Blue tit perched on garden trellis with flowering honeysuckle

Best climbing plants for gardens

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

Dog rose - Rosa canina

Height and spread: Approximately 3m x 3m (10ft x 10ft).

Conditions: Roses are hardy and do well in most moderately fertile soils and in full sun. They benefit from humus-rich, free-draining soil annually enhanced with a good mulch of compost.

Features: Beside the wild, native dog rose, there are a vast number of cultivated varieties. Flowers can be single or multi-petalled and vary vastly in colour including whites, pinks, reds and yellows. The best varieties are those with single petals, closely representing their native counterpart.

Propagation and maintenance: Most roses are grafted onto a wild rose rootstock. Take cuttings in autumn to root and be grown on. Train stems to wire or trellis support. Cut leading shoots to encourage greater branching. General pruning and tidying can be carried out after fruits have been eaten in late winter.

Benefits: 215 species of insect feed on roses. 44 of these are exclusive. Roses attract aphids - an important component in the diet of many birds and insects. Climbing roses form a thick, impenetrable refuge for birds.

Honeysuckle - Lonicera periclymenum

Honeysuckle is a vigorous climber with green, oval leaves. It is a common species in hedgerows and is a great addition to a wildlife garden. It can be trained up a wall or fence, but looks best scrambling through a hedge.

Height and spread: Ranges in height and spread from 2 to 7m (6 to 22ft) x 2 to 3m (6 to 10ft).

Conditions: Generally hardy and able to grow in most well drained but moist soils, in full or partial sun.   

Features: There are almost 200 different types, including some which can be grown as a free standing shrub or hedge. Climbing members of the family may be deciduous or evergreen and grow by entwining themselves around a support, such as a tree, wires or wooden trellis. Flowers are strongly scented and occur in a variety of colours, from whites and yellows, through hues of reds, pinks and oranges. Wild honeysuckle flowers are white to yellow with a red-flush. Fruits vary in colour from reds to dark purple or black.

Propagation and maintenance: Layering young stems can propagate plants and separating from the parent plant once a root has been established. Most climbing varieties should be pruned in late winter or early spring. Wild honeysuckle flowers on the previous year's growth and if necessary, a proportion of the plant should be pruned in alternate years. Shrubby honeysuckles (Lonicera nitida and L. pileata) can be cut back after berries have been eaten.   

Benefits: Thick, well-established climbers make ideal nest sites for thrushes. 19 species of insect have been recorded feeding on honeysuckle - 10 of which feed exclusively. Flowers attract bumblebees, butterflies and moths to drink nectar, including the hummingbird hawk moth. Bullfinches, warblers and thrushes eat the berries.   

Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, close up

Ivy - Hedera helix

Ivy is a woody, evergreen climber that grows up walls, fences and trees using tiny roots to cling to the substrate; in woods it can also carpet the ground. It has glossy, green leaves with three or five pointed lobes, which are often conspicuously veined.

It is a valuable plant for many species, especially insects filling up on nectar before hibernating. Ivy berries ripen in winter, when most other berries have already been eaten.

It grows in any soils and tolerates both deep shade and full sun. However, only shoots in the sun produce flowers. It is poisonous to humans. 

Height and spread: Common ivy may grow up to 10m (30ft). Many cultivar forms are smaller.

Conditions: Very hardy and will grow in humus rich fertile soil which is suitably well-drained. Variegated varieties require full sun, but those with plain green leaves can tolerate full or partial shade. 

Features: There are about eleven representatives in this group. Ivy has the ability to self-cling and climb over any surface. Leaves come in three shapes: the familiar three-lobed type, a five pointed or crested leaf and a rounded leaf. Ivy does not flower until mature and over a metre tall. Flowers late in the year, from October onwards and provides nectar as late as December before producing purple-black fruit in late winter on which blackbirds and song thrushes feed.

Propagation and maintenance: Grows easily from the laying of a young shoot into the ground. Once rooted, it can be separated from its parent plant. Clip back in early spring after the fruits have been eaten.

Benefits: Evergreen, so provides food and shelter year round. Of the five species of insect recorded feeding on ivy, two are exclusive feeders, including in late summer, the holly blue butterfly. A mature ivy-covered wall may shelter wren and even blackbird nests, as well as a host of hibernating creatures, including butterflies.

Ivy growing on birch tree, Stour Estuary RSPB reserve, Essex, England

Firethorn - Pyracantha

This slow-growing wall shrub produces dense thorny evergreen growth making them ideal for intruder-proof hedging or for training on walls. On their own, they can be untidy and arching in shape, so they look best grown at the back of a border with other shrubs.

Birds seem to prefer the red berries, and are likely to have stripped plants by Christmas. All the firethorns are tough and very hardy and will tolerate a wide range of demanding conditions, including shade and exposed positions.

Pyracantha mohave is a popular variety, large and upright, with rich green leaves and masses of small bright, orange-red berries. Orange charmer has orange berries, and Soleil d'or yellow ones.

Animals that benefit: The berries are popular with birds

When can I see it? You can see small clusters of white flowers in June. It's fruit appears in autumn, as clusters of yellow, orange, or, more usually, red berries.