Climbing plants are so useful in the garden. They can soften bare walls and hide unattractive fences, sheds or garages; adorn pergolas, pillars and arbours; or even grow over old stumps and dead trees to create an appealing feature. Indeed, some of them can grow through living shrubs or trees to add another element to the scene! Trained on freestanding trellises, lattice or even a set of wires stretched between two posts, they can screen off utilitarian parts of the garden such as compost areas and bin bays, or other unwanted views. They can even be used in the same way to make garden rooms. As they take up little space at ground level, they are very useful for narrow areas along fences or in small courtyards where shrubs would take up too much room. Within garden beds, small climbers can be grown on a wigwam of sticks or on a tall metal obelisk to provide height.
Climbers vary in how they say how they ascend their support. Self-clinging ones use aerial roots or terminal adhesive pads to attach to any surface. Twining climbers wrap their stems around a support whereas others have filament-like tendrils that grow from the end of leaves or from leaf junctions - when they touch a surface they quickly coil their tendrils or use modified leaf-stalks to wind through shrubs, trees, or manmade structures. Other climbers use thorns or prickles to help them find support and haul themselves up. Finally, scramblers, sometimes called scandent climbers, have no special adaptations, and in the natural world need the overhead support of a well-branched shrub or tree. They throw up strong, pliable stems that push up through the branches and hold them whilst they develop side branches to prevent them from slipping back or sideways. Otherwise, they find something solid they can lean against! One has to admire these plants and in my own garden I do grow some, helping them along by tying them to a support or otherwise assisting them in staying upright. Soft plastic florists' or grafting tape is a useful material to use to secure the stems to the support, as it can stretch with growth of the plant. Some of them are regarded as shrubs, but if tied to a support, they will grow taller and wider like a creeper than they do when freestanding, and will have a better shape overall. These sorts of plants can also tumble over walls or banks.
Some jasmines fall into this category, and are lovely for bringing fragrance into the garden in the warmer months. One of my favourites is Jasminum laurifolium var. laurifolium (syn. Jasminum nitidum). It has flushes of fragrant, clear white blooms that open from purplish buds and have many finely cut petals that are often tinted red-purple on the outside. The flowers remind me of little pinwheels. The glossy leaves are also very attractive. It grows best in a sunny, well-drained position. It can grow 3 to 6 m when supported on a fence or post as a climber; as a shrub it will be shorter, but I found it needed too much clipping to be kept neat, and I am enjoying it much more as a climber. Jasminum odoratissimum (ht 2-2.5 m) is another one I like. It bears a profusion of tiny golden flowers on a fence in my garden. Its name might lead one to expect it to be the most fragrant of all jasmines, but though it has a pretty scent, I wouldn't say it is the strongest of all in the genus.
A cute little plant that I have only come to understand as being a scandent climber very recently is Oxypetalum coeruleum (ht 1 m; syn. Tweedia coerulea). It has amazingly clear blue, star-shaped flowers that are quite long lasting; they appear in summer and early autumn, amidst heart-shaped, grey-green, velvety leaves. Long, curved seedpods develop after the blooms fade, filled with downy-tufted seeds. My plant just used to flop everywhere but now I have corralled it within a metal obelisk, and it looks a lot better.
Another plant I have only just discovered can be a scandent climber is Streptosolen jamesonii, the so-called marmalade bush (pictured at the start of the blog). I have always regarded it as a rather messy but glorious shrub (ht 1.5-2 m), which is smothered in dainty tangerine and yellow trumpets from July until November. The long, arching, flexible stems can be trained against a wall or fence, or even up a pillar. It can cover a wide area (up to 2.5 m) on a fence or wall. I'm about to try this in my own garden!
Another example of a shrub that can also climb is Centradenia inaequilateralis 'Cascade'. It has a profusion of showy, magenta, four-petalled blooms that open from bright pink, pointed buds from late winter into spring. It winds its way through other shrubs and I have seen it growing up a trellis! It looks a bit like a miniature Tibouchina flower. As a shrub it gets to around 80 cm in height but, it grows much taller (up to 3 m) when it scrambles through shrubs or on other supports.
A very unusual scandent climber is Begonia convolvulacea, which is usually grown as a sprawling groundcover but it happy to climb, given half a chance - and some support such as a trellis or a frame, where it can ascend to 2 m. It sports large panicles of small white flowers from late winter through spring. Like all Begonia, it grows well in shade, but it can tolerate morning sun.
An uncommon shrub I received from a friend last year will also climb if given support. This one is Gynura aurantiaca and has broad, velvety green leaves with a purple sheen created by a downy overlay of purple hairs. As a shrub it will get to about 60 cm but if tied to a fence or trellis, the stems will grow up to 2 or 3 m long! It needs a frost-free position in shade or part-shade, with sufficient moisture.
Let me know of other scramblers that grow well in Sydney gardens (or elsewhere!).
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