Climbing skywards for a touch of heaven

Transform an ugly shed or archway into a perfumed paradise by planting a range of jasmines and honeysuckles.
Summer climbers have a romance and magic all of their own. They can turn a so-so space into a secret garden, concealing drab corners and covering bare fences with scrolls of flower-laden stems, lending a sense of lushness as well as providing intoxicating perfume. High summer, after all, is when the garden should look deliciously overgrown; it's easy enough to cut back messy, twining stems after they've flowered.


Honeysuckle seems to have fallen out of favour, yet it's the perfect summer climber, delivering masses of those open, tubular pink-and-yellow flowers that carry the luscious scent of pineapple and coconut; at night the perfume seems to hang on the air. In just one season, honeysuckle can romp along — and over — a fence, hide an ugly shed wall or, best of all, scramble over an archway to make a quintessential country-garden arbour.

The best garden varieties that thrive in sun or ideally, light shade, stem from our native woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum, and are early flowering Belgica and later-flowering Serotina, which holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit and blooms continuously until October. Lonicera periclymenum Graham Thomas, another deserved AGM holder, has creamy-yellow flowers and blooms from now to September.

Honeysuckle growing up trellis
Enjoy the exotic combination of pineapple and coconut in the distinctive perfume of honeysuckle
Glossy-leaved jasmine lookalike Trachelospermum jasminoides is the climber of choice for many London gardens, because it is daintily evergreen, produces masses of scented white flowers and has a neater habit than the deciduous jasmine, Jasminum officinale.

However, Jasminum officinale's finely cut leaves and pinkbudded flowers are more beautiful and have a delicacy at odds with its vigour; this climber does fine in heavy clay London soil. If you can handle its sometimes scruffy appearance, grow jasmine close to the house or on the terrace, where that sublime scent can be savoured.

When roses are finished, let clematis take over. Roses, shrubs and even trees make ideal hosts for late-flowering clematis, so that they are studded with flowers for weeks on end; evergreens that do little except provide year-round green bulk can be turned into star performers.

The jackmanii and viticella types take off in July and flower profusely till September. They're not only gorgeous but are the easiest to prune — they just need cutting back hard in early spring to a low set of buds.

Perle d'Azur, a jackmanii hybrid, has exceptional sky-blue flowers that are a full 10cm across; Jackmanii Superba's are a velvety, deep purple. Both clematis can cover a wall, making it a stunning late-summer feature. Clematis viticella varieties are immune, three cheers, to the dreaded clematis wilt.

Etoile Violette is the workhorse deep violet viticella, but for even more bloom for your buck, look for the divinely double-flowered, duskypurple Purpurea Plena Elegans.

Clematis Purpurea Plena Elegans
Clematis Purpurea Plena Elegans can be simply pruned by cutting back hard in early spring
If you want to clothe a bare fence fast, and it is in a sunny, sheltered site, plant a passion flower, Passiflora caerulea. It is hard to believe that with such little attention — no glasshouse required — such an exquisite, complex flower can be produced, with an encore of shiny orange oval fruits that taste, I have to say, less exotic than they look.

Passionflower is a scrambler, so will benefit from a trellis or wire grid, but I have found that if you just harness it strategically here and there, it will dip and drape, forming graceful garlands of flowers and fruit.

Photographs: Marianne Majerus

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