Vines and Climbers to Enhance Your Garden

Updated on July 19, 2019

Climbers as a Landscape Element

Climbers are a great element to include in a landscape design. We appreciate them for both their flowers and their foliage effects. They can be trained to climb a variety of structures such as trellises, arbors and pergolas, decks, railings, and more. Use them to disguise an unattractive fence, to ramble over stone walls, to give vast expanses of color and to create shade as they climb over an arbor.

Climbing plants and vines can be strategically placed throughout the garden to provide privacy. Best of all, climbing plants draw the eye upward, adding a vertical third dimension of height to what is essentially a horizontal landscape.

Tender Climber: Passion Flower

Passion Flowers
Passion Flowers | Source

How do climbing plants climb?

Their success in providing that vertical element is achieved in a variety of ways. Some vines have twisting stems, others use tendrils that cling and twine around stems and supports. Some even grow tiny roots, called adventitious roots, on their stems!

Clematis has twining leaf stems, while honeysuckles use their entire stem to twine their way upward. Ivies have adventitious roots, while Virginia creepers have adhesive pads at the end of tendrils. Sweetpeas have tendrils that cling and wrap around supports. Beautiful wisteria climbs upward, its stems twining around each other and around supports.

The roses climbing over the arched trellis below must be trained to climb. Otherwise, the canes will trail along the ground since they do not have their own methods of attachment.

Support Options

All climbers need some type of support as they do not have fully supporting trunks. In the wild, trees, shrubs, and even other climbers can serve to support them. In the garden you can supply the support by way of netting, trellises, pillars, fencing, posts and canes, as well as other plants. Whatever you use, your climbers will take advantage of it to make their way upwards towards the sun.

Four Simple Trellises

Fast Growing Vines

Are you looking for some quick cover for an ugly wall, a new arbor or a rock wall? There are a couple of climbers so vigorous they tend to cover everything very quickly. The glory vine (eccremocarpus scaber) from chile is one of these. It will smother a wall and trellis with foliage and bright orange-red flowers, followed by balloon like pods. Another is the coral vine (Antigonon letptopus). which is very effective over an arbor. It has pretty strings of pink flowers.

If you don't mind a rough looking vine that is mainly green, consider planting hops. The papery flowers are different and attractive, turning from light green to brown in fall. Hops will burst out of the ground early in spring, and put on a prodigious amount of vegetation throughout spring, summer and fall. They need to be cut back to ground level in fall. Hops are prone to insect attack, especially aphids and whitefly. Hard pruning will help eliminate any disease.

Wall Growers

If you'd like your vines to climb and cling to a wall, you'll need a support system in place. You could mount a trellis against the wall, but there are other options. Drive small nails or eye or hook screws into the wall, and use them to support wires or plastic netting. Even rough string, attached to them can support a vine, giving cover to a wall. With a good support system of wire or trellis, semi climbing or ascending shrubs can be grown as climbers. Some of the best wall shrubs are ceanothus, pyracanthas, and Euonymus fortunei.

White flower heads give way to bright red berries on the pyracanthus.
White flower heads give way to bright red berries on the pyracanthus.


The most popular vine would have to be one of the clematis varieties. They look terrific in spring or summer, when they're in full bloom with blossoms varying from snow white through pink, blue and purple. The Montana types are superb climbers, using twining stems to make their way upward. They form woody stems that give a permanent and secure support. An annual shearing after blossoming keeps them within limits.

Some of the large-flowered clematis can have flowers as big as dinner plates - a spectacular feature in the garden. Clematis is generally easy to grow. It prefers shade on its feet and sun on its vines. While this may sound complicated, it's easier to accomplish than you might think. Simply plant your clematis in a sunny location, and then plant a small shrub at its base to provide the needed shade on the lower part of the clematis. Because of the many types of clematis, do your research before buying any.



Another elegant climber is the honeysuckle. The unusual-shaped flowers exude a lovely scent. The flowers are tubular, long and thin, and are borne in groups of pairs. Hummingbirds are frequent visitors, feeding on the sweet nectar within the flowers. Clusters of red berries in the fall are appreciated by birds.

Honeysuckles are easy to grow in most soils, with good drainage. They can reach up to 30 feet with sufficient support. Like their native varieties, they do well in shady gardens, as well as spots with more sun.

Honeysuckle flower
Honeysuckle flower

Ivy for Green Cover

Many of us have seen buildings that are partially obscured by ivy. There are several different types of ivy, but all are fast growers and will cling easily to walls and stone work. Take care when planting ivy, however, as it may damage the structures that support it with it adventitious roots. These can ruin masonry, especially when the vines are removed. Ivy is also very dense, which means it will cast shade on the building's walls. On siding or shingles, this may cause mold growth.

Unfortunately in many areas ivy has 'gone wild', using native trees for support. It will form thick stems, often climbing up hundreds of feet, and eventually killing its host tree. Once this happens, the only solution is to remove the entire tree and the ivy, including its roots.

Green Climber - Ivy

Ivy growing on a conifer tree trunk.
Ivy growing on a conifer tree trunk.

These are just a few of the popular climbing plants that can be found in your local nursery. Don't limit yourself to these, but consider them a starting point.

Whatever climbers you choose, be sure to plant them in an appropriate location and provide plenty of good support. They will reward you over time by becoming a beautiful focal point in your garden.

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Nicolette Goff


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