Creepers, climbers or ramblers have a couple of most useful characteristics: that of taking up a lot of space and of being able to perform upwards, downwards and sometimes sideways, too. They offer endless possibilities for concealment and softening, giving shade that can be kept to a certain size, and some will do well as ground covers. Apart from the usual suspects such as wisteria, Solanum jasminoides and grape vines, here are a few of my favourites.
Indigenous jasmines such as Jasminum multipartitum and Jasminum angulare are stout and bushy but send out long arms which can be trained up or down – and when mature are wonderfully valuable as robust, evergreen components with scented flowers. I wouldn’t expect them to perform on a pergola, but are wonderful tumbling down banks or in large troughs on balconies where they can hang over balustrades.
I tend to use the common garden Plumbago auriculata not as a shrub, but rather as a wall coverer (you will need to put up wires and trim flattish) or spectacularly as a permanent cover for those horrible block retaining walls that ordinary ground covers fail so miserably to cover. You can plant them in the blocks as small, rooted cuttings to fit in the tiny slots. Plumbago withstands drought well but with good water and a little feeding and trimming, it will perform beautifully for you all year round without being picky.
Solanum quadrangulare is another large, bouncy, rambling thing that is wonderful as a ground cover or to tumble down banks – it has the advantage of growing quite close to the sea. Another salt-happy creeper is Dipogon lignosus, which I often use to bring seasonal colour to a seaside garden that has been planted with a lot of sensible, rather dull wind breaks – it will festoon the tops of the bushes with fuchsia pink flowers. It’s very fast and I have also used it successfully on wires to cover unattractive fences and walls. Rhoicissus tomentosum or wild grape can be used on pergolas that get too much wind for normal grapes – they have lovely glossy grape-like leaves and tendrils, but not much of a show of flowers. The Senecios are great value – Senecio macroglossus takes a surprising amount of shade and Senecio tamoides ‘Canary Creeper’ is a gorgeous, happy, bright-yellow flowering giant that will be quick and easy, given enough water.
Showstoppers – bold is back
To me, there’s nothing to beat a well-trained bougainvillea for colour power and good drought resistance. I use them on pergolas, columns and in big window boxes. They can get to a massive size and coverage. Pyrostegia venusta is very now somehow – it must be the electric orange colour and largish leaves. Great on pergolas, it’s quick and easy, generally. Distictis buccinatoria is an old-fashioned thing that’s back in vogue – nothing to beat its wonderful sprays of large, dark cerise tubular flowers and handsome, strong habit.