Ian Baylis chats about making the most of your space with climbers!

Now who out there belongs to the ‘average garden’ club!

Being a plantsman, I always dreamt of owning a house with a large garden in which to play, you know something like an acre of garden seemed to be a good size.  An acre just seemed a decent enough area of land for growing plants, trees and other plants in, as well as allowing for a large enough lawn that I could justify getting a ride on mower!

I never considered my aspirations too ambitious, given the size of garden the likes of Geoff Hamilton or Alan Titchmarsh had. Well needless to say I haven’t realised my dream, and given the cost of houses and land, I very much doubt that I ever will. I still dare to dream though.

Now following a bit of recent “off topic” online reading, I discovered that the quoted average garden size is now around 190 square metres (roughly 8 fence panels by 6) in size. So tell me what do we do with that garden space?  First, we lay a large patio on which to stick a table, chairs and barbecue. Next we put up a shed or two in which to store the tools that we may use for gardening… if we decide to undertake any. A few plants “that keep their leaves on all year round” are then planted around the remaining narrow perimeter edges of the garden to leave a nice rectangular lawn in the middle, and all this is framed with 6’ high fences or walls, perfect!!

Can we improve on this format? Yes of course we can, but that is a whole different discussion. Maybe we should proceed one baby step at a time.

So with that said, let’s go back to the beginning “average garden size is around 190 square metres (roughly 8 fence panels by 6) in size”. Well if we have a fence either side, and one to the bottom of the garden, then that is potentially 22 panels upon which to grow some great climbing plants or wall shrubs. Exclude a few panels for the necessary shed and let’s starts planting!

So what to choose??

Only fitting that my starter plant is a star performer, or what is commonly called Star Jasmine. Trachelospermum jasminoides has been around for what seems like forever, but it is still outselling all other climbers.

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A relatively slow growing evergreen climber with dark glossy green foliage that turns vivid bronze-purple during the winter. The real attraction of this plant is the flowers.  Borne in clusters, the flowers start opening around May, sometimes earlier, and carry on through to September-October dependant upon seasonal temperatures. Flowers are highly fragrant with a real sickly sweet scent much, and as the name would suggest, like Jasmine.

For best results plant the Trachelospermum in a full sun or lightly shaded position in well drained, acidic soil. This plant is just as great growing up an obelisk in a container for the patio. In my previous garden I made an obelisk from old copper pipe, positioned it in the flower bed adjacent to the patio, and grew a Trachelospermum through it. The plant provided real value for money.

Having spent a couple of days away visiting plant suppliers, Liss Forest included, I found myself again being schooled on the art of growing a good plant, or in this case a Clematis.

Vince Catt of Liss Forest should know a thing or two on how to grow a great Clematis as he has been growing Raymond Evisons highly desirable and award winning Clematis since the conception of the Raymond Evison branded product.

Liss Forest have perfected how to grow a great Clematis. The “liner”, started plants if you like, are potted and allowed to root.  Now most growers then let the climber/Clematis grow up a single cane and tie the stems as they grow. Once the stems are to the top of the cane the plant is labelled and marked available for sale. Vince’s method is to pot and allow the Clematis to grow in year one, cut the plant back in the winter of year 2 and then allow the plant to grow up 3 canes.  As Vince told me “all the strength is in the root”. The Clematis produces more shoots at ground level which translates into better top growth, vigour, and ultimately a greater abundance of flowers. The plants are definitely worth the higher price tag.

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Now whilst in a slightly privileged position of knowing future varieties to be released under the Raymond Evison brand, the one that can be mentioned and set for release at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show is “Corinne”.  In terms of colour, vigour and length of flower duration it has all the hallmarks of being a great addition.

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Now will I plant this Clematis in my garden, maybe, but one variety that I definitely wouldn’t be without is Diana’s Delight.

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Also from the Raymond Evison breeding programme, Diana’s Delight has the greatest lavender blue flowers that are borne in their masses. A repeat flowering variety that last year flowered for me from the onset of Chelsea right until early October. This variety will get to 4 or 5 feet in height and is actually equally as happy to go in a lightly shaded position as in the sun. What more could you want??

So, of my original fence panels I have so far filled 2 but with a few additions such as Sophora “Sun King”, a Wisteria of some description, and maybe a Clematis Montana “Mayleen” for that burst of early vibrant colour and fragrance. Now add something like Lonicera “Scentsation” to that more shaded damp side of the garden, as well as the beautiful and highly versatile Hydrangea petiolaris and we might be getting there! Room for more?  Train a nice Ceanothus ‘Concha’ up a sunny wall or fence and so long as the roots don’t sit wet in the winter, it will be spectacular for many years.

Sophora 'Sun King'

Sophora ‘Sun King’

Now, as I need to stop myself writing endlessly, a final addition that I have and love, Dregea sinensis. It can be a bit rampant but I promise you will love the sweet smell of the waxy flowers during the summer months. A nice sunny spot and plenty of feed, and it will produce hundreds of flowers. Look it up and give me your thoughts or alternative plant suggestions.

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