Here’s a selection of the best climbing plants. We’ve divided the list into climbers for walls, borders and vigorous examples. Climbing plants, including favourites such as honeysuckle and jasmine, all share the successful strategy of relying on the support of other plants or objects to reach the sunlight. This obviates the need to invest much in producing supportive tissue, such as the wood in trees, and means climbers aren’t subject to the usual restraints on growth. Of course, luxuriant growth brings its own problems – vigour must be matched carefully to the appropriate space, and abundance restrained where necessary.
Climbers for walls
Trachelospermum jasminoides. A star-shaped Jasmine with white scented flowers and evergreen leaves. A twining woody climbing plant. Photo: Gardeners’ World/Jason Ingram
Self-clinging, evergreen and shade tolerant with frothy white flowers in late summer. Has a slow rate of growth, but this makes it less work to restrain once established. 6m. USDA 8a-10b.
Native to China, this Virginia creeper has tastefully variegated leaves that turn vibrant shades of red in the autumn. It self-clings and will tolerate the shade of a north-facing wall. 4.7m. AGM*. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b.
Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris
Deciduous, but in season it completely clothes its space with large, green leaves and white, lace-cap inflorescences. Will cover a shady wall fast. 12m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 4a-7b.
Can be persuaded to adopt the semblance of a climber by training and cutting back immediately after flowering. If allowed some freedom, it will flower abundantly in winter and early spring. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b.
The scent of ‘false jasmine’ is not that similar to true jasmine, but equally powerful. Quite hardy, although the similar Trachelospermum asiaticum is said to be hardier. Best on a sunny wall. 12m. AGM. RHS H4, USDA 8a-11.
Hedera algeriensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’
Good for lighting up dark walls without any fuss. A vigorous, self-clinging, adaptable plant, with smart, glossy leaves tinged with white. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7a-10b.
Lonicera x tellmanniana
A honeysuckle lacking scent, but abundant, vivid-orange flowers offer excitement enough. Tolerates shade and may be pruned by removing flowered growth annually. 4.7m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7b-10b.
The most vigorous of all annual climbers, and perennial in a frost-free climate. In one year, from seed, it can cover an astonishing area with bell-shaped flowers from late summer to first frosts. 1.8m. AGM. RHS H2, USDA 9a-10b.
Similar to Hydrangea anomala (above left), although you will need more patience. It’s distinguished by the shape and size of the sterile florets that encircle the inflorescence. 6m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7a-10b.
An extraordinary relative of the kiwi. Its leaves appear to have been dipped in white paint then spray-painted bubble-gum pink. Said to require full sun, but this doesn’t appear to be quite true. 9m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Climbers for borders
Rhodochiton atrosanguineus produces beautiful flowers along the length of its twining stem. Photo: Maayke De Ridder
Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’
Perennial in a Mediterranean climate, it can achieve sufficient bulk here to make its presence felt from a late April sowing, without causing too much of a nuisance. Will flower until frost cuts it down. 3m. AGM. RHS H1c.
A perennial nasturtium that needs acid soil and prefers a cool summer. It’s herbaceous, arising from tubers and will run when happy. Works well among evergreen shrubs, such as camellias. 3m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7a-10b.
An intriguing member of the bindweed family, with flowers that are simultaneously an intense orange and yellow in the early bud stage, maturing to cream. Sow in late April and plant after all danger of frost. 3m.
Clematis ‘Prince Charles’
A prolific blue-flowered clematis, similar to Sissinghurst’s ‘Perle d’Azur’ but with slightly smaller flowers and improved resistance to powdery mildew. Cut back hard in spring and watch it go. 2.4m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
Twining herbaceous climber, a relative of Alstroemeria, that arises from a tuber. May come through the winter protected by a thick mulch. Something this gorgeous deserves some effort. 6m. AGM. USDA 10a-11.
Delicate in growth with striking scarlet flowers, this true annual is rarely seen and deserves to be grown more frequently. Straightforward from seed sown in late April and then planted out after all risk of frost is over. 6m.
Solanum laxum ‘Album’
A twining climber with abundant clusters of flowers that look fragile and fresh right up to the first frosts. Trim lateral branches to around 15cm in winter. On the tender side, so site carefully. 6m. AGM.
Produces beautiful flowers along the length of its twining stems, and looks effective growing along horizontal twigs or branches. Can be sown late April, or August and overwintered frost free. 2.5m AGM. RHS H2.
Achingly beautiful, but requires shade, shelter, good drainage (yet plentiful summer moisture), is slow to establish and an apparently ambrosial beacon for slugs. 7m. AGM. RHS H3, USDA 9b-11.
Clematis ‘Frances Rivis’
A good early flowering clematis with nodding flowers of great charm in spring. Works well in partial, deciduous shade as part of a woodland scheme. Prune lightly after flowering, if at all. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4b-9a.
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’. A scented deciduous honeysuckle for early summer. It produces pink and white flowers and is great for attracting wildlife into the garden. Photo: Gardeners’ World/Jason Ingram
Clematis ‘Alba Luxurians’
One of the most vigorous of the viticella cultivars. Cut back hard every spring, you’ll be amazed at the coverage you get over the course of one season. Flowers profusely July to September. 3.6m. USDA 3a-9b.
Rosa ‘Wedding Day’
Flowers have the agreeable quality of changing colour as they mature, from pale primrose to almost white. The different stages appear side by side in each many-headed inflorescence. 9m. USDA 7a-9b.
Clematis ‘Bill MacKenzie’
A tough, vigorous, clematis, offering both striking flowers and seedheads over a long period. It’s tolerant of drought and extreme cold, but does best in full sun. 6m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 5b-9b.
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’
Honeysuckle, with vivid colouring and a long flowering season. A vigorous and at times untidy grower; it can be kept within bounds by carefully removing flowered shoots in winter. 6m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.
Rosa ‘Chevy Chase’
A rambling rose with a touch of opulence. The flowers are small double and crimson, with tightly clustered petals. Great in combination with the dark, glossy leaves of a mature holly, which makes a suitable host. 7m. USDA 5a-9b.
Rosa ‘The Garland’
Trained to cover an archway, this rose has always been the most arresting sight in the garden where I’ve been working for the past four years. Now it’s happily rambling on to a neighbouring yew tree. 7m.
Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’
Often grown in spur-pruned tiers on a wall, although if you allow it the freedom to romp into trees, it will seek out the sunshine to flower well, and assume something of its natural character. 12m. USDA 5a-10b.
A vine in the more precise sense of the word: a close relative of the grape. Grown for its large leaves, which turn spectacular colours in autumn. A wonderful way to enliven evergreen trees. 12m. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.
Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’
Vigorous rambling rose, with delicate flowers. Perfect for hoisting up a large tree. Will take time to establish itself, but once it does you will be rewarded with grace, scent and a profusion of flowers. 9m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.
Clematis montana var. grandiflora
Well known for its extraordinary vigour, which makes it difficult to contain. Its stemmy growth can look rather untidy, especially in the winter. All will be forgiven when it flowers. 12m. AGM. RHS H4, USDA 6a-9b.
Where to see and buy
• Burncoose Nurseries
• Great Dixter
• Penwood Nurseries
• RHS Garden Wisley
• Tynings Climbers
Written by Rory Dusoir – a Kew-trained, freelance gardener, designer and writer. Until recently he was head gardener at Stud House in Surrey.