How to add charm to your garden

STAR PERFORMER: Star jasmine is both hardy and fragrant.
STAR PERFORMER: Star jasmine is both hardy and fragrant.

Some of the most useful plants in landscaping come under the banner of climbers. Plants such as jasmine and ivy are very common as climbers and ground covers, but there are many others that can do more than just hide an ugly shed, or screen off the neighbours, or the bin area. They can be amazingly beautiful additions to your garden.

So, firstly you need to decide if you want evergreen or deciduous? As the name suggests, evergreen climbers keep their foliage all year round and work well to cover ugly fences and neighbours' prying eyes. 

Deciduous climbers work well on pergolas and trellises to shade you in summer and then let the sun in during winter when you want it.

My favourite climber is still star jasmine, which has sweetly perfumed white flowers. I have it planted near my back door and in the early evening its smell can be overwhelming. It takes a while, but once it is established it responds well to pruning, and spot flowers for most of the year in the right conditions.

It will grow nearly anywhere in New Zealand and handles frost. It's a lot tougher than people think; it is often used on roundabouts and as ground cover in streetscapes.

But a close second to star jasmine for me is Hardenbergia, an Australian native, which has become popular in recent years because it is long-flowering, and completely covered in flowers over winter when the garden really needs it.

"Happy wanderer" is a purple flowering variety that establishes quickly and will grow to about two metres in a year. There are others that are white with hints of pink, red or purple. It's pest-free and disease-free, and is excellent as a binder on steep banks or just as a pretty ground cover. It looks like wisteria from a distance but without the invasive growth habit.

My favourite deciduous climbers are wisteria and ornamental grape. Wisteria is very vigorous; I have it trained on a wire along the west-facing verandah at home. In summer it shades the brickwork of the house, and apart from looking awesome I think it keeps the temperature of the house down a couple of degrees. Then in winter it sheds its leaves and the same brickwork can absorb the afternoon sun and keep the house warm. It's a great way to reduce your heating and cooling costs. But be very careful where you plant it - it can take over, climb the biggest trees and get into the roof.

Ornamental grape is a fast-growing deciduous climber that provides excellent summer shade and allows in plenty of sun in winter when used over a pergola.

In autumn and early winter the colours are amazing; reds, orange, yellow and burgundy leaves appear on the vine at the same time. You can still achieve amazing colours even in warmer parts of the country. It likes full sun and well-drained soil. However, its new growth in spring can be prone to attack from caterpillars.

Bougainvillea comes in lots of colours - what looks like flowers are actually bracts that come in red, pink, orange, purple and cream. They are fast growing and love warm tropical conditions.

Bougainvillea's biggest negative is its sharp hooks; plant them well away from passing traffic and children. But that said, they can be a great natural protector along fence lines boundaries.

So whether it's for aesthetics, protection from the sun or to protect your property, there is a climber that will do the job. They have a small footprint and big impact, which makes them an asset even in the smallest of garden spaces.

Sydney Morning Herald