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Early Climbers

by Charlie Pridham of Roseland House Nursery

If the winter period of colder weather has left you and your garden feeling a bit worse for wear, you could be excused for hiding in the Conservatory or greenhouse while Spring gets things back on course. I find that several of my favourite spring flowering climbers came originally from Australia, evergreen, they will all grow outside on a warm sunny wall in Cornwall as well as coastal and city gardens, but would, I suspect, have their flowering damaged some years by the frosts. However, even in an unheated Conservatory it is business as usual.

The first to flower is a plant the Australians call "The native Wisteria" Hardenbergia violacea this is an evergreen twiner that has bunches of very pretty violet blue flowers very early in the year. Easy to grow in the ground or in pots it has handsome long leaves and can be allowed to twine through other plants. Although it requires a leap of imagination to see it as a "Wisteria" it is a very dainty climber.

My second choice for spring under glass is one of the Pandorea species, Pandorea pandorana the "Wonga Wonga vine", the masses of cream-white foxglove shaped flowers are delightfully marked inside with pink and have a light and pleasant fragrance. It is potentially a large vigorous plant, there are examples in gardens all over Cornwall with a lovely specimen at Polgwynne, Feock (open by appointment), which is growing with the Wisteria, they both flower together and the whole looks stunning. Inside under glass they flower even earlier and can be constrained by growing it in pots and hard pruning after flowering.

As well as the type species there are a number of named forms such as 'Ruby' with pink flowers and 'Golden Showers', which is a lovely shade of golden yellow. All of these "Australians" are easy to grow, tolerating a wide variety of soil types, but do require a sheltered sunny position when they will brighten up your spring with their floral displays.

While out in the garden it is the tough hardy Chilean evergreen Ercilla volubilis that kicks off the year for us here, its pale pink powder puff flowers are beautifully scented in February and March, self clinging and evergreen it eventually forms a strong woody framework, which can be sheered back after flowering to keep things tidy.

This will be followed in turn by the various Akebia.

A. trifoliata being deciduous shows its flowers better after mild winters which tends to allow A. quinata to keep its leaves. The scent from these is of sweet chocolate.

Following these later in the spring is the more recently introduced Akebia longiracemosa. The flowers on this are very showy hanging clear of the neat evergreen leaves.

Akebia can cope with extreme cold in their native region, however these regions enjoy a short spring and flowering starts in early summer, while here in the UK they can flower as early as February and this early flowering can lead to frost damage to flowers so perversely it is sometimes better to site in a cold place to delay flowering! As an added bonus Akebia will if you grow more than the one sort cross pollinate and produce colourful edible fruits in the late Summer/Autumn.

Click or tap here for a list of the Plant Hunters Fairs Roseland House will be attending. They are happy to bring orders to fairs.

Contact Details for Roseland House: Phone: 01872 560451 Website: www.roselandhouse.co.uk

All text and images © Charlie Pridham 2023 used by kind permission

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