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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.