Climbing plants for shaded walls and fences

It is always difficult to get good flower and foliage effect in shaded conditions but this is perfectly normal. It is because plants use light and heat from the sun to drive growth. So in the cooler, lower light levels of shaded areas plants noted for their foliage colour turn greener as they increase the chlorophyll (the green pigment responsible for the absorption of light to provide energy for photosynthesis) levels in the leaves, adapting to the less-than-optimum conditions. Furthermore seed production is energy expensive and so plants noted for their blooms struggle to produce enough energy to produce the flowers, and the subsequent fruits and seeds, in the lower light levels.

Climbing plants for shaded walls and fences
For shaded walls and fences climbing plants seem to be the obvious choice. However it is the habit of many climbers to drive growth upwards, making their way up through the canopy towards the light. This phase of their life cycle is juvenile and as such will not produce flowers. Once they have grown through the canopy their habit changes in several notable ways. The growth changes from juvenile to mature and is identified by the plant developing a denser, more shrubby habit. The genus Hedera (Ivies) as a good example of this. Once the plant has moved into its mature stage it will then begin to flower. This means that climbers grown on a shaded wall or fence will usually grow up, then over, flowering on your neighbours sunny side of the wall or fence!

That being said, if you do your research you will find a limited number of species and cultivars that will provide an ornamental display on you shaded wall or fence. The following examples are my preferred choices.

Garrya elliptica

Garrya elliptica
Commonly known as the silk tassel bush, Garrya elliptica, and in particular the 'James Roof' cultivar is an excellent choice for a shady wall. Not only is it tolerant of the low light levels, it is an attractive evergreen shrub noted for its stunning, spring catkins - male form only.

It is perfect for growing as a wall shrub as the Garrya elliptica will need a sheltered site as it easily suffers leaf scorch in windy or exposed sites. A north or east-facing wall is ideal but avoid frost pockets or very cold parts of the UK. Garrya will perform best in a well-drained soil. It can achieve a height and spread of between 3-4 metres

Hedera helix 'Oro di Bogliasco'

Hedera 'Oro di Bogliasco'
Hedera 'Oro di Bogliasco' is a vigorous, evergreen climber which under favourable conditions can reach an approximate height of 8 metres. It is noted for its rich-green 3-lobed leaves with an eye-catching large central splash of golden-yellow.

It will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but will perform best in alkaline, moist but well-drained soils sheltered from cold winds.

Like all ivies, Hedera 'Oro di Bogliasco' will cling to its supports by way of aerial roots.

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'
Commonly known as the 'Golden Hop', Humulus lupulus 'Aureus' is a vigorous, deciduous, twining climber noted for being the only yellow-foliage climber that is able to retain most of its ornamental colour under shaded conditions.

It bear yellow, deeply lobed leaves which can be up to 15 cm in length. Drooping cone-like, greenish-yellow, aromatic female flower clusters appear in the summer followed by attractive hops.

You can expect Humulus lupulus 'Aureus' to reach an overall height of 4-8 metres with a width of 1.5-2.5 metres. It will perform best in a sheltered position planted in a moist, well-drained soil.

Hydrangea petiolaris

Hydrangea petiolaris
Commonly known as the climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris is a large self-clinging, deciduous climber with broadly oval leaves. It is noted for its showy-white flower-heads up to 20 cm in width, which appear in June.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Hydrangea petiolaris to reach a height of up to 12 metres and a width of 4-8 metres.

Plant in a sheltered position, in a moist but well-drained soil that has been previously enriched with plenty of well-rotted organic matter.

Parthenocissus henryana

Parthenocissus henryana
Commonly known as the Chinese virginia creeper, Parthenocissus henryana is a vigorous large deciduous climber native to China. The glossy, leaves are a gorgeous dark, velvety green or tinged bronze, with 3-5 silvery-veined leaflets. Small dark blue berries appear in the autumn as the same time as its stunning red, autumn foliage.

For the best autumn colour, site in partial shade or full shade. It will thrives in any fertile, well-drained soil.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Parthenocissus henryana to reach a height of 8-12 metres and a width of 2.5-4 metres.

Also for consideration

Celastrus orbiculatus
Clematis - large flowered hybrids
Jasminum species and cultivars
Lonicera japonica 'Halliana'
Pyracantha species and cultivars
Tropaeolum speciosum
Wisteria sinensis
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