You may decide to grow climbing plants to make some of your bare walls more attractive. There are those which need some support in addition to the wall itself, and those which don’t need any further support. You might decide to go for the latter group, as this will save you the time and expense of preparing the wall with supports. Those species which do not need additional supports, like wire or trellis, have their own means of ‘holding on’. Everyone will be aware of ivy, which uses small suckers to attach itself to the wall. Like the other clinging species, it is rooted in the ground, and derives its nourishment from the soil. Ivy does no damage to the wall and the suckers the plant sends out are only there to ensure that it has its own means of support.
In addition to the wild ivy there are many different cultivated species. Some of them are extremely beautiful as wall-growing species, adding pleasant foliage colour.
There is no reason why you should not grow the ivy which often establishes itself voluntarily against the wall! This is Hedera fielix. Once established and flourishing this particular species will act as a magnet for all sorts of wild creatures, some very small, like silverfish and spiders, as well as large ones like mice. If you decide to select other ivies, then it is a good idea to visit your local garden centre and ask advice. The best time to plant ivy is in the spring, so that it will become well established in the ensuing months. Unless you buy container- or pot-grown species, you may find that they do not do too well if the rooting system is upset, as they don’t take kindly to being moved. If you dig in some rotted manure you will provide the plants with nourishment, and give them a good start. The foliage of ivies varies from the dark green of species like Hedera helix, var. caenwoodiana, to the variegated leaf of//, cokhica, var. dentata variegata. In between these extremes are many other subtle hues and shades and you might decide that a mixture would give added variety to your wall. The part of the country in which you live will, to some extent, determine the species which you buy, since some are particularly hardy, whereas others are less tolerant of severe conditions and might suffer in extremes of temperature.
The world of the ivy
If you already have ivy on the wall of your house you will perhaps already have discovered in it a hidden world of wildlife. Because the ivy is evergreen, and because it flowers and fruits much later than most other plants, it is particularly valuable in providing shelter and to some extent, food, all the year round. Although the branches higher up the wall will offer some protection, it is around the base where the ivy is at its thickest, that wildlife will seek shelter, not only during the spring and summer, but in the autumn and winter as well. Small tortoiseshell butterflies may settle behind the leaves to spend a quiet winter. There will be many other animal species which will come on the prowl for food, and foraging ants and millipedes may be overlooked. In very thick growth mice may find a suitable place to rest, and birds are also likely to seek shelter.
The value of ivy and other evergreen creepers is that you will, hopefully, have a ready-made nesting site for your early spring nest-building birds. Among those which are the first to build are the blackbirds, species of thrush, the chaffinch and the chiff-chaff. As most other plant species are fading, the ivy will be bursting with flower in October, especially where there are shaded, rather than exposed, walls. Late insects, particularly if the weather is fine and warm, will take eagerly of the nectar which the ivy flowers offer. The familiar blue and black berries, which appear early in the following year, will provide a source of food and nourishment for birds when other natural foods may not be easy to come by, especially in hard winters.
If you have a hedge in your garden which comes into leaf early, and so becomes the target for the early nesters, you might want to include some creepers because their leaves appear later and will provide a nesting site for those species which build their nests then, like the migratory birds which do not arrive here until later on. You might want to consider the value of encouraging garden warblers and greenfinches to nest in your garden, and perhaps, with a species which comes into leaf later, you might even tempt a flycatcher to suss out your territory.
But if you have only a small plot and feel that trees and hedges are not for you, do not despair: even if your garden is only a back yard there is a lot you can do. If you can only hang up a bag of scraps you will entice the birds in to feed, and you can always suspend hoppers and feeding trays from the walls for them. To attract the small mammals who have probably already paid a passing visit, grow creeping plants up your walls, and while you are waiting for them to establish themselves, remove one or two bricks and plant trailing lobelia, creeping jenny or even the perennial aubretia in the cavities after filling them with potting compost.
All plants will attract insects, and there must be room for containers for annuals or even small permanent shrubs. Even window boxes will be a magnet for bees and butterflies, and there is a large variety available now. These and hanging baskets can be full of colourful scented plants well into the autumn.
However little you can do to help sustain wildlife on your territory, you will find it gives you an endless source of interest, and it may be the wildlife’s only hope!