Top 10 Climbing Plants

Climbing plants use vertical space in your garden without taking up much room at ground level, so you'll be surprised at just how many climbers you can fit into even the smallest garden.

These versatile plants are particularly useful in the garden, providing a decorative disguise for ugly structures, or covering a blank wall to improve the view! These masters of ascent are ideal for creating a floral archway or pergola to link different areas of the garden. In borders and containers they can be trained onto obelisks and posts to create a splendid focal point, and adding height and structure to planting schemes.

Choosing the perfect climbing plant

When choosing a climber be sure to check its height and spread. Some will remain compact and manageable, but others are more adventurous, quickly disappearing over rooftops. It's important to choose the right variety for the space available if you want to avoid constant pruning!

It's just as important to consider how to support the upward growing stems. Climbing plants use different methods for support, and some need more help than others. Many will naturally twine around their supports once established, but most will need tying onto trellis or wires to create the best display. A few climbers such as Ivy are self-clinging and will attach themselves to structures using aerial roots that glue them to their supporting wall or fence.

Discover our Top 10 Climbing Plants...

1. Wisteria

wisteria
Wisteria will need a solid framework to support its woody stems.
Image: Shutterstock

A cottage garden classic which is instantly recognisable! Wisteria sinensis varieties tend to have shorted flower racemes than Wisteria floribunda cultivars, but both are equally impressive. These vigorous climbers will need a sturdy supportive framework to climb as they can live to an impressive age. Try W. floribunda 'Rosea' for its pretty pink pendant blooms, or W. 'Caroline' for an early display each year.

2. Clematis

Clematis
Clematis 'Nelly Moser' copes surprisingly well in those difficult, shaded north-facing positions.
Image: De Nolf

Whether your garden is large or small, there is a Clematis to suit every site! Best known are the large-flowered, summer-blooming cultivars such as 'The President' and 'Ernest Markham'. For a shaded wall choose the popular Clematis 'Nelly Moser' which copes well in a chilly, north facing spot.

If you have lots of space then "Clematis montana cultivars always make a breath-taking spring display. For a smaller garden or balcony, there are plenty of smaller patio varieties that will happily grow in a container.

3. Parthenocissus

Parthenocissus
Parthenocissus veitchii provides spectacular autumn colour.
Image: Shutterstock

Not for the faint hearted, this vigorous climbing plant will reach gargantuan proportions, cloaking walls in a dense covering of foliage. Grown for its colourful autumn leaves, Parthenocissus makes a dramatic display when the foliage turns to eye-popping shades of red and orange. Parthenicissus quinquefolia is best known as Virginia Creeper, boasting five leaflets per stem. It's cousins P. tricuspidata (or Boston Ivy) and P. henryana are equally impressive, coping well in sun or shade.

4. Sweet Pea

sweet pea
Sweet Peas are a garden favourite, and make fabulous cut flowers.
Image: Shutterstock

Not all climbing plants are enormous! Sweet Peas are perfect for bringing fragrance and colour to an obelisk or fence. These popular annuals are easy to grow from seed or plug plants, and won't get out of hand. They make a fabulous summer patio display, growing equally well in containers or borders. With so many to varieties to choose from, you'll be spoiled for choice!

5. Trachelospermum

trachelospermum
Evergreen climber Trachelospermum is deliciously fragrant.
Image: Shutterstock

Evergreen climbers play a particularly useful role by creating year-round cover and interest in the garden. Often mistaken for Jasmine, Trachelospermum has become a popular choice in recent years for its handsome, glossy foliage and intensely fragrant summer blooms. Trachelospermum jasminoides is one of the best, with a rich perfume and dark leaves that contrast beautifully with the pale flowers. If you like variegated foliage then T. jasminoides 'Varigatum' makes a more decorative evergreen display.

6. Hydrangea petiolaris

hydrangea
Climbing Hydrangea makes a useful choice for a cold, north-facing wall.
Image: Shutterstock

Shaded, north facing walls can be challenging, but Hydrangea petiolaris positively thrives in cooler positions. With its large, gleaming white flower heads and contrasting dark heart-shaped foliage, it brightens even the darkest wall. Autumn turns it leaves to gold, providing an elegant seasonal change. Although this is a large climber at maturity, it can take time establish.

7. Ivy

Ivy
Ivy makes an attractive, dense covering for a wall or fence.
Image: Shutterstock

This infamous evergreen climbing plant doesn't always come with the best reputation, but there are many cultivated varieties that are far better behaved than the commonly-seen wild species. With a tough constitution and shapely, evergreen foliage, Ivy can make a fine cloak for a wall of fence. Variegated Hedera helix 'Goldheart' is particularly eye-catching. Try quick growing H. hibernica if you have a lot of space to fill.

8. Rose

rose
Rose banksiae 'Lutea' makes a breathtaking, gently perfumed display.
Image: Shutterstock

Who can resist the charms of a climbing or rambling rose? Layer upon layer of voluptuous petals make these beauties a 'must-have' for training over pergolas and spiralling around pillars. Rambling roses such as Rose 'Alberic Barbier' and Rosa 'Madame Alfred Carriere' are vigorous growers, creating a cloud of blooms as they sprawl over garden sheds and walls. If you don't like the idea of thorny stems then opt for the elegant but vigorous grower Rose banksiae 'Lutea' which is virtually thorn-free.

For a more controlled display opt for a smaller climbing rose such as Rose 'Klettermaxe Jasmina' or Rose 'Paul's Scarlett' which are smaller and less vigorous.

9. Sollya heterophylla

sollya
Sollya makes a fabulous patio climber - move it to the conservatory in winter!
Image: Thompson & Morgan

This Australian native makes a fabulous evergreen climber for the patio or conservatory. Its striking deep blue flowers always attract compliments. Sollya is a compact and well behaved climber which will happily twine around an obelisk. It needs winter protection from the cold so it is best grown in a container that can be moved indoors in winter. For the bluest of flowers, opt for Sollya heterophylla 'Ultra Blue'.

10. Honeysuckle

honeysuckle
A cottage garden classic which always attracts bees and butterflies to the garden.
Image: Shutterstock

No list of climbers would be complete without the trusty Honeysuckle. The tubular blooms are loved by bees, and the berries that follow provide valuable food for birds. Lonicera 'Gold Flame' offers plenty of fragrance and showy pink-gold blooms in summer. For a more traditional variety, try buttery-yellow Lonicera 'Halliana', or shake things up with the tropical looking blooms of L. 'Dropmore Scarlet', which will remain semi-evergreen in mild locations.

For more information about where to grow climbers, take a look at our article about climbing plants for walls and fences.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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