Growbag Blog

Spring climbers: It’s a postcode lottery!


I don’t think that the horticultural chasm that exists between we three sisters’ geographical locations has ever gaped as widely as it did this Easter. The topic of spring climbers was obviously put forward by smug Elaine, who gardens in an urban heat-island on the South Coast, with scarcely a thought about what might or might not be stirring yet in my rural frost pocket further inland, or with dear Caroline, in her new cottage in the Highlands (if you thought we had a bit of a cold snap you should have seen what it was doing up there!!)

But amazingly, on closer inspection of my patch, there were some climbers getting going, and there, on a cold north wall, was the irrepressible Akebia quinata, the chocolate vine, not only putting out its exotic-looking five-lobed leaves but actually opening up racemes of deep maroon flowers.

Top marks for effort, Akebia!

Round the corner on a west wall the climbing China rose ‘Pompon de Paris’ was in full bud. Much less well-known than the other famously early yellow banksia rose, Pompon de Paris has cute little button flowers in cheerful pink that open in April and this rose deserves to be much more widely grown – a climbing sport of what was originally a miniature patio rose, it’s described thus by Peter Beales Roses:

Rosa Pompon de Paris
‘A fascinating, small vigorous climber with fern-like foliage and thin growth. Small button-like, full bright pink flowers’

But I have to say that apart from these two troopers not much else was stirring outside, and I had to go into our lean-to conservatory for my final choice where Jasminum polyanthum was just starting to perfume the air; if you have simply anywhere to keep the frost at bay, do give this one a go – just take the pot plant someone gave you for Christmas, uncurl its stems from the tortuous hoop they’re strapped to, release it into a bigger pot, give it some room and off it goes, it’s as rewarding as a rescue dog.

Jasminum polyanthum
Jasminum polyanthum – not just for Christmas

So I was feeling quite pleased with my early starters until we had a glorious six-person outdoor get together at Elaine’s, and I started to realise how the other half lives ….stop reading now if you are easily jealous, or if you don’t like clematis.


I’m afraid Laura is just deeply envious of my expertise in picking the perfect plants for my (admittedly favoured) position on the sunny south coast. Call it karma for all the acid-loving beauties like witch hazels or moisture-lovers like rodgersias that she grows – I can only dream about them on my free-draining chalky soil. I can’t deny that I was quite enjoying her amazement at how ‘bloom-ful’ and sweet-smelling this patch already is, however…………………!

She’s right that it’s the clematis that are beguiling me at the mo, and the ones I love the most are the small-flowered ones, both for spring and late-summer. Clematis montana will soon be everywhere, but there are some simply delightful varieties that will flower before that – alpina, macropetala, cartmanii, etc.

C. alpina ‘Ruby’ is growing very prettily over a pergola here, at present covered in its little pinkish -red flowers, as in our feature pic this week.

These will turn into attractive fluffy seedheads just as the extravaganza of late spring/early summer is taking over, and unlike C. montana, it never goes mad, needing a brutal cut-back after flowering to thwart its mission of world domination. C. ‘Frances Rivis’ with its unusual violet-blue bells, does the same seedhead trick, and I expect you’ve seen the same on the wild clematis, C.vitalba – aka ‘old man’s beard’.

The violet-blue bells of Cl. ‘Frances Rivis’ will turn to fluffy seedbeds

Talking of world domination, I also have a C.armandii – an evergreen spring-flowering clematis, whose stem – actually let’s call it a ‘trunk’ – is now 4cm. across. It has grown rapidly up to about 5m. and is a very gorgeous and gaudy thing when it’s in flower as it is now. It likes a warm spot, so not one for Caroline, I’m afraid, and even Laura in inland Sussex struggles to keep it going; she is usually bragging about all her triumphs with extraordinary plants, so this is obviously one small source of satisfaction to me.

The starry blooms of evergreen clematis armandii

It has one little fault – it prefers the neighbour’s garden to ours, and is draping itself elegantly over THEIR trees and shrubs, not mine. Irritating, but lovely, nevertheless. A less exuberant pretty spring evergreen clematis is C. cartmanii ‘Avalanche’; our son has managed to grow a better specimen than mine – I think he feeds and looks after it much more, to be fair!

Clematis cartmanii ‘Avalanche’ – a well-behaved evergreen clematis for spring

I have a nasty feeling that I am about to get it in the neck from Caroline – it’s possible that the nearest thing to a spring climber she’s likely to find in the Highlands is a rugged fellow in a woolly hat and stout walking boots…………………


It beggars belief that Laura can claim to be gardening on the edge….. in West Sussex(!) but let me first show you the photo of my only climber taken here in the Scottish Highlands the same day as Elaine’s cheerful little clematis in Eastbourne.

Yes my Rosa ‘Penny Lane’ must be longing to return to its Shropshire birthplace at David Austin Roses from whence I plucked it on the advice on Dundee-based gardening icon Ken Cox. He gives it the all-important ‘H5’ hardiness rating in this book, Garden Plants for Scotland, followed by those seductive words ‘one of the hardiest climbers.’

Rosa ‘Penny Lane’ newly arrived in the Scottish Highlands from Shropshire

Even so Penny’s got her work cut out. It’s going to be minus 5 this weekend which is why the only other climber I have in prospect for my new house is an ivy which Ken describes as among the best evergreen climbers and ‘one of the few that do well on North-facing walls’. Definitely  my sort of plant and whilst in East Lothian we had one named after Napoleon’s horse (I’m not kidding you – ‘Gloire de Marengo’)  up here I think it calls for the even ballsier ‘Goldheart’ (H4-5) although if there was a ‘Graniteheart’ that would no doubt be better still!

Header helix ‘Goldheart’ – but don’t be fooled by its yellow colour – this climber is no coward!

You may be interested in checking out some more spring dazzlers in an earlier blog we wrote on the subject

NB Louise has a dainty spring carpeter as her plant of the moment which can be woven in with others to make a fittingly patriotic colour scheme. Click on the box below to find out what it is.

More NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

3 replies on “Spring climbers: It’s a postcode lottery!”

Love Clematis and was discussing with Elaine about Summer flowering ones earlier this week. Never know which ones to prune and when. Help! Lyn

Hi Lyn, Elaine here. In a nutshell, ‘if it flowers before June, don’t prune’, but if it goes bonkers, like Armandii or Montana can do, chop it back after it’s flowered. the June-flowering ones are generally lightly pruned in March and many will flower again if you cut them back again after the first flowers. The easiest of all are the gorgeous smaller-flowered July/August ones, like ‘Etoile Violette’ – cut EVERYTHING back to a foot off the ground in February/March – piece of cake!

Thank you, you lovely women, for another fun, informative feature. You always raise a Saturday-morning smile as I read this with coffee and good intentions!

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