5 plants for a fence

Use the fences and walls in your garden to create colourful and dramatic borders. Graham Rice suggests five great plants for growing against a fence.

Lonicera
Lonicera 'Graham Thomas'. Image: Andy McIndoe
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Often when you move into a new house or a newly renovated rental property, the builders have very thoughtfully fenced the garden. OK, it’s probably an ugly old chain link wire fence, but at least it keeps the dogs in (or out). Or perhaps you’ve moved into an older property and the fences are falling down or the previous people never thought to plant climbers.

If the fences are basically OK, using them as support for climbers makes a tremendous difference to the look of the garden. You just need to know what to plant.

Wooden panel fences look good and give the most privacy but they need shrubs trained against them rather than climbers as they provide nothing for climbers to cling to unless you add trellis or wires.

Of course, you might be worried that if you plant a climber it will be up the fence, over the roof and heading for next door in no time. It depends on the climber. These five are ideal for fences.

Clematis (Clematis)

clematis
Clematis. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Clematis are great on wire fences and trellis because the leaf stalks grip  anything they can twine round. But take a look at the tags on the plants in the garden centre and check heights because there are some clematis that really do romp away.

The ones you want are those that have flowers larger than about 8cm, as these are usually the best behaved. Some of these flower in spring and early summer and need fiddly pruning when the flowers are over, others flower later and are pruned by the very simple expedient of cutting the whole plant back to 15-30cm every spring. Or you can just leave them alone!

The big flat starry flowers come in a huge range of shades, just pick the ones you like. Sky blue ‘Perle d’Azur’ is a real star. Grow to around 1.5-3m tall.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera)

Lonicera
Lonicera ‘Graham Thomas’. Image: Andy McIndoe

Honeysuckles have plenty of things going for them. Top of the list is the scent – which cranks up a few notches just in time for that evening glass of wine on the patio. But even those that are not fragrant give us a long season of clusters of tubular flowers in reds, orange shades, yellows, cream and purple. For the best scent go for the variety ‘Graham Thomas’.

Another big thing is that they’re great at supporting themselves; their stems twine round any supports available, even other plants.

Honeysuckles are also tough. Once they’re settled in you can just leave them alone and they’ll do their thing reliably and without fail. And if they look as if they might get too big? Hack them back as much or as little as you like after flowering, even down to 60cm – and send all the debris off to the green waste recycling. Done. Grows to around 2-3m tall.

Morning glory (Ipomoea)

Ipomoea Heavenly Blue
Ipomoea Heavenly Blue. Image: Suttons Seeds

Morning glories are one-year climbers, they’re annuals; the frost kills them. But during the summer they’re just about the most captivating climbers you can grow.

They’re called morning glories because the flowers open in the early morning but often close after lunch; more open the next day. The trick is to plant them on a fence where they get plenty of sun in the first part of the day but where they’re shaded by the house wall or a tree in the afternoon – that will prolong the display.

Just about the only variety whose plants and seeds are easy to find is called ‘Heavenly Blue’ – and it’s exactly that. And it twines its stems around anything. Grows to around 2-3m tall.

Climbing rose (Rosa)

Climbing rose 'Mortimer Sackler'
Climbing rose ‘Mortimer Sackler’

OK, it may seem an unnecessary distinction but rambling roses are different from climbing roses. Yes, really. And it’s the climbers you want for a fence as most ramblers are just far FAR too vigorous and will climb to the tops of trees given half a chance. So check the tags.

Climbing roses don’t twine and they don’t grip – basically, their thorns hook on to anything available and that’s what holds them up. I know, that doesn’t sound very reliable and it pays to help them out by tying some of the branches to the fence. There’s a vast range of colours, many are strongly scented. The sweetly-scented ‘Mortimer Sackler’ is a great choice if you have young kids because it is almost thornless. Those labelled patio climbers are the shortest. Grows to around 1.5-3m tall.

Sweet pea (Lathyrus)

sweet peas
Old fashioned sweet peas. Image: Suttons Seeds

These are classic cottage garden climbers that cling using tendrils, curly little stems that grip anything they touch in a matter of minutes. They often need a little guidance if they don’t find support straight away, but basically they hold themselves up pretty well.

They come in a huge range of colours and all the best have a fabulous fragrance. Look for the five star scent rating on labels and for names like ‘Old Spice’, ‘Fragrantissima’ and ‘Old Fashioned’. You always used to have to grow your own sweet peas from seed but not any more. Garden centres now stock plants in the spring.

Just one very important thing to remember about sweet peas: if you don’t snip off the dead flowers as soon as you can after they’re over, or cut them for the house as they open, flowering will grind to a halt and may stop altogether. It only takes a moment. Grow to around 2m tall.

Graham Rice

About Graham Rice

Graham Rice is an award-winning garden writer and blogger with
special interests in perennials, annuals and container plants, and
choosing plants for specific garden situations. His blog Transatlantic
Gardener
was awarded Garden Blog Of The Year in 2014 and his
Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Perennials was awarded
Garden Book of The Year.
View all posts by Graham.