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Hi, aside from the basics of biology I did in high schoool, I don't know anything at all about gardening. I want some vines to grow up over the back of my flat in London and eventually cover the wall. They need to be able to handle London winters and the easier to maintain the better. Can anyone tell me of any varieties I should be looking at?
Well, if it can handle a Yorkshire winter it can handle a London winter, so my father's ivy and ... what's the thing called? Looks like poison ivy ... Virginia creeper. That. They should do well. I have Hydrangea petiolaris here, which is rather prettier than plain old ivy, imo. According to the website, it grows up to 15m tall. Unless you're trying to cover a 5th floor or higher flat, that should be enough ... eventually.
It doesn't have to grow that high. You can prune anything, and it'll regrow from behind where you pruned it. With his ivy, he's got an annual job taking it down to 50cm from the gutters, and it's still in the attic again next year. It fills with bird nests every winter and spring, as it's elbow-deep on the wall.
Those are the clinging options that spring to mind. Hydrangea will happily grow as a bush in the open, but given a tree or wall it grows centipede legs and gets hold, then climbs up the surface.
The other way to do it is with trellises or wires. Some things will climb either, like some lonicera (honeysuckle) and akebia (chocolate vine) and some will only twine round fine stuff, like some other lonicera and jasmine (summer-flowering beesianum, that is, not winter-flowering nudiflorum). The drawback is that you'd have to drill into the exterior wall, hammer in wall plugs and either screw spacers to them and the trellis to the spacers or screw eye-bolts into them and tie wires all over the place. The advantage is that you could limit the vine's spread by simply not providing anything for it to climb. Just check out how far from support the vine you choose will reach. Jasmine's fairly tame that way, honeysuckle will droop flowering stems out maybe 60cm and chocolate vine will feel around for something else to climb up to a metre away. I really want to set one up indoors with a time-lapse camera on it and get video of that. It'll also grow as a low, loose bush if it can't find a support.