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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Natural heights

Posted on April 13 2009 at 12:40:50 0 comments

Wisteria buds

Climbers will bring a whole new dimension to your garden, writes Hannah Genders.

This month I was planning to write an article on climbing plants and how to use them well in the garden – but then, when I spent the Easter break at my parents’ house in Devon, I realised just how well my mum has incorporated climbers into her garden, and it made me look afresh at the influence her garden skills have had on me and my career.

To give you a little background information, my parents live on a smallholding just inland from Sidmouth in East Devon. The property is a lovely old thatched Devon longhouse and the garden is partly walled and divided into a number of sections. At the back of the house is a good sized fruit and vegetable garden; I can remember my parents growing their own produce and I’m sure it influenced my passion to do the same.

Each garden has its own bonuses and problems and Mum’s site is no exception. The soil she is working with is very sandy and free-draining, quite different from mine at home. This has some definite advantages – it’s easier to work than a clay soil and warms up very well in the spring. On the down side, plants can tend to bolt and moisture retention can be a problem; it is also a very hungry soil and needs lots of feeding each year.

Mum resolves this by adding copious amounts of well-rotted manure from the farm. The manure comes from her other passion in life: breeding and rearing angora goats. These types of goat produce mohair and she sells the products made from the fleeces in a local shop. It interests me that the same caring and nurturing qualities needed to rear goats can also transfer to looking after plants, as all of the climbers in her garden are raised from cuttings, some pinched from my garden at home!

Every available structure and plant is complemented with a climber and, starting at the entrance, she has covered an old flintstone wall with climbing plants. The ivies give some background colour and a fabulous Wisteria rambles along the top – this was heavily in bud during my stay and should be in flower in the next few weeks.

Mum wasn’t sure exactly which cultivar the wisteria was but it is most likely to be Wisteria sinensis; this is the common wisteria and will flower well if you prune it correctly.

It needs two prunings a year, one in the summer to cut back the leggy growth and encourage flowers for the next year, and a second winter spur pruning to keep a good shape. With a good book on pruning or someone to show you, it’s easy to get a really superb plant full of flowers.

Just inside the gate on a north facing wall is a climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) which is an excellent plant for a shady corner. It keeps a good structure and doesn’t need much pruning, and produces lovely white lace cup flowers which last from May to July. Actually the flowers last longer if it is planted in a shady spot.

Move further into the garden and clematis plants cover any pergola or archway. Mum has quite a selection, including the more invasive Montana types like Clematis Montana var. Rubens, with a lovely purple leaf and soft, dusky pink flower. It does need room to get going and can be pruned in early summer to keep a tidier shape – as with all clematis, it likes its roots in shade and its top in the sun, so this situation in Mum’s garden is ideal.

There are a number of old-fashioned rambling roses in the garden, either climbing up trees or on a brick shed – Mum then uses this as further structure for another plant to climb up and through. This works really well to extend the flowering season, as by using one of the clematis alpina you can have flowers from the early clematis in the spring and get your summer colour and interest from the rose.

Another great way to use roses is in a native hedge. Using the structure of the hedge, add in the native dog roses like Rosa canina, which gives you the pretty single flowers in summer, while hips add autumn interest and provide a food source for wildlife.

There are so many climbing plants to choose from and I have only managed to name a few. You are bound to find one that suits your situation perfectly, and they provide the ideal solution if you want to get more plants in the garden and are short on space. Do what my Mum does and allow plenty of them to ramble up any structure available.

More information on climbers at http://www.rhs.org.uk/climbers


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