Spring Plants: Climbers

These are among the most dramatic and rewarding garden plants, lifting your eyes skywards as they reach towards the sun. They are ideal for beautifying walls, fences and ugly outbuildings, and can also be draped over pergolas to provide welcome shade, or used to carpet banks. Some have spectacular flowers that emerge in spring and can be deliciously scented. Others are grown for their leaves, while the evergreens provide year-round interest.

Clematis. There is a clematis for virtually every season of the year. All the following, group 1, flower during the spring on the previous year’s growth. Prune the bushes after flowering.

C. armandii is one of the few evergreen clematis, with long, leathery, dark green leaves and clusters of scented, white flowers in spring. ‘Apple Blossom’ is pale pink. A vigorous plant, it is best trained against a warm wall in cold areas. Plant is 10 ft high, with flowering time in early spring. Vigorous clematis for a warm south or south-west facing wall with protection from cold winds. Grow in any fertile, well-drained soil. Plant with the crown 5–8cm (2–3in) deep to encourage shoots to grow from below ground level. Keep the base shaded and cool by the careful positioning of plants or a layer of pebbles or flat stones.

C. armandii ‘Apple Blossom’

C. cirrhosa is usually the first clematis to flower and typically it begins to bloom in midwinter, but some flowers can be produced as early as fall. These are bell-shaped, with a papery texture, and are creamy-white in color, sometimes speckled with brownish-red inside. This 10 ft high plant has a flowering time in late winter to early spring.

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C. cirrhosa ‘Freckles’

C. montana is the most vigorous of the early clematis, and it is the last to flower. Species have creamy-white, pink-tinged flowers (‘Continuity’), pale pink, richly scented flowers (‘Elizabeth’) or white flowers like the vigorous C. montana f. grandiflora. Flowering time is late spring and early summer.

C. montana

C. macropetala has bell-shaped flowers, which appear in mid- to late spring, have only 4 petals, but appear to be double because some of the stamens are petal-like. They are blue or violet-blue. ‘Blue Bird’ has semi-double, clear blue flowers. The charming ‘White Moth’ has pure white flowers.


C. montana (left), C. macropetala ‘Blue Bird’ (right)

Wisteria. Possibly the most desirable of all flowering climbers, wisterias bear dramatic racemes of scented pea flowers from late spring to early summer. Old specimens trained against house walls are breathtaking, as are those trained to embrace arching bridges over water. They are also spectacular growing over arches, pergolas or – in a less formal garden – allowed to ramp into sturdy host trees. When buying wisterias, look for named varieties grafted on to vigorous rootstocks, expensive though these are. Wisterias have a flowering time in late spring and early summer.

W. floribunda (the Japanese wisteria) is slightly shorter than the Chinese kind, but has equally long racemes of scented flowers. In a warm spell they will appear in late spring, otherwise slightly later. Good forms include ‘Multijuga’ whose racemes of light blue flowers can reach 3 ft long. ‘Alba’ has white flowers and ‘Violacea Plena’ has double flowers verging on purple.

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W. sinersis (the Chinese wisteria) tends to be more vigorous than the Japanese kind. The species has faintly-scented, violet-blue flowers that appear in 8-12 in long racemes before the leaves. Two other good forms worth growing are the white-flowering ‘Alba’, and ‘Caroline’ with slightly larger, rich blue-purple flowers.

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