child, the Newish Semiola, a cross between Seemannii and the deciduous Petiolaris. Semiola is also evergreen and its flowers are larger.

Ivy, listed as Hederas, also make excellent brackets. A classic large-leaved one is Hedera canariensis Gloire de Marengo, whose gray leaves are nicely edged with white. It’s a top choice for shady walls, but Glacier is another winner, gray leaved with a wide cream border. If you prefer a plain green ivy, I like Green Ripple, whose sturdy leaves have jagged edges.

There are many others on offer, Goldheart is a charmer whose leaves have yellow central markings. It doesn’t grow too fast or tall. These particular ivies are sophisticated responses to the shady walls of a home or yard. When the shadow is extremely deep, they are the best answers.

The Pilgrim, a David Austin rose that blooms repeatedly © GAP Photos/Howard Rice

Hedera canariensis Gloire de Marengo, a large-leaved ivy © GAP Photos/Nova Photo Graphics

Honeysuckles are chosen more often, but they don’t stick. They like to wriggle around something, a drainpipe is irresistible, and then they sometimes hold on to it. To grow them well, before planting, you need to fix smooth wires in the wall. Stretch the wire out horizontally, leaving about 2 feet between each line on the wall. Then tuck the first growths under the wire, as each one extends upwards and the honeysuckle twines along them and stays upright.

On a breezy north face is the miracle plant Lonicera tragophylla, a pretty honeysuckle with tubular flowers and blooms of a clear lemon yellow. It has no fragrance but is a pretty sight when in bloom. Two sturdier options, both fragrant, are Lonicera similis delavayi and japonica halliana, both have tubular small white flowers, the latter aging biscuit yellow. They are rampant breeders, so a strong wire is essential.

Remember that both can be cut down to a height of 2 feet each spring and then climb back up without getting too tight and falling off the wall. They are excellent responses to north-facing shadows, although not ideal in very tight spaces. They are both evergreen.

Wall shrubs need space to grow forward from the wall and should not be the first choice for a narrow bed. Many of them need to be held back with thick wire and trimmed carefully to keep them clean. On a light, north-facing wall, my success is the fragrant white Viburnum burkwoodii, a beautiful May flowering shrub that will accept harsh pruning almost to the wall surface after flowering. Unlike camellia, whose flowers tend to brown from UK spring frosts if grown against a shady wall, it is fully hardy.

I have had better results with roses, particularly the excellent Rose Alba, Queen of Denmark, which flowers once but is so healthy, shade tolerant and extremely pretty when showing its double soft pink flowers. It, too, can be pruned back in winter to stay close to the wall surface, as can a China rose, Climbing Cecile Brunner.

Lonicera tragophylla,

Lonicera tragophylla, a beautiful tubular-flowered honeysuckle: good on an airy, north-facing wall © GAP Photos/Adrian James

The good news is that many David Austin roses are also possible, but not in a dark shade: I really like his yellow The Pilgrim and his pink The Generous Gardener, although both are even better when the sun gets to them. Then they are the number one choice, as they bloom repeatedly and flower to the brim like few older climbing roses do. Using this class of roses on walls has expanded gardeners’ options: Go for it.

Clematis often grow and bloom well on east facing walls, two of my favorites are the white Henryi and the deep lavender blue Lady Northcliffe, one that can be maintained at a height of only about 5 feet. My favorite way to support a clematis is to use a wide-meshed net, although plain white is usually cheaper than green plastic. Vertically wall-mounted lengths hold a clematis very well. If it runs up and just blooms in a mess at the top, you are not trimming the plant properly. If pruned well, it will continue to bloom the full extent of the wire.

Catalogs from specialist growers will tell you the times and extent of pruning, one of the best being the Thorncroft Clematis catalog near Evesham in Worcestershire ( You are spoiled for choice.

If you don’t want to climb a ladder, be careful of the roses you choose. Hikers will quickly outgrow you

On sunny walls that face west or south, urban gardeners, especially in warm London, should plant the white climbing potato vine, Solanum jasminoides album, and on high walls some mimosa, Acacia baileyana, as a tall wall shrub for early spring.

Those more exposed to frost should look for a hardier nightshade, laxum Crèche du Pape, which has blue-tinged flowers. Instead of the delicate mimosa, I recommend Clematis tangutica Bill MacKenzie, which blooms in the fall and can be cut back to a low height each spring. From autumn it is covered with yellow hanging flowers and silvery seed pods and also thrives in southern locations.

Excellent south-facing self-climbers are the evergreen trachelosperms, which stand up well to modern English winters. Asiaticum is particularly good, with fragrant creamy yellow flowers, and those with variegated foliage are pretty all year round. The summer cut keeps her at only about 8 feet tall.

My mistake has been choosing oversized wall shrubs, from ceanothus to magnolias that grow too far from the house. Match the plant to the location, even if it includes the word “wall” or “climber” in its listing.

Follow @FTProperty on Twitter or @ft_houseandhome on Instagram to be the first to hear about our latest stories