A word first about the categories available: roses, climbers and wall shrubs. Roses do not naturally climb vertically. They like to fixate themselves on something else. Everyone wants them on the wall of the house but they have to be fixed to it with nails and wall wires. If you don’t want to climb the stairs, be very careful about the roses you choose. Big assholes will quickly outgrow you.
Climbers include a few clinging plants. Sticky materials are invaluable, especially ivy and climbing hydrangea. These wall plants are the ones you can choose if you don’t want any trouble. I have done nothing for 30 years to a climbing type of hydrangea, the evergreen cymani, and it is my windy success, elegant, self-clinging and covered with flowers in July to a height of 20 feet and much more width. He’s even happy to face east, although nursery listings sometimes suggest he’s not quite as strong.
I really recommend him and his baby, the new Semulla, which is a cross between the Semani and the deciduous Petularis. Simula is also evergreen and its flowers are larger.
Ivy plants, listed as Hedera, are also excellent adherents. The classic large-leaved species is Hedera canariensis Gloire de Marengo, whose gray leaves are edged with beautiful white. It’s a top choice for shady walls, but Glacier is another winner, with gray leaves with a wide cream margin. If you prefer plain green ivy, I like Green Ripple, whose bold leaves have jagged edges.
There are several other species on offer, Goldheart being a witch whose leaves have yellow central markings. It does not grow very fast or tall. These special ivy are sophisticated answers to the shaded walls of a home or yard. If the shadow is very deep, these are the best answers.
Honeysuckle is frequently picked, but it does not cling. They like to wrap themselves around something, as the drain pipe does not resist, and then cling to it partially. To grow well, you need to install regular wires in the wall before planting them. Lay the wire horizontally and leave about 2 feet between each line of it on the wall. Then tuck the first growths under the wire as each extends upward and the honeysuckle will tangle over them and stay upright.
On an airy, north-facing wall, there is a wonder plant, Lonicera tragophylla, a beautiful tubular honeysuckle with clear lemon-yellow flowers. It has no smell, but is a beautiful sight in flower. Two other hardy options, both scented, are Lonicera similis deravayi and japonica halliana, both of which have small tubular white flowers, the latter turning biscuit yellow. They are spreading growers, so some sturdy wire is necessary.
Remember, both can be cut back to a height of 2 feet each spring and then they will push back without becoming too bushy and falling off the wall. They are excellent solutions for north-facing shade, although not ideal in very tight spaces. Both are evergreen.
Wall shrubs need space to grow forwards away from the surface of the wall and should not be the first choice for a narrow bed. Many need to be restrained with thick wire and careful pruning to keep them tidy. On a light, north-facing wall, my hit is the white-scented Viburnum Burkwood, a beautiful May-flowering shrub that accepts harsh pruning almost to the surface of the wall after flowering. They are hardy, unlike camellias, whose flowers are susceptible to turning brown by British spring frosts if placed against a shady wall.
I get better results from roses, especially the excellent Alba rose, Queen of Denmark, which blooms once but is very healthy, tolerant of shade and very pretty when its double, soft pink flowers appear. It can also be pruned back in winter to keep it close to the wall surface, as is the case with the Chinese rose, Climbing Cecile Brunner.
The good news is that many of David Austin’s roses are also possibilities, but not in dark shade: I really like his yellow The Pilgrim and pink The Generous Gardener, although both are better where they get full sun. Next, it is the first choice because it blooms repeatedly and supplies itself with flowers right down to its base as few old climbing roses do. The use of this category of roses on walls has expanded gardeners’ options: use them.
On east-facing walls, clematis often grow and flower well, two of my favorites being the white Henryi and the deep lavender-blue Lady Northcliffe, one of which can be kept to a height of only 5 feet or so. To support the jasmine I prefer to use wide mesh, and plain white is usually cheaper than green plastic. Their lengths mounted vertically on the wall will hold clematis very well. If it comes up and its flowers are a mess only at the top, you are not pruning the plant properly. If pruned well it will continue to flower across the entire area of the wire.
Specialist growers’ catalogs will guide you on pruning times and size, one of the best being the Thorncroft Clematis catalog near Evesham in Worcestershire (thorncroftclematis.co.uk). You will be spoiled for choice.
On sunny, west- or south-facing walls, city gardeners, especially in warm London, should plant the climbing white potato vine, Solanum jasminoides album, and on high walls, some mimosas, Acacia baileyana, as a tall wall shrub in early spring.
Those more susceptible to frost should look for the hardier Solanum, laxum Crèche du Pape, whose flowers are tinged with blue. Instead of the delicate mimosa I recommend Clematis tangutica Bill MacKenzie, which blooms in the fall and is pruned every spring to a lower height. It is covered in hanging yellow flowers and silvery seed heads from autumn onwards and grows excellently in southern locations as well.
South-facing evergreen tracheids are excellent self-successing creatures that come alive in the modern English winter. asiaticum is particularly good, with fragrant cream-yellow flowers, and those with variegated leaves are beautiful all year round. Summer mowing will keep them at only 8 feet or so.
My mistake was choosing too large wall shrubs, from cyanotus to magnolia that grow far from the house. The suitability of the plant to the place, even if it says “wall” or “climber” in its details.
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