25: Spring 2010

Author: John Hudson

Thugs on Walls

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Thugs on Walls
John Hudson

Everything I plant against a wall or fence, if it grows at all, grows too big. The list includes a Wisteria that clambered over the garage roof, but never flowered before I removed it, two Ceanothus that started as wall shrubs but have become trees, over-arching and shading the herbaceous planting beneath, and various roses. I don’t mean those that are officially climbers, though our one specimen, Rosa ‘Madame Grégoire Staechelin’, gets out of hand too, and has a nasty habit of attacking the back of your neck when trying to prune her from a ladder. She is forgiven for growing on the north wall and reaching round to the east, which she much prefers. We planted two yellow roses from the David Austin nursery against a west-facing 6ft fence. ‘Graham Thomas’ is described as vigorous when grown as a shrub, 4 x 4 ft. We tried it that way years ago, and it was much bigger. So against the fence this time, supposedly reaching 6-8 ft, which would be manageable. More like 10 ft, waving around above the fence and showing itself to the neighbours, unless the wind breaks it before I get around to tying or chopping. Not far from it is ‘Buttercup’, said to be only 3.5 x 3.5 ft and not mentioned as a climber. It too easily overtops the fence. Both these are beautiful when in flower, and both repeat well. I just wish they were more manageable, and less thorny. Rosa ‘Complicata’, 5 x 6 ft, with bright pink giant dog-rose flowers, presents a rather different problem. “It is very robust, reliable and free-flowering, and may even be grown as a climber” (Austin catalogue). It is wonderful, but throws long arching stems in all directions, including straight up but especially away from the fence and over its neighbours. Hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’, a handsome small shrub according to Hillier’s, and therefore averaging 3 -5 ft., easily doubles the latter figure against a west wall and the former even near an east wall, thus emphasizing their Manual’s comment that much depends on position of planting. And Solanum crispum, and a grape vine ‘Brandt’…..

But it was none of these that really prompted this note, but a recent fight with a pair of intertwined Clematis. Many years ago we planted C. montana ‘Spooneri’, with white flowers bigger than most montanas, in a sheltered position against a short section of west-facing wall adjacent to the south-facing sun room. Everybody knows how vigorous C. montana can be. We had one on the north wall once. It quickly covered everything including the telephone wire, and invaded the house, so it was removed. C. m. ‘Spooneri’ lasted much longer, over 25 years. It reached the roof above the sun room and attained a bedroom window with the aid of a down-pipe – not once but three times, because it twice had to be cut back severely to allow decorators access. It was one of the most spectacular plants in the garden. The problem was that it grew so far out by late summer each year that it darkened part of the sun room. This was exacerbated after we ill advisedly planted a Clematis armandii too close to the east of it, on the south wall. The idea was that it would be drawn eastwards by the morning sun, thus clothing a bare part of the wall with its evergreen foliage. But no – it went west, clinging to the montana and becoming inextricably intertwined, hiding and nearly killing a Hebe hulkeana underneath, and it never had many flowers. So a few days ago I murdered both of them. I’m sorry to see the montana go, but there is much more light in the sun room, that’s what a sun room is about, and what a planting opportunity has been created. I hope to fill it with something a bit less vigorous. I wonder what that will be.

First published in the Rutland Group Newsletter, Winter 2008/09
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 25.
© Copyright for this article: John Hudson

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2010. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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