Perfect plants for a north facing wall

Posted on Monday, September 1st, 2014

A north facing wall might not appear to have much going for it as a planting spot. It receives little sunlight and, depending on the direction of the prevailing wind, little water. However it’s often these dreary locations where we want to add a little colour and interest. And if you choose your plants carefully then that’s exactly what you can do.

Charming camellias

Camellia japonica 'Virginia Carlyon'Camellias are an excellent option for growing against north facing walls, so long as they are in a fairly sheltered spot. Flowering in spring, camellias are available in many different colours, from brilliant whites to deep scarlets.

A north facing position will prevent the morning sunlight burning the flowers and should keep the display going for longer. Camellias are available in a wide range of sizes, from petite 1m shrubs to larger specimens which will reach over 10m tall. Shown here is Camellia japonica ‘Virginia Carlyon’, which grows to 10m.

Valuable viburnums

Viburnums are attractive, evergreen shrubs which will grow happily in a north facing location. They have dark black/blue berries which provide a useful food source for birds. Viburnum tinus ‘Variegata’ has yellow edged leaves which add year round colour. Growing to 2.5m height and spread, it bears white flowers in winter and spring.

Viburnum x burkwoodii is an alternative of about the same size. Its fragrant flowers are a dainty, pink/white colour. Viburnum x juddii has the same pretty flowers, but is a smaller bush at just 1.5m height and spread.

Colourful creepers

Deciduous creepers will rapidly cover a north facing wall with colourful foliage, although they can be very vigorous, so don’t plant them in a small area! They have insignificant flowers in summer followed by black/blue berries in the autumn.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia, the Virginia creeper, and Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Boston ivy, both grow up to 20m in height and are invaluable for covering large walls. The palmate leaves become vibrantly coloured in autumn, the Virginia creeper with bright oranges and reds, the Boston ivy with a more subtle, purple colour.

Parthenocissus henryana, the Chinese Virginia creeper, is less vigorous, growing to 1m tall. The leaves are a deep bronze/green colour with very attractive, bright silver-white veins.

Pretty pyracanthas

The pyracantha, or firethorn, has year round interest and will happily grow in any aspect, including north facing walls. The evergreen shrubs bear white flowers in early summer, followed by brightly coloured berries in the autumn, which persist into the winter. The berries, a useful source of food for birds, are bright yellow, orange or red, depending on the variety chosen. Pyracantha will grow 3 to 5 metres up a wall. The stems have sharp spines, useful for garden boundaries and also providing a safe nesting spot for birds.

Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’ is a good choice for a north facing wall. It reaches 3m in height and 2.5m in spread and has golden-yellow berries which will brighten up any shady area.

Climbing clematis

While most clematis prefer a sunny spot, Clematis montana, and the larger flowered Clematis montana var. grandiflora, can be grown against a north facing wall so long as the soil is not acidic (it can also be container grown). This deciduous climber will grow to 12m tall and 4m spread and bears white flowers in early summer.

Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart'Interesting ivies

Ivies are often undervalued, viewed as a nuisance in most gardens. However, in a dark spot an ivy can be invaluable in bringing a splash of light and interest. As well as clinging onto a wall they will grow horizontally, providing ground cover.

For a large area Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’, shown here, is an excellent choice. Growing to 5m tall, the large leaves are yellow at the centre, becoming green at the margins. It’s easy to grow and can be pruned at any time of year to control the spread. If you have less space then Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’ will grow to just 1m high. The leaf margins have a thick edging of yellow, lightening up the darkest corner.

Top it off with a tropaeolum!

The flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum, will reach 3m height and spread and has bright red flowers through summer and autumn. This deciduous, twining climber will grow up a wall with support, or is an excellent choice for growing through a hedge (such as yew). It prefers its roots to be in cool shade and won’t grow well in alkaline or chalk soils, though it can be planted in a container so you can control the growing environment more easily.