Nothing adds an air of intrigue and romance into your garden like climbing plants. Draping languorously with sensual tendrils and evocative scents. But they can be expensive….so here are our tips on when you can cut corners and grow your own, and, just as importantly, when you can’t. Let’s start with the classics: sweet peas, clematis and wisteria.
The pea family can be grown easily from seed. Elaine was patronising about my fledgling sweet peas last week – I already knew that I had let my ‘Cupani’ and ‘Painted Lady’ babies get a bit leggy without her parading the photographic evidence to the nation, but what she doesn’t know is that I am growing some much more refined specimens alongside these. Using the Growbag technique of moist tissue paper in a sealed plastic tub on top of the fridge (honestly it’s foolproof, even Caroline can do it) I have managed to germinate Lathyrus nervosus, Lord Anson’s pea, a real connoisseur’s plant with slate blue flowers and glaucous leaves, Lathyrus rotundifolius, an everlasting sweet pea with dusky terracotta flowers (so much more tasteful than the TOWIE cerise of L.latifolius), and finally a whole batch of perennial peas labelled ‘small red flowers – Normandy’ which I presume I must have snaffled when Elaine’s back was turned.
Clematis are trickier as any named cultivar can only be propagated by ‘internodal cuttings’ – a technique that no doubt ‘Little Miss Clever’ will one day explain to us mortals in her Grow-How column. But species clematis can be grown from seed and if you go for one of the late flowering ones now, they will have a long enough growing season to give you flowers this autumn. Try the yellow flowered Clematis tangutica, the spicy C. flammula (common name, ‘scented virgin’s bower’……c’mon!), or, my favourite, the stately cowslip-scented C. rehderiana which can create a magnificent presence in the garden in a single season, sprawling seductively over fences and pergolas, or in my case, the oil tank (see our feature photo).
DO NOT attempt to grow wisteria from seed. You are on a hiding to nothing. Seed grown plants will take years to produce grubby washed-out flowers and you are on dodgy ground with cuttings too as most wisteria are grafted onto wild rootstocks to increase their vigour. This is one of those times when a financial investment in a really good nursery-grown specimen pays off. It will then last you a lifetime.
Yes, Laura, climbers serve an important purpose. In these days of shrinking outdoor spaces, we need to stretch our gardens upwards if we can’t stretch them outwards. To misquote Olivia Newton-John, ‘Let’s Get Vertical’. All those creepers and scramblers and twiners – clematis, climbing roses, jasmine, honeysuckle, ivy – are all beloved for the height, colour and often fragrance, that they can offer. And there are more unusual climbers too, which are enormously rewarding to cultivate.
The pretty potato vine, Solanum crispum, for instance, is surprisingly easy to grow from cuttings, and can even get way above itself, demanding a very firm hand with the secateurs or loppers. The white version, Solanum lax ‘Album’, so delightfully romantic in the White Garden at Sissinghurst, is more tender, but it has certainly survived some low temperatures here in the soft South.
Don’t forget that there are some gorgeous annual climbers besides Laura’s sweet peas that can be grown from seed right now. Have you heard of the climbing foxglove, Lophospermum erubescens, that I believe Caroline (yes! Even Caroline!) grew last year with great success? It has pink flowers and will climb to 10′ in a season.
Another charmer is Cobaea scandens, the cup-and-saucer vine, with its lovely lime bells slowly turning white. My problem is that it flowers SO late with me. So I’m going to try growing it in the greenhouse this year (I might have mentioned once or twice that I’ve got a new greenhouse, everyone!) and hopefully it will bloom earlier. I’ll keep you posted.There are others – Ipomoea (morning glory), Thunbergia (black-eyed Susan), Azarina (climbing snapdragon) all fancy enough to pique even Laura’s interest.
I bet she would be impressed by the fabulously tricky climbing nasturtium Tropaeolum speciosum, with its poppy-red flowers glowing 10′ up a tree – it’s hardy, but wow! more temperamental than a gated teenager. Growing from underground tubers T.speciosum is another of those plants where you need to buy a really strong specimen from a nursery to stand any chance of success. Much easier to sow and grow are the ordinary annual nasturtiums, many of which will scramble up a wall or fence and wavy their cheery flowers from the top…..and then you can eat them!
Yes, I did germinate a climbing foxglove last year much to everyone’s amazement (put in propagator, apply lid). It grew at a rate that would put Jack’s magic beanstalk to shame and just as powerfully produced an array of quivering pink flowers. By comparison its seedtray companion, Elaine’s climbing snapdragon, was a more droopy affair (you’ll find this features more frequently in your life as you get older). Chilterns and Plant World Seeds stock seed for the climbing foxglove, which has a number of names including creeping gloxinia but don’t worry, no medical intervention is required. They’ll grow outdoors but I didn’t risk it here on the Scottish coast where plants must be the equivalent of Bear Grylls to survive.
Buoyed by my success I tried Laura’s favourite – a climbing pea thing called Dolichos LabLab ‘Ruby Moon’ which has lovely stems; leaves; flowers; seed pods and even very smart seeds – truly the Meghan Markle of my summer.
However, (and you know you can depend on me to give you decent gardening hacks rather than L and E’s fiddling about with ‘inter-nodal’ cuttings and ‘tricky’ propositions), if you want a clematis and you want it now, just go on the ‘plant, cuttings, bulbs etc for sale’ forum on Facebook, search for ‘clematis’ and you’ll find most varieties are sold, very reasonably, by a chap called Richard in Preston. A quick Paypal transaction and your clematis arrives in a reassuring pot. This is just the sort of approach that makes E and L wince, but really they must move with the times. If they want some heart-skipping action in the shrubbery, they’re going to have to get to grips with a bit of horticultural Tinder.
NB. On the subject of getting fresh – check out Louise’s Great Plant this Month. It’s botanical name is ‘Brazen Hussey’!