Things are looking up for vertical gardening

Clematis cartmanii Avalanche. Pure white spring flowering clematis.

It’s time to make the most of your small spaces — blank walls cam become canvasses of colour, writes Peter Dowdall.

Do you know when you hear a word or a term for the first time and then all of a sudden you start hearing it everywhere?

Remember when a text was another word for a book, mail was an American word for post, and hashtag made no sense at all? Well, in my world, the term du jour is “vertical gardening”. In 2012, I had never heard the expression now it seems that everybody is talking about it. Vertical gardening is as it sounds, bringing the garden up instead of out, particularly effective in small spaces.

Tiered beds, living walls, raised planters and many other imaginative ideas are covered by the label. But the original and most obvious type of vertical gardening is using walls and climbing plants.

If you are staring at blank concrete walls unsure of what to do with them, then it is time to change your perspective. Instead of ugly grey structures, look upon them as canvasses for stunning floral and foliage displays all year long.

Concrete walls have little to offer all on their own in terms of aesthetics, however nicely constructed stone walls can be a feature in themselves, needing only minimal planting to soften the effect.

Trellis, willow screening, mirrors, mosaics, paint, murals, wall-mounted pots and water features are only some of the features that walls can be used for to bring extra life and that extra dimension to your garden.

However, as always with me it comes down to the plants. When choosing climbing plants for your garden, there are several things to bear in mind, checklists to narrow down your choices. Aspect, deciduous or evergreen, self-clinging or needing support, flowering or foliage effect and aspect. These are the main considerations when choosing your climbers.

Hederas or ivies are probably the most straightforward evergreen, self-clinging climbing plants.

Growing in virtually any aspect, ivies provide excellent lush greenery on which to mix other climbers and features.

A nice mirror nestled in a wall of ivy will give an extra sense of space to the garden, with the leaves softening the whole effect.

Don’t write off the whole genus thinking only of the dark green leaved ivy.

‘Buttercup’ is probably my favourite of all the hederas with splashes of bright gold on the dark green foliage and ‘Gloire de Marengo’ with its grey green leaves edged with cream offers a much softer and brighter feel.

Some of the climbing plants which offer the finest displays are all too transient such as the Parthenocissus quinquefolia — Virginia Creeper or the broader leaf Boston Ivy — Parthenocissus tricuspidata again the Latin coming into its own quinquefolia referring to the five lobed leaves and tricuspidata having three lobes.

These are the plants that come alive with bright, fiery red colour during the autumn but as with all autumn colour these leaves don’t last long and will be removed with the strong winter winds. Hydrangea petiolaris or the Cobweb Climber offers two seasons of interest, white flowers produced in abundance during early summer which, when viewed from a distance can give the illusion of the plant being covered in cobwebs are followed in the autumn by a beautiful buttery yellow leaf colour. Clematis are probably the best genus of all for flowers. The montana types will cover stone walls and buildings countrywide in April with its beautiful, simple pink and white blooms, another stunning but all too short display.

If you cover your walls with these specimens you will have great seasonal displays for six to nine months of the year but, alas, your walls will look naked, if not ugly during the winter as all you will be left with is bare stems.

One that you must keep an eye out for this month and next however is one of my favourites of all, which is Clematis Early Sensation.

This evergreen Clematis has the benefit of delicate fernlike green foliage all year round which is obscured during February to April by masses of simple white flowers.

Ideally likes a south-facing wall and it will not become a problem plant as it will only really grow to a height of about two to three metres.

A real gem for spring in the vertical garden if you can get your hands on it.


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