Nothing looks nicer along a blank wall or fence than a riot of colour from a climbing plant! There are one or two good-tempered climbers that work really well in Portugal, and although many will be known to active gardeners, it is worth mentioning one or two for novice gardeners.
Bougainvillaea is one of my favourites – those lovely papery blossoms that last and last throughout the summer – but actually the true flowers on bougainvillaea are quite small, usually white, and are surrounded by the colourful ‘bracts’. The bracts are the real showstoppers and come in shades of red, purple, magenta, hot pink, light pink, orange, apricot and white. The bracts, often called ‘false flowers,’ are what attract pollinators to the true flowers hidden within their brightly coloured backdrop. They thrive in full sun and will grow well in pots or in the ground, and once established, will withstand hard pruning after flowering has finished. It has some serious thorns, so beware! They don’t take too kindly to being moved owing to their sensitive root system – I have one that is struggling after I moved it from the ground to a pot when I moved, but it is possible if you do it during the winter when the plant is dormant.
The Pink Trumpet Vine, (Podranea ricasoliana), exuberantly blooms with flared, trumpet-shaped flowers in spring and autumn. Be sure to add this one to your list, if you are looking for seasonal colour. Sturdy and rapid growing, it looks a bit delicate, but is surprisingly tough and will need pruning to keep its lush growth under control. It is actually a sprawling shrub, but if encouraged it can become a climber, and will need anchoring if grown against a wall or trellis.
Another colourful favourite is the Cape Honeysuckle, (Tecomaria capensis), which isn’t in fact part of the honeysuckle family at all.
It’s an attractive ornamental garden plant commonly used for screening and decorative purposes, and can also be trimmed to form a hedge. A blazing, vibrant orange colour, sometimes yellow, against small dark shiny leaves, it’s actually a shrub but does well as a climber against a wall or trellis. Loves full sun, and handles the wind well as it has quite woody stems and is drought tolerant – (the one I have seems to thrive on neglect!), and has flowers all year.
Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) is another favourite. It is long-lived and can produce impressive amounts of cascading blooms in lilac, white, blue, and lavender-pink in early summer, but these blooms only last 3-4 weeks. It needs only moderate water and tolerates alkaline soil. I have never had to do anything to mine, but apparently you may have to add chelated iron if the plant develops chlorosis, a condition where the leaves turn yellow. Wisteria needs frequent pruning to train into shape, but not much fertilizer. The downside is they messily lose all their leaves in the winter, and a somewhat ugly tangle of vines is left until the spring.
Lastly is jasmine, with its delicate white blossoms, giving off a beautiful fragrance. It is an important scent noted in perfumes, and apparently also has herbal properties. Jasmine plants may require a bit of effort, but the results are well worth the work. Jasmine plant care is not difficult but does require vigilance - the vines need to be trained early when they are young, and you may need to use plant ties or just help them weave them through trellis sections, or they will just helplessly wave their tendrils around like some sort of green alien!
Fertilize the plant in spring just before new growth appears and pinch off the tips of the vines in the second year to promote branching which will fill the trellis with bushy growth. The jasmine plant is prone to spider mites, which can be combated with horticultural oil or neem oil.
Another vine that does well is Portugal? Well, it has to be the grapevine – but that’s another story!