As S Club 7 sang, “Reach for the stars, climb every mountain higher”. Or as my garden design lecturer said rather drily, “Don’t forget the vertical plane of your design.” I think I prefer S Club 7.
What I’m getting at in a rather convoluted way is the importance of the vertical elements in your garden. Planting doesn’t just stay on the ground. It grows up, over and through. By understanding this and using it to our advantage, boundaries can be defined, or disappear completely. By combining it with other vertical elements of the garden such as trees, pergolas and sculpture, we create interest for the eye all around our garden. We need perennials which shoot up above the ground cover, such as Kniphofias (Red Hot Pokers) or Digitalis (Foxgloves). We need bulbs such as Eremurus himalaicus to punctuate our borders. We need large shrubs such as Osmanthus or Viburnum to provide an evergreen backdrop to our other planting and to break up boundaries. We need trees to provide living sculpture.
Finally, we need climbers. We need them to clothe fences. We need them to clamber through trees. We need them for scent. We need them for colour and we need them to provide that interest at eye level which our other planting cannot provide. Here is a selection of some of our favourites.
If you are ‘down South’ and are looking for an evergreen scented climber to clothe a wall, you could do a lot worse than try the Cape Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides, which has small white flowers which pack a real scented punch. It will prefer a South or West facing wall and if you are ‘up North’ it probably won’t make it, but it’s a great one for walls in the Big Smoke.
For the classic country house look, you need a Wisteria. But which one to choose? Well, firstly, make sure you buy a grafted specimen otherwise you will be waiting 20 years for it to flower. So, lilac or white? Let’s choose white. Then Chinese or Japanese? Let’s go Big in Japan. So, Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’ it is.
How about a bit of winter flower? That would be nice. I was going to choose Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, mainly because I like the name. However, I find pink difficult. So let’s go classy, evergreen and white flowers for Christmas. I give you Clematis cirrhosa ‘Jingle Bells’, which also has a great name.
Finally, have you got a shady wall which needs greening up a little? Well, your choices are limited, but I’d go for an ivy. Much maligned, but kept trained to a frame and clipped neatly, there is much to be said for Hedera helix ‘Green Ripple’. Its delicate leaves are the antithesis of some of the larger leaved thugs. Better to plant something that will embrace the shade rather than something that will sulk.
Now, everybody sing like nobody is listening to you miss that high note. Reach!
Nigel is an award winning garden designer with studios in London and North Yorkshire. As founder of Medlar & Cob he uses modern, intelligent design to create timeless British gardens rooted in tradition. Take a look at his blog here here - medlarandcob.com/m. You can follow Nigel on twitter @medlarandcob. Read more posts by Nigel.