Climbing plants can transform a garden, covering bare walls or fences, scrambling over pergolas and arches, and adding height to planting schemes. You can make the most of climbers in even the smallest of gardens, and many will grow happily in a pot.
Many climbing plants have spectacular, sweetly scented flowers as well as attractive foliage. They’re worth their weight in gold for wildlife, adding flowers, leaves, shelter and berries to an otherwise dead space.
Climbing plants fall into three categories: climbing and rambling roses, and pyracantha, which ramble over a structure and need initial training and tying in. Others, such as honeysuckle and clematis, entwine themselves around a structure, and need initial tying in before they become established. Self-clinging climbers such as ivy and climbing hydrangea need no support at all and can support themselves.
Some climbers are best for covering an unsightly wall or fence, training up a pergola or planting near an outdoor seating area. There are climbers to suit shady walls and climbers for sunny walls, best climbers for wildlife and even annual and perennial climbers to choose from.
Browse our list of the best climbers to grow, below, and follow our tips on planting and training climbers, pruning climbers and buying climbing plants for your garden.
Clematis ‘Innocent Blush’
Perfect for growing along trellises and other supports, Clematis ‘Innocent Blush’ bears light pink single and semi-double flowers from May to July. Prune after flowering and it should flower again in late summer.
Perfect for a south-facing wall, Clematis ‘Sally’ bears masses of deep pink flowers from late spring until late autumn. Most pink-flowered clematis fade in strong sunlight, but flowers of ‘Sally’ becomes a deeper pink in. A very good repeat-flowering plant.
Climbing and rambling roses
Climbing and rambling roses are the perfect climbers for training up a trellis or pergola. Some climbing and rambling roses are better for wildlife than others – mature plants provide cover and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife, including nesting birds. However, if you choose a variety with single, open flowers, you will provide nectar and pollen for pollinators, followed by hips for birds. What’s more, the leaves of some species of rose, such as the variety ‘Frances E. Lester’ will also be used by leafcutter bees to line their nests.
Rose ‘The Lady of the Lake’ (pictured) is perfect for growing on a pergola in partial shade. It bears long and flexible stems, with sprays of pretty, semi-double flowers of a delicate blush pink colour. Unlike many rambling roses, it flowers regularly throughout the summer.
Height: 3.5m or more.
- Buy Rosa ‘Lady of the Lake’ from David Austin Roses
- Buy Rosa ‘Frances E. Lester’ from David Austin Roses
- Find more rambling roses at David Austin Roses
The bee-friendly blooms of passion flowers are spectacular and have an exotic appearance, while plump orange fruits extend its interest. Passion flowers provide general shelter for insects and birds, and nectar for some pollinators. Best grown in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Passiflora ‘Constance Elliot’ is a beautiful, hardy passion flower, with large, scented, ivory-white flowers from May to November, followed by edible orange fruit. It will grow quite happily in semi-shade and can be grown outdoors or in a cold conservatory.
Height: up to 2.75m
Black-eyed Susan, Thunbergia alata
Black-eyed Susan, Thunbergia alata is a vigorous annual climber, bearing large flowers and dense foliage. The black-centered flowers are usually orange-red but can be yellow, too, depending on the variety you buy. Flowers May-October.
Trachelospermum asiaticum is a vigorous twining climber with small green leathery foliage that turns a rusty red colour in winter. Flowers from April to early August. Not reliably hardy, provide winter protection in northern and exposed regions, or grow it as a conservatory plant.
Height: up to 3m
Bougainvillea is a tender, compact, upright, evergreen shrub with thornless stems and colourful flower-like bracts. It’s best grown in pots so it can be brought indoors for winter. It can be put outside after frost, usually at the end of May. Flowers May to August.
With beautifully twining growth, honeysuckles (Lonicera) are ideal plants for pergolas, trellis and other support structures. Our native honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum is one of the best climbers for wildlife, providing shelter for nesting birds, nectar for pollinators (including moths), leaves for caterpillars of the 20-plume moth, and berries for birds. For more colourful flowers, take a look at cultivars like ‘Serotina’ or ‘Mandarin’
If you’re after evergreen colour, consider the potato vines Solanum laxum and Solanum crispum. Both grow best in a sunny, sheltered spot, where they’ll produce clusters of summer blooms. The varieties ‘Glasnevin’ and ‘Album’ have both been given the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Height: up to 8m
- Buy Solanum laxum ‘Album’ from Thompson & Morgan
- Buy Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’ from Thompson & Morgan
Grapevines usually fruit from midsummer to early autumn. By growing them up a pergola, you can enjoy the pendulous fruits hanging down from the canopy. Provides a good, dense canopy for shade.
Wisteria is a large, vigorous climber, perfect for growing up a pergola or covering the side of a house. Both Chinese and Japanese wisterias bear fragrant, pendulous flowers in May and June. The leafy canopy is ideal for providing shade.
For a taste of the exotic, look no further than the trumpet vine (Campsis). In summer and autumn they produce a profusion of showy blooms in rich reds and oranges. Best grown in full sun or partial shade, in moist, well-drained soil.
Height: up to 12m
Crimson glory vine
The crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) is so called because of its fantastic autumn colour. A large, vigorous climber, it will easily cover a pergola producing a lush, leafy canopy.
Height: up to 15m
Traditionally used for making beer, hops, Humulus lupulus, makes the perfect climber for wildlife, providing shelter for insects and leaves for caterpillars, including the comma butterfly.
Height: up to 6m
Ivy, Hedera helix, is a gorgeous evergreen climber and one of the best climbing plants for wildlife. It provides long-lasting, evergreen cover. It provides shelter for nesting birds and hibernating insects, nectar for pollinators, berries for birds and leaves for caterpillars (including the holly blue butterfly).
Height: up to 10m
When established, all clematis provide nesting shelter for a variety of birds and other species. However, cultivars of Clematis tangutica, including ‘Bill MacKenzie’ (pictured) also provides nectar and pollen for bees, followed by wispy seedheads in autumn. If you leave the seedheads in place birds will take the material to use in their nests in spring.
Height: up to 4m
Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris is a popular climber. Like all climbers it provides shelter for a variety of different species, including nesting birds. It’s tolerant of shade and is therefore useful for growing up a north-facing wall. However, if you grow it on a south-facing wall, its flowers are a magnet for pollinating hoverflies and other insects.
Height: up to 10m
Pyracantha flowers in spring and bears berries in autumn, providing two seasons of colour and interest for us, and food for wildlife.
Height: up to 3m
How to train a climbing plant
Support with wires
Give climbers support by fixing horizontal wires, 45cm apart, to your fence or wall. Space the vine eyes 1.8m apart horizontally, then run wire through them. Secure the ends by looping through the eye and wrapping around the shank. You can tighten the wire using a pair of pliers to turn the end of the vine eye. If the climber can’t grip by itself, tie its stems into the wires, keeping the twine loose to allow for growth.
Get the plant off to a good start
Before planting, stand the climber in water to soak the rootball thoroughly. Then dig a large planting hole at least 45cm from the base of your wall or fence. Add plenty of garden compost to retain moisture in the soil, as this location is often very dry. When planting, point the climber in the direction you want it to grow by tilting the rootball at a 45 degree angle.
Grow climbers up other plants
Growing climbers up other plants is a great way to add an extra season of interest to trees, spring-flowering shrubs and evergreens. Climbers always head towards the sun, so the trick when training them is always to plant them on the shady, north side of your living support. Suitable climbers include Clematis ‘Minuet’, which will scramble through low-growing to medium shrubs, and Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’, a rambler rose that will clamber into trees.
Training wall shrubs
To clad a wall with a shrub such as ceanothus, set up series of horizontal wires, as above. Tie in the main shoot vertically, then fan out the side branches and tie in too. After flowering, remove any branches growing out from the wall, and tie in other shoots to fill any gaps. After the first two years, trim all flowered shoots to 10-15cm.
Show off berries
If you don’t prune a wall-trained pyracantha, its vibrant berries will be hidden under new foliage by the time they ripen. First cut back any excess growth in spring to keep its shape against the wall, then in late summer snip the new growth back to just beyond the berries so they stand out against a leafy background.