Social climbers

Climbers are a plant group that are often consigned to the “cover it up” category but can add colour and interest to a garden when other plants may not be doing so well – and are an easy way of camouflaging a plain or not-so-pretty fence or wall.

A climbing rose does a good job of softening and adding some colour to a wall in this Tauranga garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Vigna caracalla (snail bean or snail flower) is a scented, perennial climber that blooms in summer. A member of the legume family, Vigna caracalla grows like a scarlet runner bean (but is entirely ornamental) and will happily drape across other plants if it can reach them.

Vigna caracalla is a perennial climber with sweet-scented flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The unusual curled flowers, which provide the plant’s common name, have a delightful perfume reminiscent of a hyacinth and are followed by bean-like pods. You can try growing your own from these seeds, but they don’t always take. King’s Seeds at Katikati can supply guaranteed seed.

Cut the plant back to ground level when it’s finished and wait for it to shoot back next season.

Tecomanthe (trumpet-vine) climbers are vigorous tropical plants, found naturally from Malaysia to New Zealand, with our one native variety being Tecomanthe speciosa from Three Kings Islands.

Botanists found one specimen in 1946 and all the plants we have today have descended from this plant. It needs a strong support, but has glossy leaves and attractive clusters of creamy tubular flowers in spring.

Te Puna Quarry Park has its pink-flowered New Guinea cousin, Tecomanthe venusta, twining up a pine tree in its orchid area with the flowers lower down on the vine as the climber blooms on old wood.

Tecomanthe venusta at Te Puna Quarry Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Clematis, like wisteria (read an earlier post about wisteria here), are a real signifier of spring. Some people find them tricky to grow – I was struggling with ‘ Mrs Cholmondeley’ until advised to bury the neck of the plant deeper and now she performs well for me every year.

Clematis vitacella ‘Kermasina’ seen at Alnwick Castle garden in Northumbria, England. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The entry for Clematis viticella ‘Kermesina’ at Vibrant Earth, a New Zealand wholesaler, reveals that the viticellas are “extremely cold hardy and more wind tolerant than large-flower types” and are resistant to stem-wilt (my problem with ‘Mrs Cholmondeley’). Viticellas tend to be single stemmed and spindly growing in the first year or two.

How about this beauty? Clematis ‘Viennetta’ is a double-flowered variety with a long blooming period period, up to 5 months in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be available in New Zealand.

Clematis ‘Viennetta’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Creepers and climbers can also be positioned to scramble through and across other plants, adding extra seasonal interest – when one plant’s in full swing the other may be less obvious, later reversing positions.

The Scottish flame flower (Tropaeolum speciosum) scrambles across one of the many old yew trees at Levens Hall Gardens in Cumbria, England. The scarlet flowers are followed by blue berries. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The photo above is truly an instance of right place, right plant. In New Zealand Tropaeolum speciosum is known as the Chilean flame flower and considered a weed! Read how to eradicate it here.

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