Plants that drive you up the wall !!!!

This month is about climbers---pleasures and problems. Pleasure because they bring all year round colour to our gardens and often scent too. Problems, because some can be a bit difficult! I get the most questions about Wisterias….


I cannot get my Wisteria to flower, please help!


Most of the questions are about not flowering. Customers say “I have done all the right things…I have bought a grafted plant….I have fed it…I have pruned it carefully in the summer and winter and it has not flowered!” Others say I have never touched it and it has flowered brilliantly. I do not know the answer…it is just a plant with …personality!

But my advice is still that pruning and feeding helps flowering. Although it’s a little bit late to prune at this time if you have not already done so, quickly get out there and do it now! Cut back those long laterals and side shoots now to about 5 buds ( 15cm) and then prune again in winter to about 2 or 3 buds which should swell and produce flowers. Some high potash feed like a tomato fertilizer is good to use now too.


I love climbers but do not have a suitable wall or trellis..


Well talking of wisterias one of my favourite forms for a small garden is the standard wisteria. It looks great as a small tree or a specimen in a big pot or barrel. You can buy them ready trained or have fun training your own!

Lots of shrubs and trees provide great opportunities for climbers. Shrubs and trees can look a bit green and plain after flowering. This is particularly true of spring flowering shrubs like Forsythia. Others have great foliage but insignificant flowers like Aucuba.

You can plant a climber as a companion and they will grow up through their host and provide an abundance of flowers. And best of all you can choose the flowering time and flower colour. We often achieve this by accident by planting several climbers close to each other and find they grow into each other. After all, this is what climbers do in the wild. They do not have handy walls or trellises there!

Here are some things to remember on companion planting….

  1. Remember the companion is competing with the host for food and water so do not plant it too close. Feed and water well. Add mulch too.

  2. You should train and tie in the climber just as if it is growing up an arch or trellis.

  3. Take care with vigorous climbers like clematis Montana as they can “swamp” a host.

Try a colour combination. This is two plants which have the same flowering time like a pink spring flowering clematis combined with spring flowering Ceonothus.

More common is to plant a summer flowering climber like clematis, which will give a terrific range of colours , in a spring flowering shrub to give continuity of colour. This is an area where you can be really adventurous with colour. The host may have green, yellow, grey or variegated foliage and you can add just about any colour.

I think climbers with big flowers work best and here are a couple of Clematis to try:

Clematis Rhapsody is a lovely summer-flowering blue. Hagley Hybrid is a classic pink and “Niobe” is a striking de red which would show up against any background. .

For a more delicate flower try the evergreen Sollya-lovely small blue bells in Summer.

And do not forget Sweet Peas for an annual show or the perennial sweet pea Lathyrus ,which re-grows from ground level each year.

Classy climbers in pots… another great way of growing them

Now everything goes in pots including climbers and they look great on the patio or as a feature in the garden. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Think about the location and choose a climber which will like the conditions…just as if you were planting it in the garden. Sunny spots give you more choice.

  2. Choose a good-sized pot like an oak barrel as it will have to provide stability-particularly in a windy spot. John Innes No.3 is a good “heavy “compost which holds moisture well in the summer but take care all this adds up to a lot of weight so remember to plant in position to avoid having to move it.

  3. Choose from a wide choice of supports. Willow obelisks look very natural but metal tends to last a bit longer. Make sure you choose a support which is high enough for the climber. You do not want to have to keep pruning the top off particularly if flowers form here!

  4. Lots of TLC is required. Water well. Mulch to keep the moisture in. Add a slow release feed in Spring or feed with a general fertiliser regularly in the growing season or both. Remove the top 2” of soil and replace to freshen. Tie in loose growth and prune lightly to shape.

You may have seen all the new varieties of summer flowering clematis for pots displayed at Chelsea….something to look out for next year.Available now is the lovely “Niobe” which does well in a pot.

Potted perfume for the garden..and patio

My favourites for pots are the scented evergreens. Two of the best are:

Jasmine officianale (Semi-evergreen).Try the new variety “Clotted Cream”-a great present for visitors!. Or polyanthum (evergreen).Both are vigorous and need a good structure but are beautifully scented.

From Japan but now all over Tuscany try the hardy evergreen Tracholospermum jasmanoides (often called Rhycospermum in the garden centres).It has lovely glossy leaves and scented white flowers.

Happy Gardening

Plant of the month

For shade and semi-shade the New Guinea Busy Lizzy is one of the most beautiful and exotic summer plants in the garden. I think it is best grown on it’s own in a pot or as a group in a pot. Water regularly or it will wilt but it recovers well. Feed well and enjoy.

In theory you can bring it indoors as a cool houseplant and water sparingly but I have never been successful in over wintering them and anyway, there are always lots of stunning new colours available each year.