Angus StewartChoosing an Australian climbing plant

With gardens getting smaller and smaller all the time, I am finding that there is increasing interest in climbing plants. These versatile plants can adapt to limited spaces, and are particularly well suited to horizontally-challenged gardeners. Anyone with a fence has an ideal opportunity to fill that vertical space with a climbing plant of some sort.

Pandorea jasminoides in full flower

Pandorea jasminoides in full flower

But what to plant? There are many exotic climbers that are very well known in Australian gardens but if you are not into the heady perfume of jasmine or the rampant antics of wisteria (lovely as it is in flower), then you may want to consider some of Australia’s very useful native climbers.

For more information about the climbers in this article I suggest you click this link, to get to the index of all the plants in my comprehensive Gardening with Angus plant database. Just go to the genus name, such as Pandorea, and you will find a range of choices from which to choose something that will suit your preferences and garden conditions.

Hardenbergia growing naturally as a groundcover

Hardenbergia growing naturally as a groundcover

Before we get down to the detail of the various groups of Australian climbers, it is worth mentioning that many Australian climbers are not only able to climb upwards onto whatever support is provided, but can potentially also be used as ground covers. A word of caution, however, in that climbing plants of any origin will ruthlessly exploit nearby trees and shrubs as supports. So, if you want to use climbers as ground covers then it must be understood that they will either not be planted close to trees and shrubs, or be pruned to ensure they are not allowed to climb onto nearby plants.

Hardenbergia violacea

Hardenbergia violacea

Australian climbers are found in a diverse range of habitats and climatic conditions, from rainforests to dry eucalypt. As such, it is important to consider which species will best suit your particular needs and garden conditions. Many of these plants are ‘pioneer’ species that colonise disturbed soils after events such as bushfires, with members of the pea family (Fabaceae) being particularly important. Such species are particularly useful for difficult situations such as embankments with exposed subsoil that require rapid cover. Fabulously descriptive common names such as Happy Wanderer (Hardenbergia species) and Running Postman (Kennedia species) illustrate the fact that these species can be used as ground covers.

Native sarsparilla, Hardenbergia violacea

Native sarsparilla, Hardenbergia violacea

Native sarsparilla (Hardenbergia violacea) is arguably the most adaptable of all Australian climbers and comes in white, pink or purple and there are also more compact shrubby forms such as ‘Minihaha’.

Kennedia coccinea flower

Kennedia coccinea flower

Kennedia coccinea Running postman growing as a groundcover

Kennedia coccinea Running postman growing as a groundcover

The coral peas (Kennedia species) are also an outstanding group of twining climbers with an unusual range of colours available from the deep red of the dusky coral pea (Kennedia rubicunda) to the iridescent bright red and yellow of the coral pea (Kennedia coccinea), through to the very unusual yellow and black of the black coral pea (Kennedia nigricans). As well as the wild species being widely available to gardeners, there are now many cultivars that have been created by plant breeders and nurseries.

Kennedia nigricans Black coral pea

Kennedia nigricans Black coral pea

Pandorea jasminoides growing as a climber

Pandorea jasminoides growing as a climber

Pandorea 'Funky Bellz'

Pandorea ‘Funky Bellz’

For my money the genus Pandorea is perhaps the most ornamental of all the Australian climbers and creepers. The bower of beauty (Pandorea jasminoides) produces flush after flush of its showy trumpet-like flowers from spring right through to autumn. It varies in colour from pure white (the cultivars ‘Wedding Bellz’ and ‘Lady Di’) to strong pink with a crimson throat (‘Flirty Bellz’). There are also new cultivars with white throated flowers such as ‘Funky Bellz’ and ‘Southern Belle’, and these two plants also have fairly compact growth habits that allow them to be pruned into a shrub-like growth habit.

Pandorea jasminoides growing as groundcover

Pandorea jasminoides growing as groundcover

Wonga wonga vine, Pandorea pandorana growing in Western Australia

Wonga wonga vine, Pandorea pandorana growing in Western Australia

Pandorea pandorana flowersThe wonga wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana) is a common inhabitant of eucalypt forests all along the Australian east coast. It is particularly showy when it flowers in spring but it must be said that it has a narrow flowering window of several weeks in contrast to the bower of beauty (Pandorea jasminoides) that flowers over many months. The Wonga Wonga vine is a very vigorous grower that comes in a range of colour forms also ranging from the usual small creamy flowers with crimson throat to pure white (‘Snowbells) or even golden colours such as the cultivar ‘Golden Showers’.

Pandorea pandorana 'Golden Showers'

Pandorea pandorana ‘Golden Showers’

Another member of the family (Bignoniaceae) that Pandorea belongs to is the Fraser Island creeper (Tecomanthe hillii). It has gorgeous, glossy deep green, pinnate leaves and large pink tubular flowers over several weeks in spring.

Tecomanthe Island Belle

Tecomanthe Island Belle

If you are looking for climbers more for attractive foliage than flowers then the grape ivies (Cissus species) are very useful plants, particularly for shady areas. I find that they make superb ground covers for shady areas and are not difficult to manage in that context.

Cissus growing as a groundcover

Cissus growing as a ground cover in heavy shade

Cissus antarctica foliage

Cissus antarctica foliage

The kangaroo vine (Cissus antarctica) has particularly ornamental foliage with toothed margins that has also made it popular as an indoor plant. It will surprise many gardeners to learn that these plants are relatively closely related to true grapes (Vitis vinifera) but unfortunately their fruits are not particularly palatable, a minor point given their ornamental value.

Cissus hypoglauca foliage

Cissus hypoglauca foliage

The native grape (Cissus hypoglauca) has smooth leaf margins and glossy green pinnate foliage and actually bears small, edible grape-like fruits. Also known as the giant water vine this plant is very adaptable and makes a fantastic alternative to lawns in those difficult shady positions beneath trees.

Passiflora cinnabarina Photo Tony Rodd via Flickr

Passiflora cinnabarina Photo Tony Rodd via Flickr

You may also be surprised to know that Australia also has some interesting passionflowers (Passiflora species) that make spectacular garden climbers. The best of the lot for my money is the blazing red passionflower (Passiflora cinnabarina) which has an attractively lobed leaf as well. Unfortunately, the fruits are not particularly palatable but when you see the flower you will forget about food…..

Hibbertia scandens flower

Hibbertia scandens flower

And last but by no means least on my list of favourite Australian climbers is the snake vine (Hibbertia scandens) that has found great favour as a ground cover in public parks and on roadside verges. It is extremely tough and adaptable and can grow quite happily on coastal sand dunes and when given support to grow on it will twine its way upwards in snake-like fashion.

Hibbertia scandens, snake vine

Hibbertia scandens, snake vine

So if you are one of those gardeners that have run out of horizontal space then why not start thinking laterally about your garden by going vertical.
Happy gardening!

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

24 thoughts on “Choosing an Australian climbing plant

  1. Hi, Angus,

    It’s probably worth mentioning that most of the native climbers are overly enthusiastic growers, and not for the faint-hearted gardener. Most of the climbers you describe, we have tried growing in our garden, only to remove them a couple of years later. Even on the 2.5 acres, some things got totally out of proportion, and I wasn’t prepared to train and maintain them weekly. The variegated Pandorea jasminoides “Charisma” was the only one that stayed, as it can be managed with an occasional haircut.

  2. Dear Angus, What a wonderful array of climbers to choose from! I note the post above about the “enthusiastic” growth of many Aussie climbers and wonder if you or Adele have used Aphanopetalum resinosum, The Gum Vine. A neighbour has it, and at first glance one would be forgiven for thinking it was Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), but it is not as rampant and an native Australian climber. For better or worse, it does not have a perfume as far as I can smell. It is good in shade, too. A link that might be helpful is :
    http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp12/aphanopetalum-resinosum.html .

    Cheers, Bernard Chapman

  3. Hi Angus, I love your posts! What would be a great groundcover to plant underneath some 5m tall Eucalypts where root competition is a premium?
    Cheers Cas

  4. Hi there, I love your descriptions. Do you possibly have a couple of suggestions for climbers with white or purple flowers for a pool area? Something that doesn’t shed too much.

    Thanks Tess

  5. Hi can you prune off seed pods of pndorea jasmioides lady Di I live in SW of WA I feel all the plants energy is going into the pod and as I don’t need the seed will it encourage more growth

    • Definitely remove seed pods for all the reasons you mention, Linda. They take energy from the plant in their production, and can lessen the chance of more flowers. Cheers, Bernard Chapman

  6. Hi thanks for the article. I have a really hot weatherboard house and was thinking of trying to grow some climbers up the side of our fully west facing wall (we are in metropolitan sydney). All the articles I have read on the web refer to flowering climbers but I am allergic to pollen so would you have an suggestions for non flowering &/or non perfumed climbers? Many thanks

    • Most Australian native plants are nectar producing and attractive to our honeyeaters and insects. It’s plants which have wind pollen dispersal methods, like grasses and olives that cause the problem, so I suggest that you check out the dispersal method before planting.

  7. I live in east fremantle WA have small courtyard with gardenbeds and need advice on climbers to grow on south facing side (shade) of fence

  8. Hi Angus,
    Thank you for the great article.
    Which climbing plants would you suggest for screening a fence corner that faces west and south? This spot is totally exposed to strong winds straight off the sea. I live in Geraldton WA. The soil is alkaline.

  9. Hello Angus!
    Love the website, so helpful! I am after some advice please; I live in Melbourne and have a small patio/balcony which is in full sun all day. I’m looking for a fast growing and hardy climbing plant to grow up a garden archway/trellis. The quicker the better! The plants will have to be in containers / planters also. What would you recommend ?
    Thank you.

  10. Hi Angus, I wish to plant a quick growing, hardy and dense privacy creeper above a fence line on a support frame I’ll attach above the paling fence.
    I’m in northern suburbs, Melbourne. The position will receive both east and westerly sun and will possibly be planted in a large (terracotta?) pot. Colour – purple preferably.

    Also, as this will adjoin a neighbours fence, I would prefer it to not be a rampant grower as I will not be able to prune over the fenceline and don’t need a huge weight on my already frail paling fence 🙂

    Many thanks for your help.

  11. Hi Angus, looking for a vine that will do well in costal high wind, full sun area in Newcastle, wanted it to look like Bouganvillea (but that plant type isn’t suitable for the amount of wind). Looking to grow it onto a large arbour. Any suggestions?

  12. Hi Angus,
    I am looking for some native creepers/vines that attract night time native Forna that aren’t toxic. They will be grown among native trees.
    I live near Malanda Far North Queensland.

  13. Great site. Thank you. re Hardenbergia I want it to grow up a tree. Will it undermine the tree. I am on the nsw nth beaches and the plant is in semishade winter, sun in summer.
    Thank you

  14. Great article – thanks for all the info. We’re looking for a climbing plant to go right next to a pool. We’ve been advised to go with the Lady Di, but I’m concerned about flowers falling into the pool? We’re located in Melbourne. Thank you!

  15. Will any of these natives grow under a massive gum tree? For example we’d like a front fence and would consider a basic fence with happy wander covering it but not sure if the gum tree would kill it.

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