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Canberra Today 17°/21° | Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Favourite climber for small spaces

The creeping fig… a flat, self-clinging plant suitable for a large wall where there is no space for pots. Photo: Jackie Warburton

Selecting the right plant can be a little tricky when it comes to climbers for small spaces, says gardening columnist JACKIE WARBURTON.

IN most cases, small areas are shady and the soil will most likely be dry, so make sure it’s replenished before putting in any new plants. 

Jackie Warburton.

Shallow-rooted plants grow better in small spaces, which will minimise root damage to structures and walls nearby. As a bonus, most climbers like to have cool roots and their head growth in the sun. 

My favourite choices would be clematis or creeping fig. For flowers, the clematis choices are endless as they are available as evergreens or deciduous, and the flower-colour range is huge. 

Some might be too big for a small space, but there are dwarf varieties such as “Rhapsody” with sapphire-blue flowers. It only grows to 2.5 metres tall and can fill a wall with its quick growth in no time. 

Another deciduous climber I recommend is “Lowii” or small leaf Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). It has the smallest of the leaves from the Boston genus and looks terrific climbing poles and narrow walls. It grows no more than 10 centimetres and the brilliant red foliage in autumn is spectacular and easy to manage.

But my favourite evergreen climber for a small space would be the creeping fig (Ficus pumila). It’s a terrific flat, self-clinging plant suitable for a large wall where there’s no space for pots. 

If left unpruned, the adult foliage is rather coarse and leathery and can look unsightly. The old growth can produce yellow/green, pear-shaped fruit that while inedible raw, can be used for making jams and jellies. 

Overall, it is the juvenile tiny leaves that this climber is grown for, and its root systems can form a mat and cover the ground easily. It will grow a little rampant, but it’s easy to keep in check by cutting growth with a sharp spade. 

“Chinese Indigo”… a small shrub of the pea family with lovely arching lilac-pink flowers in summer. Photo: Jackie Warburton

“CHINESE Indigo” (Indigofera decora) is a small shrub of the pea family and grows well in the right spot. 

Native to China, it gets up to about 60 centimetres and has lovely arching foliage in summer with lilac-pink flowers that resemble wisteria in short racemes. 

It likes water, so grow it around wet boggy areas or at the bottom of a hill. It has a suckering habit and can cover an area in no time. 

It grows particularly well as an understory plant, but to get the best out of  flowering it needs as much sun as possible. In winter it can be cut to the ground and covered with mulch. It will reshoot in the spring. 

There’s a native alternative in Indigofera australis that grows a little larger to two metres. A self-seeding, single shrub, it doesn’t have a suckering habit. But beware, it’s poisonous to dogs. 

WATER vegetable gardens in the earlier part of the day. Water the soil and not the foliage of plants to prevent the sun burning the leaves. A fortnightly spray of seaweed solution over the leaves in the cool of the day will help their growth. 


  • Get the last of the dahlias in for this season. 
  • Keep planting seedlings into the vegetable plot for autumn harvesting. 
  • Finish all pruning of spring hedges. 
  • Summer pruning of strong vertical growth on apples and pears.


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Ian Meikle, editor

Jackie Warburton

Jackie Warburton

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