Life

The Casual Gardener: Where space is a problem, climbers offer a pleasing solution

If you're short on garden space it could be worth starting to think vertically

Wisteria sinensis starts slow but can become rampant. Picture by Thinkstock/PA

IT'S hard to know when the average garden size was at its greatest. In urban areas for much of the last century, many families simply made do with a yard, while the nearest park was the go-to green space.

Suburbanisation from the 1960s onwards saw many working families own a garden for the first time and it was probably at the height of this era, around the start of the Thatcher years, that average garden sizes were greatest. From then on, demand for new homes grew and greedy developers sought to increase the density at which they built houses, sacrificing garden space in the process.

But having a small or smaller garden doesn't mean you can't have a great garden – and in many ways a limited area makes achieving that goal a little easier in terms of the required effort and resources.

If you feel you're running out of space, why not expand your area upwards by growing with climbers?

Climbers can be both functional and for pleasure, softening a hard, bare wall or an unsightly oil tank with a covering of colourful or lush foliage. Also, as the two intertwining Clematis close to my back door are testament, they are great for attracting wildlife, in this case a pair of blackbirds, who'll happily nest where there's enough cover.

And it's not just walls that climbers will take to – you can erect a pergola, arch or trellis for them to grow through and over. Some, such as honeysuckle, are most at home clambering up through a host tree, as the native species (Lonicera periclymenum) does in our woodlands.

A climber is basically any plant that either has a mechanism for attaching itself to a support structure or a shrub whose habit lends itself mainly in

two dimensions.

True climbers, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, have little adhesive pads along their stems that will secure them to walls or woodwork without the need for ties.

Others, such as wisteria, are twiners whose stems will wind themselves around wire or a net, while clematis have twining leaf stalks that will quickly find a secure hold. Shrubs such as pyracantha and Forsythia suspensa will not just need support but also training and pruning to ensure they grow vertically.

The rules for planting are pretty much the same as any shrub, though if planning to grow up a wall, it's important to ensure there's adequate soil for the roots to bed in. Therefore, plant at least 12 inches from the wall. In this situation you may also need to water more often than a free-standing counterpart because moisture is scarce at the foot of wall.

For a floral display, it's hard to go past wisteria, which is slow to begin but can soon become rampant. Best varieties for a May-June display are W sinensis, which has a reputation for being a bit thuggish, or the more disciplined W floribunda ‘Macrobotrys'.

There are hundreds of clematis to choose from, flowering at all different times of the year. C Montana will give you little trouble and an abundance of white flowers in the spring, while the red stripped C ‘Nelly Moser' flowers a little later.

Few things that can grow in Irish gardens look more exotic than the passion flower (Passiflora). The variety P caerulea is the hardiest of them all and one that shouldn't need fleecing on a chilly night.

For scent, the aforementioned honeysuckle always delivers and withstands all kinds of dog's abuse, bouncing back every time. For red flowers, opt for L brownii and for yellow blooms take a chance with L tellmanniana.

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