Why every garden should have a climber – and 13 of the best to try

Climbers can provide height and interest at various levels
Climbers can provide height and interest at various levels - Alamy

February and March are perfect times to add a few climbers to your garden. Climbing plants offer a huge amount of interest and practicality to our green spaces, whether that be flowers or foliage, to cover an ugly shed or bejewel a sterile fence. There’s a climber out there for all garden situations, with a huge variety that can cope with lots of different aspects in the garden, providing height and interest at various levels. Some can offer insulation to our walls, some can cover traditional pergolas and arbours, and come can even add extra interest to tree canopies.

When it comes to choosing a site for your climbers, the general rule of thumb is that these plants like their tops to be in the sunshine, and their roots to be in the cool, moist shade. The addition of well-rotted compost and a liberal mulch will go a long way to providing this fertility and moisture at the root, although there are a number of climbers that are happy to grow in a bit of shade: for instance, a north-facing wall offers a perfect spot for a climbing hydrangea or ivy.

Planting a climber is a relatively simple process. I would always ensure that the root ball has been thoroughly soaked by plunging it in a bucket of water first, as we never have an opportunity to hydrate the root ball in the same way once it’s in the ground. Never plant into dry soil; if necessary, thoroughly flood the planting hold, and leave it for a few minutes for the water to dissipate, and then go ahead and plant your climber. After planting, it’s often necessary to encourage the climber towards the wall or whatever your structure may be. This is easily done with a stake or a cane, which can be angled in the direction that you wish your climber to grow. Make sure that it is regularly tied in as it grows.

Climbing plants offer a huge amount of interest and practicality to our green spaces
Tip: make sure your climber is regularly tied in as it grows - Kristina Blokhin/Alamy Stock Photo

There are a few climbers, such as ivy, Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea relatives that are self-clinging, but the vast majority of climbing plants will need a little support. If you’re adorning a wall or a fence with a climber, it’s best to use horizontal wires and screw eyes that are around 30 to 45 centimetres (12-18in) apart. Other alternatives include trellis, which can be free-standing or screwed to a wall or fence to provide that framework.

Regardless of how you support your climbers, I would suggest that for the first two or three years, those climbers are not allowed to dry out. Offer a watering can full of water once a week from the end of March until the beginning of October, or twice a week in particularly hot and dry spells. To get the best from your climbing plant I would also add a capful of seaweed fertiliser to the watering can so that you’re offering a tonic with each watering.

Here are a few of my favourite climbers to try:

Actinidia kolomikta

This ornamental kiwi has the appearance of painted leaves, which are very striking during the early summer, often half of each leaf being coloured white or pink and sometimes both.

Long-lived, woody scrambling, pink and green creeper Actinidia kolomikta
Actinidia kolomikta has the appearance of painted leaves - Karin Frood/Alamy Stock Photo

Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’

Clematis, which are a member of the buttercup family, need very little introduction, but this herbaceous Clematis has purple foliage when it emerges in spring, followed by sprays of scented, white flowers from June to September. It’s easily managed by pruning hard to the ground each spring.

Cobaea scandens f. alba

Known as the cup-and-saucer vine and best grown as an annual, from seed in February, Cobaea will flower from August right the way through till October with a vigour that can achieve around three metres (9ft 10in). Flowers are borne on stems that are often long enough to be cut for the house. I’m a big fan of this elegant, white form, but the purple-flowered scandens is nothing short of a delight too.

Cobaea scandens Alba, White Cathedral Bells
Cobaea will flower from August to October - Robert Wyatt /Alamy Stock Photo

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’

Ivy can often create a small gasp from gardeners, but it is an incredibly useful plant, particularly for those shady areas. This form has delicate, variegated leaves, providing a great source of food for pollinators during the winter months too. I’ve seen ivy used effectively as a screen, growing up a chain-link fence to disguise an oil tank: there’s nothing particularly poetic about this description, but it does illustrate the robust nature of ivy, which should not be instantly dismissed.

Hedera helix flowers
The robust nature of ivy should not be dismissed - John Martin /Alamy Stock Photo

Jasminum officinale ‘Devon Cream’

This summer-flowering jasmine is a much-loved climber in British gardens and bears clusters of cream-coloured, fragrant flowers from July onwards. It’s best grown in a sheltered, sunny position and provides a great scent during those warm, summer evenings.

Jasmine Jasminum officinale, gelsomino, Oleaceae
The Jasminum officinale is a much-loved climber - Roberto Nistri/Alamy Stock photo

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’

Honeysuckles are another firm favourite in our gardens, and, like jasmines, they can offer intoxicating scent. Graham Thomas has pale, cream-coloured flowers which mature to yellow when they’re pollinated. Honeysuckles can be prone to a bit of mildew, so to avoid this, ensure that their soil is moisture retentive and does not dry out during very dry spells.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera) growing along a white picket fence
Like jasmines, honeysuckles can offer an intoxicating scent - Andreas von Einsiedel/Alamy Stock Photo

Passiflora ‘Amethyst’

A beautiful alternative to the more widely planted caerulea, ‘Amethyst’ has stunning purple flowers and needs a sheltered, sunny spot for best results.

Rosa ‘Veilchenblau’

I can’t really list great climbers to grow in your gardens without shining a huge light on roses. ‘Veilchenblau’ is one of my favourites. Although it is classified as a rambler, this unusually purple-flowered rose is more compact, only achieving around 15 feet or 4.5 metres in height.

A pink rose bush against a brick wall of a house in a garden. Rose rambler or Rosa Veilchenblau.
‘Veilchenblau’ is one of Brown's favourite climbers - Harry Wedzinga/Alamy Stock Photo

Schizophragma integrifolium

This is a similar and closely related plant to the climbing hydrangea, but there are some wonderful cultivars out there of this lesser-known plant. Like the climbing hydrangea, it will use aerial roots to cling to walls and fences and will tolerate a bit of shade. It’s definitely a plant worth looking into and one of my favourite climbers.

Chinese Hydrangea Vine, Schizophragma integrifolium
The schizophragma integrifolium is a plant worth looking into - Florapix /Alamy Stock Photo

Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’

The potato vine should be more widely planted, as it certainly deserves to be. This vigorous semi-evergreen and chalk-loving climber, which is covered in blue flowers from July until September, will need a little bit of support, but loves a very sunny wall and can achieve around three to four metres (10-13ft). It prefers a slightly sheltered position; more exposed gardens won’t get the best from it.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Known as star jasmine, this climber requires a sunny, sheltered position. Urban gardens or courtyards can be filled with its jasmine-like scent in the evenings, which makes it incredibly popular with garden designers. It’s perfect for those looking to cover a small shed or gazebo, and for people who enjoy sitting in their garden in the evening.

Star Jasmine or Trachelospermum jasminoides flowers
Star jasmine is popular with garden designers - Roy Conchie /Alamy Stock Image

Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’

Although this vine produces edible grapes, they’re nothing to write home about. The main reason for giving this grape space in your garden is due to its rich, purple foliage during the late summer and autumn. As the leaves fall, the dark fruits are revealed and make a welcome addition to the winter diet of our garden birds.

Vitis vinifera purpurea and coignetiae
This vine produces edible grapes, but they’re nothing to write home about - Adrian Davies/Alamy Stock photo

Wisteria x formosa ‘Black Dragon’

Wisteria are very seldom rivalled in terms of their sheer flower power and jaw-dropping display. Black Dragon is a double-flowered form with lilac-coloured blooms that benefit from spring pruning to increase the size of the flowers.

Wisteria x formosa 'Black Dragon'
Flower power: Black Dragon - Avalon.red/Alamy Stock Photo

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