Climbing plants are useful in the garden in lots of ways. They clothe and beautify walls, fences, and buildings, and can be grown on screens, arches, pergolas, and obelisks. They create privacy and mask unsightly features, as well as providing additional interest and wildlife value. Climbers take up little soil space, enabling you to squeeze more plants into your growing space. Evergreen climbers, which keep all or most of their leaves year-round are particularly valuable for screening and interest.
Most climbing plants will need some form of support to grow on, apart from self-clinging types. This can be provided in a range of ways including trellis, mesh panels or strong galvanised wires run through vine eyes (metal fixings that are screwed or hammered into a wall or fence).
How plants climb
Climbing plants climb in a number of different ways. Some ‘true climbers’ climb by means of self-clinging aerial roots, which stick to walls and fences. They may need support initially but otherwise will romp away without any help. Other true climbers use twining stems to climb, and need support such as a trellis or wires to climb up. Wall shrubs are slightly different as they don’t ‘climb’ as such but need to be tied into vertical support such as a trellis or wires.
Sunny or shady: choosing the right climber
Identifying which direction a wall, fence or screen faces is important as many climbers and wall plants are very particular about the amount of sun or shade the receive. There are plants for every situation, from complete shade to baking hot sun, but matching the right one to the right place is key for success. Walls that get sun for all or part of the day are perfect for growing plants that wouldn’t be hardy elsewhere, because a wall creates a mini-microclimate that has a storage-heater effect to protect plants from the cold.
Tips for planting climbers
- Match the plant’s preferences to its site
- Ensure walls are sound, as climbers can hasten degeneration if mortar is crumbling
- Prepare the soil well to ensure the climber has the best possible growing conditions, add plenty of soil improver like compost or well-rotted manure
- Avoid the ‘rain shadow’ – the area immediately beneath a wall or fence that’s sheltered from rain and tends to be too dry for most plants to grow successfully. Plant with the rootball at least 30 cm away from the wall/fence, to avoid it
- Water well after planting and keep watered during dry spells for the first growing season
Browse our selection of the best evergreen climbers and wall shrubs to grow in your garden.
Chocolate vine, Akebia quinata
This fast-growing climber bears dark maroon chocolate-scented flowers in summer, against attractive light green foliage. Grow in sun or part shade, and shelter in cold areas. in colder regions it may lose some or all of its leaves, but they will grow back in spring.
Height x Spread: up to 10m x 2m
Californian lilac, Ceanothus
This shrub can be trained on a sunny wall, where it benefits from the shelter and protection. Woody stems bear masses of tiny blue flowers in clusters, in early or late summer, against tiny, crinkled, evergreen leaves. Popular with bees.
H x S: 3m x 4m
Tis spring-flowering clematis bears large clusters of white or pink-flushed scented flowers that show off well against big, leathery, dark green leaves. Site in a sunny, sheltered spot to avoid wind damage to the leaves.
H x S: up to 5m x 3m
Winter-flowering clematis, Clematis cirrhosa
Winter-flowering clematis are not only evergreen but they flower in winter, too. Varieties ‘Early Sensation’ and ‘Winter Beauty’ are particularly lovely, offering delicate, bell-shaped cream or white flowers against fern-like foliage. Only suitable for milder areas. Grow in sun and shelter.
H x S: up to 4m x 1.5m
Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea seemannii
Hydrangea seemannii is less common than its deciduous cousin Hydrangea petiolarris, but does offer year-round interest with large heads of white summer flowers and bold, leathery, dark green leaves. Self-clinging but slow to get going.
H x S: up to 10m x 3m
English ivy, Hedera helix
Our native ivy is small-leaved and versatile, easy to grow in any situation, wonderful for wildlife, and provides attractive, year-round evergreen foliage in a wide choice of varieties and variegations. Mature plants produce clusters of green-yellow flowers in autumn, popular with insects, and black winter berries for birds. Provides excellent shelter for nesting birds and hibernating insects.
H x S: up to 10m x 10m
Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’
This neat, compact self-clinging climber is grown for its attractive foliage. Ideal for brightening up a dark spot with leathery evergreen leaves that are brightly variegated in white and green.
H x S: 1.5 m x 1m
Silk tassel bush, Garrya elliptica
As well as evergreen leaves, silk tassel bush bears silvery catkins throughout winter. This wall shrub does best in a shady or part-shaded site and needs training to grow closely against its support.
H x S: 3m x 2.5m
Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica
Japanese honeysuckle is a vigorous, twiggy, self-clinging twining climber bearing masses of very fragrant flowers in small clusters through summer. Rounded leaves are semi-evergreen and may fall after a hard winter. It’s a useful plant for screening or covering unsightly features in natural-looking areas of the garden, being rather untidy in habit. Grow in sun or part shade.
H x S: up to 10m x 4m
Henry’s honeysuckle, Lonicera henryi
Henry’s honeysuckle bears clusters of unscented yellow flowers, against long, oval, dark green leaves that are coppery-green when young. May be semi-evergreen in a cold winter.
H x S: up to 10m x 2m
Maidenhair vine, Muehlenbeckia complexa
Maidenhair vine is an unusual foliage climber from New Zealand that produces a mass of slender, wiry, twining stems clothed with tiny dark green leaves. Trim with shears if a neat shape is required. Grow in part or full shade.
Height up to 4m x 2.5m
Passion flower, Passiflora caerulea
This vigorous grower is loved for its large, unusually shaped blue and white or pure white flowers, borne against dark green leaves that may fall after a hard winter. Orange fruits can sometimes be produced after a hot summer.
H x S: 12m x 4m
Persian ivy, Hedera colchica
Persian ivy is a handsome self-clinging climber with exceptionally large, glossy, lobed leaves variegated with white or lime-green. Greenish flowers can be produced in autumn on mature plants. Excellent for wildlife. An easy climber that thrives in sun or shade.
H x S: 5m x 5m
Climbing hydrangea, Pileostegia viburnoides
Pileostegia viburnoides has bold, leathery green leaves on self-clinging vines that make an excellent backdrop for its large white flowers in late summer and autumn. Grow in sun or shade but avoid cold winds.
H x S: up to 8m x 1.5m
Firethorn is a thorny shrub that can be trained on wires or trellis to grow closely against its support. Small oval green leaves provide year-round interest, clusters of white flowers are borne in spring, while the bright, autumn berries will attract birds.
H x S: up to 3m x 3m
Potato vine, Solanum laxum ‘Album’
Potato vine is a fast-growing flowering climber for a sheltered site, bearing masses of white, yellow-centred small flowers in clusters in summer and autumn. Bear in mind that it’s only semi-evergreen – it may lose some leaves in a cold winter.
H x S: up to 6m x 6m
Bluebell creeper, Sollya heterophylla
Bluebell creeper is a neat, dainty little flowering climber for a sunny, sheltered spot or a very mild location. Tiny deep blue flowers are borne on slender stems, in summer.
H x S: up to 2m x 2m
Star jasmine, Trachelospermum
Star jasmine bears wonderfully fragrant flowers for a long period through summer and into autumn which, coupled with handsome evergreen foliage and moderately fast growth, make it extremely popular. Grow in full sun or part shade, sheltered from winds, although not suitable for very cold areas.
H x S: up to 9m x 5m
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This uncommon climber quickly covers a sheltered, part-shaded wall with vigorous twining stems clothed with oval dark green leaflets. Clusters of white, purple-tinged, spring flowers are unobtrusive but are wonderfully scented.
H x S: 10m x 2.5m
Wall germander, Teucrium fruticans
This shrub does best in the shelter of a sunny wall, where its slender stems of silvery leaves can be tied in to make a contrasting backdrop to its blue summer flowers.
H x S: 3.5m x 3.5m