Top ten climbing plants

Clematis montana 'Mayleen' from T&M

Add vertical interest to your garden using climbing plants
Image: Clematis montana 'Mayleen' from Thompson & Morgan

Turn walls, fences, archways, gazebos and pergolas into stunning garden features using climbing plants to create vertical displays of flowers and foliage. Feel free to browse our full range of climbing plants here. Alternatively, to help you choose the perfect climbers to suit your needs, we asked our expert horticultural team for their favourites. Incredibly versatile, here are the climbing plants that made our top ten.

  1. Wisteria
  2. Clematis
  3. Parthenocissus
  4. Sweet pea
  5. Trachelospermum
  6. Hydrangea petiolaris
  7. Ivy
  8. Climbing rose
  9. Sollya heterophylla
  10. Honeysuckle

1. Wisteria

Wisteria floribunda 'Lavender Lace' from T&M

Wisteria needs a solid frame to support its woody stems
Image: Wisteria floribunda 'Lavender Lace' from Thompson & Morgan

A cottage garden classic which is instantly recognisable, wisteria sinensis varieties tend to have shorter flower racemes than wisteria floribunda cultivars, but both are equally impressive when in full bloom. These vigorous climbers need a sturdy supportive framework to climb and they can live to an impressive age. For a wisteria sinensis, we recommend Wisteria sinensis ‘Patio Standard’ or if you’d prefer to try a floribunda cultivar, with its pretty pink pendant blooms, Wisteria floribunda 'Rosea' is very popular. For a flush of exquisite white blooms, try Wisteria floribunda 'Alba' which also holds an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.

2. Clematis

Clematis 'Ernest Markham' from T&M

The vibrant magenta blooms of 'Ernest Markham' create a colourful summer display
Image: Clematis 'Ernest Markham' from Thompson & Morgan

Whether your garden is large or small, there’s a clematis to suit every site. Best known are the large-flowered, summer-blooming cultivars like '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 ‘Mayleen’ is fast growing, has pale pink blooms, sparkling bronze foliage, and is probably the best scented of all clematis. For a smaller garden or balcony, try our Clematis patio collection for three charming pots that each contain an eye-catching clematis with a compact habit.

3. Parthenocissus

Parthenocissus quinquefolia from T&M

Parthenocissus provides spectacular autumn colour
Image: Parthenocissus quinquefolia from Thompson & Morgan

Parthenocissus is a very vigorous climbing plant that’s ideal for cloaking walls in a dense covering of foliage. Grown for its colourful autumn leaves, it makes for a wonderfully dramatic display when the foliage turns to eye-popping shades of red and orange. The best known variety is Parthenicissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper) which boasts five leaflets per stem. Its cousins P. tricuspidata (Boston Ivy) and P. henryana (Chinese Virginia Creeper) are equally impressive and all cope well in sun or shade.

4. Sweet pea

Sweet Pea 'Top to Bottom' from T&M

Sweet Pea 'Top to Bottom' is a free-flowering colour mix with a fabulous perfume
Image: Sweet Pea 'Top to Bottom' from Thompson & Morgan

For a much smaller climbing plant that’s perfect for bringing colour and fragrance to an obelisk or fence, we love sweet peas. 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 varieties to choose from, you'll be spoiled for choice.

5. Trachelospermum

Trachelospermum jasminoides from T&M

Boasting thousands of white, star-shaped, perfumed flowers, this climber turns deep red in autumn
Image: Trachelospermum jasminoides from Thompson & Morgan

Evergreen climbers play a particularly useful role by creating year-round cover and interest in the garden. Often mistaken for jasmine, Trachelospermum features 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 more colour then T. jasminoides 'Pink' boasts gorgeous pink flowers throughout the summer.

6. Hydrangea petiolaris

Hydrangea petiolaris from T&M

This climbing hydrangea is shade loving, perfect for north-facing walls and fences
Image: Hydrangea petiolaris from Thompson & Morgan

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 its leaves to gold, providing an elegant seasonal change. Although this is a large climber at maturity, it can take time to establish so be patient while it grows!

7. Ivy

Hedera helix 'Goldheart' from T&M

Hedera helix 'Goldheart' features impressive, golden-yellow and green leaves
Image: Hedera helix 'Goldheart' from Thompson & Morgan

This evergreen climbing plant doesn't always come with the best reputation, but there are many cultivated varieties that are 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 or fence. Variegated Hedera helix 'Goldheart' is particularly eye-catching or, for a quick-growing ivy, H. hibernica is ideal if you have a large area you’d like to cover.

8. Climbing rose

Four yellow roses with red centres

Rose 'Peter's Persica' has striking yellow blooms with vibrant red centres
Image: Rose 'Peter's Persica' (Climbing Patio) from Thompson & Morgan

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 rose, rosa 'Madame Alfred Carriere', is a vigorous grower, creating a cloud of blush-pink blooms as it sprawls over garden sheds and walls. 

For a more controlled display, opt for a smaller climbing rose like rose 'Golden Showers' or rose 'Eden Rose 88'. And for those who don't like the idea of thorny stems, we recommend the elegant rose banksiae 'Lutea' which is fast-growing and virtually thorn-free.

9. Sollya heterophylla

Sollya heterophylla 'Ultra Blue' from T&M

An unusual, evergreen climber, 'Ultra Blue' is ideal for planting into pots
Image: Sollya heterophylla 'Ultra Blue' from 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’s best to grow it in a container so that you can move it indoors for the winter. For the bluest of flowers, opt for Sollya heterophylla 'Ultra Blue'.


Honeysuckle 'Dropmore Scarlet' from T&M

This vigorous and semi-evergreen climber features an abundance of vivid blooms
Image: Honeysuckle 'Dropmore Scarlet from Thompson & Morgan

No list of climbers would be complete without the trusty honeysuckle. Bees and other pollinators love the tubular blooms, 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 'Graham Thomas', or shake things up with the tropical looking blooms of L. 'Dropmore Scarlet', which is semi-evergreen in mild locations.

How to choose the perfect climbing plant

When choosing a climber, it's important to select the right variety for the space available. Be sure to check the height and spread of plants before you buy them – some remain compact and manageable, but others need more careful pruning to keep them well under control.

Think about how you’re going to support your climbing plants. Once established, some varieties naturally twine around their supports while others, like ivy, attach themselves to structures using aerial roots that glue them to their supporting wall or fence. Most climbing plants need tying onto trellis or wires to create the best display. Make sure you have a good supply of soft tie to prevent your climbers from being damaged in adverse weather.

For more expert advice about growing climbing plants, visit our hub page. Or check out our 'climbing plants for walls and fences' article for our curated guide to the best climbing plants and wall-trained shrubs to add to shady or sunny spots in your garden.

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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