Homes for wildlife, bat box on the wall in Linda Barker's garden

Climbing plants and wall shrubs

Wisteria and other climbers can give a beautiful burst of colour and fragrance to an outdoor space, as well acting as a source of food and shelter for birds and bees.

Climbers for wildlife

Climbers do exactly as their name suggests, scaling walls and covering fences, pergolas, sheds and trees with a thick layer of wildlife-friendly foliage.

Because they like to hug to structures and follow the contours of existing garden features, they’re great when space is limited, so even on a balcony or a small patio, pot climbers can still be a part of your outdoor space, grown up trellis or railings.

They are really fantastic homes for nature! Our native ivy for example, gives a strong dense layer of shelter and protection and contrary to popular belief ivy is unlikely to damage a sound wall.  Although, you should be wary of it climbing into gutters or around pipes.

Honeysuckle and clematis are great too, giving a great source of nest building materials and attracting a wealth of insects. 

There are lots of potential climbers to choose from, all with their own benefits.

Planting

  • To cover a bare wall or fence, add trellis or wires before planting your climbers for support.
  • For walls, mount trellis on 6 cm battens screwed into the bricks.
  • If you have a fence, nail blocks of wood a few centimetres thick onto your fence posts. Stretch a latticework of wires between the outer faces of the blocks or put up a light trellis on which climbing plants can be trained. You could also run strips of wood across from one fence post to the next to create tiny ledges which will form nesting sites for birds once the climbers thicken.
  • When planting up a bare wall or fence, include wall shrubs to provide depth and structure. Climbers prefer to have their roots in shade and will climb up through trees and bushes.
  • Space wall shrubs about a metre apart and half a metre away from the boundary.
  • Plant climbers in between at least 30 cm from the bottom of fence or wall. You can complement ivy and honeysuckle with a host of other climbers, including fragrant jasmine and colourful roses and clematis. Cut down newly planted ivy to about 10 cm tall to give the roots a boost and water in well.
  • Walls can cast a rain shadow. Make sure the soil will remain moist when considering planting a climber or wall shrub.

Maintenance

  • Tying and training of climbers is the mainstay of maintenance. This encourages the plant to grow in the required direction and maximises coverage of the intended area.
  • if you are using ties to help support and guide stems, check them at least annually to ensure they are not cutting into or restricting the plant.
  • Light pruning of growing stems encourages branching and hastens coverage. Most pruning maintenance is best carried out during late winter or early spring, after birds have eaten the fruit.
  • Thick, well-established climbers may require periodically trimming at the front, to keep it in shape and prevent spreading. This is best carried out in late winter before birds decide to nest in it.
Making a beetle bucket, digging hole for bucket, Potton lower school, Bedfordshire, England

Tools for the job

  • Spade – for planting
  • Border fork - for planting and weeding
  • Secateurs – for minor pruning
  • Hedging shears – for light trimming
  • Vine wires and ties – for training
Trowel and fork in soil

Recommended climbing plants

Blue tit Parus caeruleus, juvenile, perched on garden trellis with flowering honeysuckle. Co. Durham.

There are three main types of climbing plant: those that ramble over a structure, those that entwine themselves around a structure, or self-clinging plants.