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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !!
..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.
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.
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.