This month is about climbers---pleasures and problems.

  • Pleasure - they bring all year round colour to our gardens and often scent too.
  • Problems - some can be a bit difficult! I am asked about Wisteria more than any other plant! 

The most frequent Wisteria question is about flowering. They have a reputation for being difficult to flower, or not flowering for many years or poor flowers, and in many cases they can live up to their reputation!

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. August is the perfect time for pruning. 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.

Support and Companion Planting
Another issue is support. I often hear customers say 'I love climbers but do not have a suitable wall or trellis'.

One of my favourite forms of Wisteria 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. 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. 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, it has 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

Pretty much everything can go 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.

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!


Things to do in August

  • Containers. Keep them well watered and feed every two weeks with a liquid feed. See our Watering Tips page for more information on watering.
  • Re-pot your strawberry runners that have rooted for more strawberries!
  • Wisterias, especially those that fail to flower; should have all of the new growth cut back to just 5 or 7 leaves from the main stem.
  • Deadhead your plants regularly to stop them self-seeding and encouraging them to flower into the autumn.
  • Prune climbing roses after they have finished flowering (unless they are a repeat flowering variety in which case leave them)
  • Spray perennial weeds with a glyphosate based weedkiller. They have a large leaf surface area now to absorb it. This weedkiller is non-selective so ensure you don't spray your plants with it!
  • Hedges can be given their final trim now before they stop growing.

Plant of the month

You may have thought we would choose the Wisteria for our plant of the month, but we have chosen something a little more Meditteranean to go with this spectacular weather we have had the last few months... can you guess?

It's Tracholospermum Jasmanoides, also known as the Star Jasmin. It is shown in the top photo growing beautifully over one of our arches on display in the garden centre.

It's an evergreen climber, and fairly easy to grow in the right conditions - sunny but sheltered south or west facing position. It's native to Japan, China and Korea so it can cope with wet, cold winters too.

The scent of it's flowers is intense, exotic and intoxicating. Planted as we have over an arbour allows you to sit and imagine you are on a warm, Meditteranean terrace in the late evening, the sun setting. Team with a good book and a snuggly blanket, the sweet scent of jasmin filling the air. Does it get any better than that?!

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