Kirsty McLuckie: climbing plants cause creeping terror

Autumn is most definitely in the air, despite last week’s beautiful but brief Indian Summer. A chill in the early mornings heralds all the laborious tasks needed to get a home ready for winter, such as having the boiler serviced, carrying out the last mow of the grass, and finding a space somewhere to store the outdoor furniture inside.

But, for our house, it also means having to get to grips with the seemingly sentient plant life that is threatening to totally envelope the humble homestead.

Several years ago, faced with an ugly grey water pipe spoiling the look of the wall just outside the kitchen door, I came up with a bright idea of concealing it behind an artfully placed climbing plant.

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I built a planting box, stuck on a trellis and plopped in a clematis, which rewarded me with bounteous growth – but not in the place I wanted.

Image: Adobe StockImage: Adobe Stock
Image: Adobe Stock

In a matter of months, it shot up to the roof where its leaves and flowers filled the gutters, almost completely obscured a bedroom window, and threatened to engulf the satellite dish.

The next year, I cut it back to almost nothing and added what I was assured was a lower growing honeysuckle in the hope of filling the gap but – unsurprisingly – that followed the same skyward route.

Despite vicious annual pruning the two of them appear to be in cahoots, intertwining ever-upwards, extending well beyond the top of the trellis, and grabbing on to any leverage to climb even higher.

One twisted mass of limbs is so dense that it is self supporting and just stretches straight up into the sky.

At the same time, I planted a “three foot” Virginia creeper on the north-facing side of the house.

Again, it is a healthy looking plant, despite a lack of sunshine in that space, with its bright green leaves each September turning a stunning, vibrant ruby red.

But the plant also whizzed up the wall to take over the roof on that side and is now extending alarmingly along a telephone wire.

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It grows so quickly that when my son left his upstairs bedroom window ajar for a week when he was away, its tentacles came inside and attempted to devour his desk.

All three plants look lovely, and have certainly added a cosier feel to what was a quite boring new-build exterior, but they are going to have to be stopped in their endeavours to assert territorial dominance.

Nor is their innocence assured. Climbing plants can cause a lot of damage to the exterior of a house.

Not only will their deciduous leaves clog gutters – which, left unchecked, can cause damp in the walls, but self-supporting climbers, such as the Virginia creeper and certain types of ivy, can damage mortar or render with their inveigling suckers.

Vigorous climbers can wheedle their tendrils under roof slates, with the danger of dislodging them, which again will eventually lead to leaks inside.

And I’m already losing sleep thinking about the things I can’t easily check – such as what their fullsome roots may be doing to the foundations of the house.

The job of taming them will be mighty this year. We don’t have a ladder long enough to reach – and, even if we did, I’m not foolhardy enough to attempt armed combat at second-storey level. So I will have to face the expense of hiring someone with a cherry picker to do the job.

While beautiful, these three horticultural miscreants might end up to be the most expensive garden centre purchases I have ever made.​

- Kirsty McLuckie is property editor at The Scotsman

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