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16 October 2014
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Autumn 2001

Climbers that enjoy a Ramble
by Brendan Little
March '03

I once asked a lecturer what was the difference between a climbing and rambling rose, he duly replied, "a climber rambles and a rambler climbs"! Since then I have viewed climbing plants in a whole new light. And while many of our evergreen plants provide welcome colour and structure during those drab winter days, it is in the height of summer that these winter workhorses can look, and perhaps feel, a little out of place. During the summer month’s flamboyant flowering subjects tend to take center stage.

There are some superb climbing/rambling plants which may be used to clothe your less floriferous trees and shrubs.

Flame Creeper The flame creeper Tropaeolum speciosum, which I grow through a yellow flowered Callistemon, never fails to attract attention. When the masses of scarlet flowers appear in July to September it is easy to understand where it gets its common name. Later in the season when the seeds turn to a glorious shiny purple it is just as exciting. Be warned it can be a little too vigorous when planted at the foot of a hedge; here it may be inclined to smother the erect growing shoots.

Another plant, sometimes classed as a low shrub, which I like to let ramble through the shrub border is Mitraria coccinea, a native of Chile, it is not suitable for soils with a lime content. If you can grow it, do! The tubular orange to scarlet flowers are simply a joy to behold.

On a larger scale climbers such as Vitis coignetiae may be used to liven up a large tree or tall hedge. The flowers and fruits are carried in summer but the real display is reserved for autumn when the colour is brilliant. The plate like leaves can be up to 30cm across, these turn to crimson and scarlet late in the season and make this the most spectacular of all the vines. Another chap who likes a wander, in the upward direction, is Celastris orbiculatus, if you have the space seek out a hermaphrodite plant and enjoy the clear yellow autumn colour of the leaves and the gold-spangled seed capsules.

Clematis Kathleen Wheel
No Clematis for Brendan this year! 

Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ must be included in any list of rambling/climbing plants, It is an ideal rose for planting through large trees be they alive or dead. Remember that dead elm you have been threatening to cut down for so long? Don’t! Why not use it as a support for some scrambling plants.

If you are planting at the foot of an established tree or shrub do prepare the planting hole well and keep an eye on the watering especially during the first year. Well that’s my top team of scrambling rambling plants and not a clematis in sight.


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