Peter NixonSubtropical and tropical climbers

Scrambling, twining, creeping vines whichever way you look at them, have always been popular for a multitude of reasons not least as they are usually fast and ‘flower heavy’. The following is by no means the only way they might grow for you, its just an idea on how I’ve worked subtropical and tropical climbers into coastal gardens, usually out of the wind facing winter north (southern hemisphere) or south (northern hemisphere), in pretty good organically enriched soil and with adequate summer water.

Climbing Bauhinia (Bauhinia corymbosum)

Climbing Bauhinia (Bauhinia corymbosum)

Hibiscus geranioides 'La Belle'. Photo courtesy Austraflora

Scrambling ‘climber’ Hibiscus geranioides ‘La Belle’. Photo courtesy Austraflora

KNOW THY CLIMBER
Alway match the vigour of your climber selection with the purpose you have in mind. This avoids choices that would grow strangely huge for your pocket handkerchief sized inner city terrace, completely smothering a front iron lace fence before the second year, then marauding ravenously across your neighbour’s roof line. Bougainvillea and wisteria come to mind … It would be equally disappointing, whatever beauty the flower might promise, if your climber had only managed a dainty two metrs after many seasons with another 15 m to make any impact on a freestanding garage wall. Avoiding the fancy dwarf ivies will relieve you of this sad fate.

Hoya carnosa

Hoya carnosa

LIGHT WEIGHTS – subtropical climbers for small spaces less than 3m
This is the shallow end and best filled with either slow growth rates or something that reduces back to nothing during winter dormancy.

The Hoya tribe fit the former well over old tree stumps, as does the very old fashioned but charming Cigarette Vine (Manettia bicolor). While its not strictly speaking a climber, there are others like the Climbing Hibiscus (Hibiscus geranioides) with pastel pink high spring trumpets like tiny cocktail parasols that will obligingly cover a similar small space in a sunny spot. Proving their versatility, its very easy to encourage a “foam over” across hard-edged modern finishes like off formed concrete retainers, where German ivy (Senecio macroglossus variegatus) can bring a certain winter appeal with butterscotch coloured daisies even in semi shade.

Manettia. Photo Michael Wolf

Manettia. Photo Michael Wolf

Senecio macroglossus variegatus

Senecio macroglossus variegatus

Antigonon leptopus Photo Forest & Kim Starr

Antigonon leptopus Photo Forest & Kim Starr

Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus) fits the later group and because it fades completely away in winter, is best planted where it can win high summer feature using a robust support host plant that can take the strain but not be missed come June to November. During this time the whole dries off and is easily yanked off frame work hedge evergreens like photinia, viburnum and lillypilly that manage these fluctuation or a dedicated north facing frame suits if you can stand its winter vacancy. Otherwise, over a small arbour or laser cut corten steel panel looks good.

Quisqualis pseudomusiendifolia ‘Red Riot’

Quisqualis pseudomusiendifolia ‘Red Riot’

Another good deciduous light twiner, Bow Tie Vine (Dalechampia dioscoreifolia) will also wend its glittery metallic bracts through a sturdy host shrub or light support.

Relatively new comer, the cumbersomely named Quisqualis pseudomusiendifolia ‘Red Riot’ is really a freestanding rambler with an untidy open habit, that’s lose enough to follow a lattice panel if you wanted to get some interest over a dreary house brick wall … Why render when you can sling this thing up in a season and it stays reasonably well covered during winter if facing north and not within a broad eave, not to mention the persistent and shamelessly attractive huge poinsettia-like red bracts.

Dalechampia dioscoreifolia

Dalechampia dioscoreifolia

Clerodendron thomsonii 'Delectum'

Clerodendron thomsonii ‘Delectum’

MIDDLE WEIGHTS – subtropical climbers for 5 to 10m coverage:
For required space to be covered, these are probably the most often encountered climbers. A single plant will expand up to 5m either side of its first point of contact, in transformation of an otherwise un-lovely stretch of galvanised chain mesh, into a rhapsody of Beauty Vine (Clytostoma callistegioides), Mexican Blood Trumpet (Distictis buccinatoria), Bleeding Heart Vine (Clerodendron thomsonii ‘Delectum’), Climbing Frangipani (Conemorpha fragrans), Flame Vine (Combretum coccineum ‘Crimson Cloud’), or Climbing Bauhinia (Bauhinia corymbosum). But don’t be tempted to mix plantings for increased flowering, as duelling climbers always make for a nasty thicket, that’s not easily separated, if you would rather avoid a catastrophe of leaf stripped herbage in the process.

Flame Vine (Combretum coccineum ‘Crimson Cloud’)

Flame Vine (Combretum coccineum ‘Crimson Cloud’)

Clytostoma callistegioides Photo Bri Weldon

Clytostoma callistegioides Photo Bri Weldon

Climbing Frangipani (Conemorpha fragrans)

Climbing Frangipani (Conemorpha fragrans)

Mexican Blood Trumpet (Distictis buccinatoria)

Mexican Blood Trumpet (Distictis buccinatoria)

Climbing Bauhinia (Bauhinia corymbosum)

Climbing Bauhinia (Bauhinia corymbosum)

Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica)

Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica)

HEAVY WEIGHTS – subtropical climbers to cover 10m plus:
These vines are reserved for ‘the big job’, so if you really do need to get coverage across that garden shed, a 20m expanse of feature retainer wall face on grow cables or 15m of hefty colonnade, THESE are the ones for you. Try Hawaiian Chalice (Solandra grandiflora), Herald’s Trumpet (Beaumontea grandiflora), Giant Burmese Honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandiana) or Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica). Gardening teaches you faith and patience but you’ll only need the former in deciding if the one plant will ‘do it’ for you in terms of coverage, as aggressive growth rates are assured. The only things you might need after planting are a whip and chair if making the mistake of establishing your new climber in a small space, as all are quite capable of trunk diameters greater than one’s leg after the first 10 years !!

Lonicera hildebrandiana Photo Forest and Kim Starr

Lonicera hildebrandiana Photo Forest and Kim Starr

Herald’s Trumpet (Beaumontia grandiflora)

Herald’s Trumpet (Beaumontia grandiflora)

Hawaiian Chalice (Solandra gradiflora)

Hawaiian Chalice (Solandra gradiflora)

GROW CABLES
..often come into a design by way of having to arrive at wide but thin cover to obstruct outside views for privacy reasons and at the same time not obstruct egress adjacent to narrow pathways on the planting side.

Grow Cable “before” with (Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa)

Grow Cable “before” with (Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa)

Grow Cable “after” with Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa)

Grow Cable “after” with Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa)

Enter the grow cable; a simple growing frame of stainless cables threaded through pre-drilled 50mm square hollow galvanized posts, deep concreted to withstand even the most vigorous climbers. Useful height is around 1.8m for most boundaries, allowing for another 300mm exceeding the top cable making more like 2.1m. Although I’ve often included them starting at 2.4m or even 3.2m up to 4m depending on the setting and where unwanted passive sight lines are, providing both end-post wall thicknesses are between 3mm to 4mm to withstand maximum pull at either end.

Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa) before, using black pvc coated mesh

Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa) before, using black pvc coated mesh

Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa) uncut

Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa) uncut

Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa) and cut

Maiden Hair Creeper (Muehlenbeckia complexa) and cut

For best non transparent coverage from near ground, rather than allowing leaders to rush to the top cable, wind them around the lowest one instead. This way you are better assured of avoiding ‘top crowding’ where most growth bunches across an uppermost cable, creating more self shading than ideal. This causes the first 2m of height to leaf drop, leaving that fence you wanted to conceal exposed and forward growing space too root ridden for companion plants to succeed within the climber overhang.

SOME OUTSTAY THEIR WELCOME..
Needless to say, self adhesion to masonry-like boundary and house walls might seem a good idea at the time but beware, some like English Ivy (Hedera helix), Cats Claw Creeper (Dolichandra unguis-cati), Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila) and Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) might easily take the surface they are stuck to with them if you ever have the need for the two to part company.

That said, I can think of few free standing shrubs that lend the same carefree insouciance to any garden setting, the more severe, formal or hard edged modern, the more pleasing the contrast.

Paradisus, Sydney

Paradisus, Sydney

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Peter Nixon

About Peter Nixon

Peter is a landscape designer, specialising in 'best fit', durable plants, and convenor of the Design-Growers Network. Sydney NSW

15 thoughts on “Subtropical and tropical climbers

  1. This is a great post Peter. Climbers are not always well covered in garden literature. I like the way you move from the tiny delicates to the heavy weights. Hopefully plenty of the species you mention will be available at the upcoming Collectors’ Plant Fair in April. Searching out rarer plants is a lot of fun. All the best for your open garden day, hope to see you there.

  2. Lisa Lawson on said:

    Hello Peter
    My husband and I have spent considerable time, effort and, unfortunately, herbicide, eradicating Cats Claw Creeper and Creeping Fig from our acreage in Brisbane. Please do not recommend these, or any other vines which have been identified by council/government as invasive. There are many beautiful indigenous alternatives.
    Regards Lisa Lawson

    • The way I read it, Peter is recommending against, not for, using these creepers, precisely because of their persistence and invasive capabilities. That said, I think there is a legitimate use for using creeping fig on city walls to prevent graffiti attack. I’d rather a wall of green than a post-apocalyptic, graffiti-covered mess.

      • Hello Lisa,
        It’s as you say Catherine – recommending Cats Claw Creeper and Creeping Fig .. ?? I ? No, just a misunderstanding on your behalf. I am discouraging the use of self adhesive climbers, (as I said – they will outstay their welcome!) although I’d appreciate your information on a climbing self adhesive native that clings to sheer masonry surfaces….?

  3. Great to hear of new and old favourite creepers, Peter. Many thanks. I have and enjoy bleeding heart ( pink and white), jasmine, allamanda, mandevilla, antignon, beaumontia, and have just put in a cutting of golden chalice vine – one that is especially robust I am warned. Might be one I’ll need the whip and chair for down the track. I have run out of spaces and supports to put them , but might build another structure to justify one of those gorgeous Quisqualis pseudomusiendifolia ‘Red Riot’

    • Hi Julie,
      yes the wonderful world of climbers …. that Quisqualis pseudomusiendifolia ‘Red Riot’ is really interesting if a bit scrappy in the winter months. It appears to appreciate an open sky yet the quite broad foliage lascerates in high wind or exposure. If too sheltered even with an open sky, it tends to stretch even more so go figure … I have it on an elevated N’W facing slight slope in Bellevue Hill for a very special client and it does in fact ‘Red Riot” all summer long .. !!

  4. Bilao on said:

    How long it took you for the angel vine, muhuelenbekia complexa, to grow from photo A to B?

  5. Hi Bilao,
    I’m guessing around 18 months for the tiny muheulenbeckia 150mm size pot plants to cover fully in photo B.

  6. Anne Morrissey on said:

    Hi Peter, We have a beautiful Herald’s Trumpet Vine (4 years old) growing against a slatted timber fence held up with twine which just broke due to the sheer weight of the vine. No worries though as we will support it with something more substantial but the question is; when do we prune this stunning vine as we’ve not attempted it due to the fact that we can’t find any info on pruning this vine.

    • Hi Anne,
      there’s not really an optimal pruning time for Beaumontia grandiflora, although following the growth cycle of this huge Burmese beauty would make early summer after flowering preferable. This way a post flowering flush of new growth can be directed more easily, as I’m sure by now its vigour has made itself well known.
      Cutting hard now as we move further into February won’t mean you’ve missed the boat on regrowth, it just means you might have a few less flowers from late August, as these tend to be terminal on the previous season wood that you will be cutting off now. Full flowering recovery will follow in September ’16

      Best you do it now Anne unless you’re good with a whip and chair by May .. “tough love” for this one makes for a good plant 😮

  7. Hi Peter,

    what a great way to aquaint us with numerous climbers many people probably never have heard of. We specifically are looking for a colorful climber that grows in the dry tropics around Townsville and can be trained along a long pergola that spans over a garden path to our pool. We open to anything – from climbing tea roses to Quisqualis and Strongylodon species. Any suggestion from your side, as well as from the GardenDrum community ?

    Many thanks for your kind advice – we’re looking forward to a plethora of ideas .

    • candice52 on said:

      Hi Florian,
      well I’d say for your growing conditions the Climbing Frangipani (Chonemorpha fragrans) would be hard to beat and almost definitely evergreen. Any of the Dalechampia dioscoreifolia or D. aristolochiifolia and indeed any of the Aristolochia grandiflora. Combretum coccinea ‘Crimson Cloud’. Also Mansoa alliance the Garlic Vine is hard to bat for its high summer clouds of amethyst bells. And the native pandorea jasminoides hybrids like ‘Funky Belles’ are superb for a space like yours… I suggest contacting Wes Vidler from Weslor Nursery 0428 832 582 at Imbil for something interesting and different in climbers as they specialise in these fascinating plants.

  8. Pat Woodson on said:

    I wonder what vine to plant in shade in subtropical Miami, Florida. I would like the vine to grow very quickly to 15-20 feet up grow cables between palm trees. What does anyone suggest?

    • candice52 on said:

      Hi Pat, between palms in tropical Miami you say, so the growing condition will have some shade and root competition. Providing the palm root fibre isn’t excessive, why not try Bauhinia coccinea, a beautiful vine with marmalade-orange flower shades.
      Cheers,
      Peter

  9. Hello Peter,

    Nice article covering these beatiful plants.
    I fell in love in Maidenhair creeper from your photos. So I went to Japan and bought that plant. I grow them in my house in Indonesia, humid tropical area. I find it very slow growing. I tried to duplicate them with cuttings, they survived but slow growing. Is this plant natives to cool subtropical area?
    I once saw them fruiting, does plant grown from seeds have better adaptation to climate?
    Thanks,
    Diori

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