Climbers for every occasion (Part 1: Spring and early Summer)



I’m thinking about climbing plants –  for use in a myriad ways in the garden and it is a huge topic. Plants for sun and shade, large and small, with the promise of scent and flower in every month of the year. I think I ought to restrict myself to those gems which are in flower now, Spring or early Summer being their preferred Significant Season. I have been looking through my back-catalogue of photographs and have added in a few examples from just a little further on into summer. I can’t help myself.

I’ve been reading Graham Stuart Thomas’ book on Shrubs and Climbers and he writes very engagingly about my first choice, the Wisteria. I’ll transcribe some of this in a separate post. Think of these as preliminary notes and sketches – the essay will follow!

A truly majestic climber, Wisteria, and you would be justified in thinking that it is always a big, ravenous climber, for tall walls and pergolas – it can be – but it can also be maintained and trained on a much smaller scale, a perfect standard for example.



Cutting the new growth back hard, in August, to just a few buds from the central core of woody growth, and a compact yet graceful form can be created and maintained. Just think of what can be achieved with bonsai and take heart.

These pictures were taken last year, from a collection of white and blue wisterias, grown into the most dazzling standards –






Absolutely something for nearly every garden, don’t you think?





Another climber with big potential – the largest rose in the world is a family member – the thornless and very early-flowering Rosa Banksiae – Lady Bank’s Rose. Just on the cusp of tender, it requires a sheltered and sunny spot and even then, can still be cut back by severe and prolonged cold. If you can offer it the conditions it likes, it will be a real showstopper. The largest rose, by the way, lives in Tombstone, Arizona and was planted in the late 1880’s – and remains there still, nearly 9000 sq. ft. of it. For a fee, you can see it, picnic under it or even get married there!

Altogether more modest, the blue pagoda/pixie hats of Clematis alpina Helsingborg. Spring flowering and happy in a shadier spot, climbing up into a tree perhaps. Minimal pruning needed, just after flowering, if it needs keeping within bounds at all. Delightful seed heads develop if left unmolested!

In my garden, I have Clematis alpina Pamela Jackman



Another early-flowering clematis, the ethereally beautiful Propertius – I’ve planted this on the wrought iron pergola in the garden I’m planting up in Kew, the Mediterranean Landscape. How beautiful is this? More Clematis below, in the category of Large Flowered early summer flowering varieties. For a splash of colour!


One of the Clematis montana family – Freda, possibly. I did write the name down somewhere…

If you do not have the space for a full sized Clematis montana try the more subdued ‘Freda’. This deciduous vine will grow about 15 to 20 feet, which is almost half the size of typical montanas and can easily be pruned further. It is also one of the most intensely colored montanas with flowers that open a deep, mauve red and then soften to a rich pink. A light, sweet fragrance dances in the breeze when in full flower. The dogwood-like flowers have attractive broad, petal-like sepals that give a full flower appearance. As the flowers fade striking bronzy foliage emerge, gradually deepening to a dark green.

Ipomoea Star of Yelta – a twining, later flowering caerulean star (below)



Bud upon bud on the rambling and climbing roses – another week of warmth and sun and there should be much more to see. Gloire de Dijon has already produced its first flower and the shrub roses have gotten going – Bengal Beauty, Le Vesuve, Souvenir de St. Annes, Cecile Brunner – with buds galore. Soon, soon there will be a mass of flowers.

The buds of Rambling Rector


Below – Passiflora White Lightening


Ah, well, I think I ought to stop, just now – I’ll be ransacking my back-catalogue of photographs all night if I keep this up.

I think you begin to see the choice the gardener has when thinking about clothing the boundaries and borders of the garden space – and pillars and obelisks and posts and pergolas and arches and rope swags and screens and trellises and…. Sun or shade, there is no excuse to add some rather great Vertical Interest into your outside space.

And there is so much I haven’t touched upon – jasmines and Sollyas, honesuckles and ivys, climbing hydrangeas and vines, Virginia Creepers, evergreen clematis, Akebias (cream and chocolate), Berberidopsis, Solanum ….. roses – so many roses –


and now, good night

One thought on “Climbers for every occasion (Part 1: Spring and early Summer)

  1. I love the spring clematis; in bud, helsinborg is a lovely deep colour – unusual in spring, but have you also tried Wessleton? Slightly earlier and a beautiful light blue that (almost) makes a star of forsythia or looks fab with orange tulips (Miramar).

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