Other plants

Growing climbers

Apart from clematis, there exists a large group of climbing vines worth popularising. Climbers take up little space in the garden all the while giving a spectacular display owing to the mass of greenery they produce: Silvervine Fleeceflower (Fallopia), Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia), Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis), Vitis, Parthenocissus, Monks Hood Vine (Ampelopsis), Actinidia, beautiful flowers: Wisteria, Trumpet Creeper (Campsis), Honeysuckle (Lonicera) and ornamental fruit: Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus), Nightshade (Solanum), Ampelopsis, as well as edible fruit: Actinidia, Magnolia Vine (Schisandra) and Akebia. The majority of climbers climb by twining spirally round the support, while others, owing to the presence aerial rootlets e.g. Ivies (Hedera), Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris), Trumpet Vine (Campsis), Japanese Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides) and Wintercreeper Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei), or adhesive tendril tips, e.g. Japanese Creeper (Parthenocissus), are self-clinging and can scale a flat wall, without added support.

Climbers are particularly useful for covering outer walls of buildings. Apart from their decorative aspect, they also act as insulation during winter, and retain a pleasant coolness inside the house during hot summer days. They also help keep the walls dry by shielding them from the rain, and draining excess water away from the foundations. Creepers are best suited to this end, but you can equally well use ivies or Trumpet Vine, or any other climber on condition that a suitable support is provided.

Climbers can cover unsightly buildings, sheds, warehouses, rubbish sheds, etc. hiding them quickly from view. If you want to have the effect in just one year, you should try Silvervine Fleeceflower (Fallopia aubertii), Hop (Humulus), on clematis belonging to the Tangutica Group e.g. 'Bill MacKenzie' or ‘Lambton Park’ or alternatively, Clematis'Paul Farges' of the Vitalba Group. If you can wait 2-3 years, you can use any climbing vine described in this section.

Climbers can grow up various kinds of fences (np. siatki) (e.g. wire meshes). They will not only provide decoration, but will also screen us from nosy people's eyes and protect us against winter and dust. The following plants are excellent for this purpose: Common Ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera acuminata), clematis of the Atragene Group (especially 'Pamela Jackman'), the Tangutica Group (especially 'Lambton Park'), the Viticella Group (especially 'Etoile Violette' and 'Polish Spirit') and the Vitalba Group (especially 'Paul Farges'), Monks Hood Vine (Ampelopsis aconitifolia), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata).

The majority of climbers don’t require any special soil conditions, but since they produce a large mass of greenery, they don’t like very dry and poor soils. Heat-loving species, such as actinidias (Actinidia), wisterias (Wisteria) and trumpet creepers (Campsis), prefer warm, sheltered and sunny sites, while Common Ivy (Hedera), Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris), Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia), Schizophragma (Schizophragma), Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), Akebia (Akebia), Hop (Humulus) and some honeysuckles (Lonicera) will feel better in a cooler, shaded and moist site.

When planting climbers dig a hole of 50x50x50 cm and fill it with fertile soil. Depending on the species, put the plant 0-10 cm deeper than it used to grow in a pot, at least 30-50 cm away from the wall and 50-100 cm away from the trees. Well chosen and correctly planted climbers can grow for many years, decorating your garden all year round and providing excellent shelter for birds.

Aristolochia - pipevine

I can highly recommend Aristolochia macrophylla (synonyms: Aristolochia durior, Aristolochia sipho) to all garden lovers seeking a climber to grow in partial or full shade. It belongs to the family Aristolochiaceae.



Its imposing size has earned it the nickname of the "gentry bush" in some regions of Poland. Aristolochia macrophylla is a climbing plant attaching itself to supports using leaf petioles and clockwise-twining stems. It grows up to 10 m high, producing 1-2 m of new growth a year. 

Dutchman's pipe growing on a building
- photo Sz. Marczynski

Young stems are deep green and turn grey-green with age. It has very characteristic large, heart-shaped leaves up to 30 cm long, the upper side deep green, the bottom blue-green. In autumn, just before falling, the leaves turn yellow. The flowers are very unusual: slightly fragrant, yellow-brown-green, they open up in May-June and resemble a pipe 2 - 4 cm long, on a long stipule and with a wide-open bowl, hence the English name "Dutchman's pipe".

Aristolochia's flowers - photo Sz. Marczynski

The flowers act like a trap for insects. Once an insect has entered a tube, they keep it captivated for some time, and thus, without any sinister designs, they force it to carry out a thorough pollination.

Aristolochia's fruits - photo Sz. Marczynski

The blooms are usually hidden under the leaves and so may be difficult to spot. The fruits have a form of a bag resembling a little cucumber, about 6 - 10 cm long and 3 cm across.
They ripen in September, turn brown and split into 6 pieces scattering numerous, small, flat, triangle-shaped seeds.

Aristolochia macrophylla rarely sets fruit in a cool climate, such as the Polish one, although some particularly prolific specimens can produce fruit and seeds every year.
Its large leaves overlap and form covers as thick as almost no other plant and thus provide deep shade for fences, pergolas or arbors. Dutchman's pipe also looks decorative in winter with the tangle of its leafless green stems.

Dutchman’s Pipe is a long-lived shrub and can live even for a few dozen of years. It's fully frost hardy and tolerates well urban conditions. Thrives best in half-shade, but will also grow in full shade. In a sunny position, especially a dry one, it is very vulnerable to spiders. It requires fertile, moist to moderately moist soils that are not too heavy, and prefers chalky or neutral soil to acid one. It doesn't like positions exposed to strong wind.

It's a rampant grower that creates a large mass of greenery, and as such it needs a sturdy support. Planted next to an old tree, live or dead, it will wrap around its trunk and branches and create a charming crown. After planting into a final position it needs two years to settle and start growing vigorously. During that time you should prune it to encourage branching. In the following years pruning isn’t needed and should only be applied when the plant has spread out excessively. You can cut it back without fear, as it will grow back well even after hard pruning.
Due to its vigorous growth, it requires annual fertilizing and abundant irrigation, especially during hot summers.

Duchman’s pipe climbing up a wall
- photo Sz. Marczynski

Duchman’s pipe can grow over a pergola
- photo Sz. Marczynski

Aristolochia climbing up a tree
- photo J. Borowski



Aristolochia macrophylla is ideal for creating screens, covering pergolas, arbours and high fences. It looks very attractive when climbing up pylons, columns and old trees. It can also be used as groundcover. Owing to a great mass of greenery it produces, it needs sturdy supports, e.g. lattices, ropes or chains. It’s suitable for public green spaces.

Aristolochia’s dry fruit
- photo Sz. Marczynski

Aristolochia's leaves
- photo Sz. Marczynski

Aristolochia macrophylla is native to the eastern part of North America. It was brought to England in 1762 and arrived in Poland in 1808, at the Botanic Garden in Cracow.
The genus Aristolochia comprises over 300 species of perennials and bushes, mostly climbing in habit. The majority are native to tropical climate. Only a few of them, apart from Aristolochia macrophylla, are capable of growing without any screens in cooler climatic conditions:

  • Aristolochia manshuriens - Chinese aristolochia. A rampant climber originating from Far East (China, Korea, Russia), similar to Aristolochia durior in appearance and requirements, and almost equally ornamental. Large leaves are slightly pubescent.

  • Aristolochia tomentosa - Woolly Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa) - native to northern America, is a vigorous climbing plant with small, densely hairy leaves. Considerably less decorative and less valuable than Aristolochia durior and Aristolochia manshuriens.

  • Aristolochia clematitis - Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis). A non-climbing, perennial plant native to southern Europe. Raised stems that reach the height of 1.5 m, heart-shaped leaves 10 - 15 cm long and yellow flowers in May-June. It produces numerous root stolons. Suitable for large parks or garden landscapings, to use in half-shade. However, it gets easily out of control and becomes a rampant weed.