UP, UP AND AWAY

THIS BEAU­TI­FUL SOUTH AMER­I­CAN CLIMB­ING PLANT MIGHT BE DIF­FI­CULT TO PROP­A­GATE, BUT IT’S EASY TO GROW

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | GARDEN - GREENTHUMB WORDS:MAREECURRA­N

Climb­ing plants can be mighty use­ful in a gar­den. You can use them to cover un­sightly things or train them over an arch­way to cre­ate a dramatic entrance or over a per­gola to cre­ate dap­pled shade.

When it comes to clim­bers, there are the favourites – jas­mine, pas­sion­fruit and bougainvil­lea – all proven per­form­ers in our cli­mate. But then there are some oth­ers, just as easy to grow, but per­haps even more strik­ing be­cause they are a bit more un­usual.

One spe­cial climb­ing plant to look for now is the car­di­nal creeper (ipomea hors­fal­liae). It is na­tive to South Amer­ica and the Caribbean, and grows re­ally well in Queens­land and north­ern NSW. It loves our trop­i­cal/sub-trop­i­cal cli­mate.

The very glossy, dark green fo­liage con­trasts su­perbly with the clus­ters of gor­geous ruby red/crim­son flow­ers from sum­mer through to winter. The buds are lovely, too, re­mind­ing me of dark, al­most black, berries. The flow­ers con­tain nec­tar that is at­trac­tive to bees, but­ter­flies and birds.

In its na­tive habi­tat, the flow­ers are pol­li­nated by hum­ming­birds. Here in Aus­tralia, with no hum­ming­birds and ap­par­ently no other birds or in­sects tak­ing on that pol­li­na­tion role, prop­a­ga­tion is usu­ally by cut­ting. It is not easy, and that is why this plant is not widely avail­able. But, though the prop­a­ga­tion process is tricky, the plant is re­ally easy to grow.

It prefers a warm, sunny po­si­tion. Be­ing a trop­i­cal climber, it will not tol­er­ate frost.

It climbs by twin­ing its way around the sup­port struc­ture, and reaches a height of sev­eral me­tres if the sup­port is there. It also looks spec­tac­u­lar grown over a fence or a rail­ing, where a sin­gle plant will twine its way along sev­eral me­tres.

It de­vel­ops a tuber­ous root sys­tem, so is best in the ground. If you want to keep it in a pot, I would rec­om­mend some­thing quite large.

This tuber­ous root sys­tem makes it quite drought tol­er­ant, although it will al­ways look bet­ter if you make sure it re­ceives ad­e­quate wa­ter and fer­tiliser.

Car­di­nal creeper will grow in full sun or semi-shade, and looks su­perb when in full bloom. But the fo­liage is beau­ti­ful in its own right, so it looks good all year.

It’s not both­ered by any par­tic­u­lar pests or dis­eases, so it doesn’t need much main­te­nance other than train­ing it to grow where you want it, and a prun­ing after flow­er­ing if re­quired.

Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email [email protected]­nat­by­ron.com.au

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