Up in court
If you have a courtyard garden, climbers offer colour and coverage
GARDENS are becoming smaller and in urban areas they’re often no more than courtyards. And courtyards surrounded by stark walls or fence panels can be uninviting or oppressive.
To kick off your garden adventures in such plots and to soften your boundaries, start with climbing plants.
Climbers are a good way to introduce greenery, colour, habitats for wildlife and privacy. Their natural inclination is to climb towards the light and as they do, they cloak the walls and create a pleasing curtain of foliage.
When space is limited and you are trying to fit in some seating, and perhaps a table or barbecue area as well, it’s a good way to introduce plants without taking up too much volume.
Planting in the ground is always preferable to pots, however that’s often not possible in courtyards, which may be paved or concreted over. For your climbers to have a good life with access to reserves of moisture and feed, choose big and deep pots.
Container plants require a commitment from you. It’s a bit like getting a new puppy – very exciting at the beginning but sometimes that enthusiasm wanes. As with pets, container plants will rely on you for watering, feeding and maintenance.
Part of the solution may be to install a simple irrigation system. It will prove an invaluable addition and markedly help growth. And while you holiday, it will keep watering. To get the best plants, liquid feed regularly through the growing season and top dress the containers in spring with a fresh compost or mulch.
Evergreen climbers earn their place by providing a verdant cover even in the depth of winter but they don’t need to be boring. One of my top choices for a courtyard climber is Trachelospermum jasminoides, the star jasmine. It has handsome dark green leaves that turn a little bronzey in autumn but don’t fall off and has a delightfully fragranced white flower through the summer.
Solanum crispum is semi-evergreen in sheltered spots, which courtyards often are.
It’s vigorous and produces potato-like flowers in bunches. I have the purple variety ‘Glasnevin’ and it never fails to please.
A handy climber for a shady area is the climbing hydrangea, H. petiolaris.
It attaches itself to the wall using roots along its stems so it will need a trellis or other apparatus to help it up the wall.
It does require patience, however, as it takes time to get going. I planted one a few years ago and only this year am I seeing it really take off. The rewards are the charming white lacecap flowers in summer.
You could also try some annual climbers which will provide some quick cover and flowers for this year.
One of the most vigorous is Cobaea scandens, the cup and saucer vine. It has eye-catching big bell-shaped purple flowers and will race away for the summer. It’s half-hardy so wait until the frost has past before planting seedlings outside.
Another half-hardy is the Chilean glory flower, which will also romp away once it gets going. Fabulous red and orange tubular flowers will transform the most boring wall into an exotic picture this summer.
You can also create a romantic courtyard with a climbing rose. ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ is one of the best climbers with sumptuous pink flowers and a beautiful fragrance.
It’s a repeat flowerer that keeps going through the summer so it’s great value – and it’s thornless too.