Clothing walls and fences with climbers can turn a plain backyard into a flowery haven, blurring the boundaries, bringing in the bees and butterflies and utilising every inch of space. Plant a clematis that is destined to grow 20 feet at the base of a 6ft fence, however, and a flowery idyll fast becomes an untamable tangle.
Small gardens need small climbers to suit, with DNA that won't result in triffid-like stems or masses of foliage likely to suffocate lesser plants.
Honeysuckle is the quintessential cottage-garden climber, twining its way through hedges and along high walls, but is too vigorous for a small town garden. Welcome, then, new dwarf honeysuckle Lonicera Rhubarb and Custard, which, although reaching little over six feet, will still produce the samesize pink-and-golden flower clusters with that luscious, familar fragrance, delivering rural charm to an urban fence or even a large tub set with a cane wigwam. Order yours at crocus.co.uk.
Join the ramblers
Most rambling roses will smother a shed, let alone the average garden fence, but you can still enjoy these gloriously free-flowering roses by planting a short rambler, preferable to a climbing rose because ramblers display less bare leg, flowering lower down near the base, and the stems are more pliable.
First create a line of horizontal supports so that you can fan out the stems to cover the fence; training the stems longways will encourage them to break bud right along the length, producing more flowers. Open Arms, a miniature rambler of eight feet bearing the prettiest small, fragrant pink flowers right through to autumn, is my first choice. Little Rambler is similar, but with fuller, double flowers. Fruity-scented Goldfinch has egg yolk-yellow flower clusters and, as another virtue for the small garden, is practically thornless.
Double the impact
Plant a clematis with a rose and quite simply, you get double the flower power. Easiest to prune are the viticellas, which you just chop back hard, to a low pair of buds, in early spring. Some viticella clematis such as Étoile Violette can scale a high wall — see it spread at Sissinghurst — so choose a compact variety that is under 10 feet, such as Madame Julia Correvon, a stunner with velvet-red flowers, or Queen Mother, with nodding, deep pink bellflowers.
Clematis breeder Raymond Evison has raised, over the last several years, a knockout group of small clematis that bloom close to the base and have the same soupplate flowers as the more familiar, larger varieties.
Evison's Patio & Garden collection includes 8ft, burgundy-bloomed Rosemoor, perfect for training through a pink rose, and the near-violet Chevalier that grows no taller than six feet. The Boulevard line has even smaller, bushier varieties, perfect for pots on the patio, such as 5ft pink Giselle and pale lilac-blue Zara, a mere four-footer. Both ranges are widely available at garden centres, so be sure to check the labels.
If you want a climber to adorn an obelisk, a fuchsia isn't the flower that comes to mind, but the widely available fuchsia Lady Boothby, a beauty with a profusion of dangling, deep pink and violet flowers, is a great choice, blooming for months from summer, well into autumn. The red stems just need to be occasionally tied in to keep her on the straight and narrow.
New this season is Lady B's offspring Pink Fizz, which, claims supplier. Thompson & Morgan, flowers along the entire length of each stem rather than just the tips, and will make five feet in a single season. Pink Fizz's shocking pink and vermilion flowers will also cover a trellis or clothe a fence. To add to Pink Fizz's many assets, it is entirely hardy, so will perform year on year.