Choosing Plant Climbers
Climbers Create Living Walls
The struggle to find adequate light to sustain photosynthesis has led plants to evolve a number of different stratagems over centuries of gradual change.
Trees and shrubs have permanent woody stems to hold their leaves above those of adjacent plants. Erect soft stemmed plants, on the other hand, are normally relatively short in stature and so prefer to grow in open ground, completing their entire cycle of growth, flowering and seeding within a single season.
The kind of climbing or rambling plants generally grown in gardens have neither the stout, self supporting stems of trees and shrubs, nor do they naturally grow in open ground, where the search for light is less urgent.
Instead, they have adapted ways to take advantage of sturdier plants in the surrounding vegetation to support their own weaker stems. Free from the need for self sufficiency, they can instead concentrate their energies on rampant growth.
The ingenious methods by which plants climb have evolved according to the kind of support most likely to occur in their natural habitat, and understanding this will help determinehow to train them in the garden.
Scramblers such as blackberries and climbing roses are almost self supporting, their stiff growth only needing some kind of support when several feet high. Their stems are equipped with spines or prickles whic often curve downwards so that they can actually hook themselves on any convenient support as they gradually extend upwards.
Sweet peas, vines and clematis use tendrils to grasp hold of suports. These are in fact modified leaves or petioles that grow as thin straight stalks until they make contact with a potential anchorage, when one side of the tendril is stimulated to grow faster than the other, causing it to curl rapidly around the twig or branch util firmly attached.
Once in place a tendril will often set as hard coil, which becomes impossible to unwind without breaking.
With runner beans, honeysuckle and wisteria, the whole plant winds itself around a vertical support as it climbs, and is known as a stemtwiner.
The end portion of the main stem arches outwards and grows in a circle, searching for a possible support that it can encircle, failing this the stem canrun straight along the ground until it meets a suitable object.
Wheras tendrils are muscular and difficult to remove, twining stems can often be uncoiled and then rewound on another support without harm.
A few plants, like ivy have no specially modified climbing habit, but will produce roots at strategic points along their stems in the same way as branches propagated by laying.
Other self clinging plants attach themselves to flat surfaces with tendrils whose tips swell into strongly adhesive cushions.
In small gardens using every available wall and fence to support plants will considerably increase the growing area and the variety of plants that may be grown. Many kinds af wall shrubs may be grown in these positions, but since they make larger root systems than most climbers they will take longer to develop.
Within a garden, climbers will add height and flamboyance to horizontal plantings and can be used to create divisions, secret nooks or shaded areas for sitting outdoors.
They can be trained on single pillars or more complex structures such as pergolas, tunnels and arcades,or may be left after a little training to scramble into large trees and over other shrubs. Some have great screening potential for veiling unwelcome views and ugly structures.
It is important to choose suitable plants for the space available. For example Russian vine is an ideal plant for covering huge areas, but if planted in a small garden it will always be more of an aggressive villain.
Always check height and spread carefully when selecting varieties, for these vary, climbing roses range from 8 feet and up to 30 feet in height.
The amount of maintenance that climbers need varies in the same way. Some climbing hydrangeas take years to start growing, whereas annual climbers will provide temporary rapid coverage of large areas while more permanent plants are becoming established.
Remember that deciduous climbers will reveal stems and supports during winter. Some kinds although magnificent in bloom, may appear dull at other times, and it is often worth grouping two or three climbers that complement each other or hiding bare stems, but choose those which require similar sites and pruning to aviod unecessary complications.
Be sure to match plants to their surroundings and aspect, which may be warm and sunny or cool and shaded.
Climbers for every season.
Spring. Clematis armandii, c montana, c alpina, c macropetala, wisteria sinensis.
Summer. Actinidia kolomikta, clematis jackmanii, hydrangea petiolaris, jasminum officinale, roses rambler,
Fall. Campsis radicans, clematis orientalis, c tangutica, passiflora caerulea,roses climbing hybrid teas,
Winter. Clematis cirrhosa balearica, c calycina, euonymus fortunei, hedera helix, h colchica, jasminum nudiflorum.