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Rebellious plants bring excitement to the garden.

Byline: By Peter Surridge

The world of plants is packed with botanical contrasts, from giant trees to tiny creepers - mountain-top alpines to underwater fronds and arctic mosses to tropical epiphytes. But the social disparities between plants are rarely noticed.

True, "coarse" growth is sometimes mentioned, along with "invasive" or "well-behaved" characteristics. However, a garden where every plant is well-behaved is about as exciting as a car park.

Gardens need a touch of rebellion, especially on fences and walls. That raises another social question: what is the difference between a climber and a scrambler (apart from the special terms used for roses)?

My definition of climbing is a polite, formal exercise carried out by terribly civilised plants like wisteria and hybrid clematis.

Scrambling is hasty, disorganised and full of undisciplined energy.

Climbers submit to training and tying - up trellises, over arches, along pergolas. Scramblers go where they wish - through shrubs, over walls, up trees, under the fence into next door's plot.

Their greatest asset is speed. As wall shrubs like cotoneaster and firethorn lose their charm between spring blossom and autumn berries, any scrambler worth the name races through, round and over them, studding this dull phase with flowers like gems.

Species clematis can be counted on to push their way in anywhere - the familiar Clematis montana, smothered with white or pink blooms, Clematis tangutica, with yellow bells and fluffy seedheads, and sweet-smelling Clematis flammula, with masses of creamy flowers in summer.

For a wild-looking background, grow ivy - Dentata or Sulphur Heart featured as our Plant of the Week a fortnight ago - or a rampant and colourful parthenocissus species, Virginia creeper or Boston ivy.

These are all long-lived plants but some fast-growing annuals also qualify for the scrambling club.

Nasturtiums display fierce reds and oranges while canary creepers scatter yellow blooms with frills like sparks of light. Both nasturtiums and canary creepers are Tropaeolum species - majus and canariense respectively. As both are annuals, that accounts for their vigour - they have only one summer to flower and produce seed.

They are superb for bringing instant merriment to ponderous plants, for covering the scruffy, dying foliage of spring bulbs like daffodils or early summer types like the blue camassia, and for concealing untidy corners.

Better still, they do not require much water or feed. But they do demand good light. Where I have grown scramblers under the leafy cover of south and west-facing plants, their green shoots have quickly broken cover and headed in various directions.

Others, burdened with the responsibility of brightening the foliage of evergreen shrubs or climbing a support in modest shade, have died in the attempt.

I hesitate to mention another nasturtium, the flame creeper, Tropaeolum speciosum, because it is not hardy in many parts of the North - or at least does not often flourish.

However, I have seen the plant scaling shrubs and trees in a sheltered garden in the chilly Derbyshire Peaks where it had apparently sulked for years before taking off. Now it clothes everything it can reach in pretty leaves and rich vermilion flowers.

The common nasturtium provides food as well as cover because the crisp, peppery leaves, like water cress, add extra bite to salads and the flower buds are a substitute for capers. But, for a real feast, grow those well-known scramblers runner beans. There are varieties with scarlet, white and pink flowers - and every one's a sprinter.

A very old form, Painted Lady, with red and white flowers, is also widely available again.

For a delicious dessert, plant one of the vigorous forms of cultivated blackberry, Bedford Giant or Kotata, against a fence. It will fruit within two years even in a shady position. If the prickles deter you, choose Merton Thornless or Oregon Thornless.

For beauty and reliability with the bonus of fragrance, the Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, is a real street-fighter of a scrambler. It's so tough it is virtually evergreen and, allowed two years to get its roots down, will barge around the neighbourhood smothering whatever obstacles you put in its way. The flowers emit a delicious creamy scent from spring to August, through mild autumns and again spasmodically in winter.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 17, 2004
Previous Article:Unusual plants will make their mark in the home all year long.
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