Climbers and Wall Shrubs for Wildlife

Clare Lovegrove, from Lovegrove's Nursery in Gloucestershire, with her top choices of wall shrubs and climbers that are not only beautiful but also offer great habitats for wildlife in your garden. - 02 April 2024

Plants that clothe walls, fences, pergolas, and free-standing supports can greatly improve and increase wildlife habitats within a garden. They make great use of space and can provide food and shelter at different times of the year. Even a single plant can support a range of species.

Climbers and wall shrubs can attract all kinds of wildlife, with nectar-rich flowers for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and some going on to produce berries or fruit suitable for birds and small mammals. The shelter and protection they provide helps wildlife safely navigate the garden and gives an important home for nesting birds and hibernating insects.

In your selection aim to provide:

  • Nectar and pollen
  • Berries or fruit
  • Leaves for caterpillars
  • Shelter and protection
  • Year-round interest

There is little doubt that native shrubs and climbers provide the best choice for wildlife but that doesn’t mean to say ornamental varieties can’t be integral.

Native plants support a wider range of biodiversity, but numerous non-natives perform very well at producing nectar-rich flowers, winter berries or evergreen foliage for winter cover. Many pollinators are generalists and take happily to our garden cultivars, especially if single flowered and accessible. However, bear in mind that many native insect larvae and caterpillars do depend on just a few species of plant, or even just one. Including some natives or a ‘wild’ area is of value.

Top choices

My shortlist of ‘Climbers and Wall Shrubs for Wildlife’ have been selected as easy to grow and to provide a variety of support for wildlife year-round.

Lonicera pericylmenum ‘Graham Thomas’

Our native species Lonicera pericylmenum caters for a wide range of wildlife but Lonicera pericylmenum ‘Graham Thomas’ provides a very close alternative and is said to be one of the best scented honeysuckles. This variety is a lovely, highly scented climber with white flowers, fading yellow over a prolonged period July-September, followed by berries in autumn. Its nectar is enjoyed by many butterflies and moths including the impressive Elephant Hawk-moth. The nectar is also an important food source for long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee. New shoots, attract aphids, but with them come their predators, hoverflies, ladybirds, lacewings, and birds such as blue tits. Their leaves provide food for caterpillars including the delicate Twenty-plume moth. The climbing stems give shelter, nesting sites and materials for birds, blackbirds, for instance, will strip loose bark from the base to help build their nests. Bullfinches, warblers and thrushes are particularly attracted by the berries, which are also eaten by small mammals.

Lonicera pericylmenum ‘Graham Thomas’ holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit, is suitable for growing in full sun or partial shade and is unfussy about soil type. It’s a vigorous climber that will soon cover a boundary wall or fence easily reaching over 2-4 metres.



Jasminum officinale ‘Clotted Cream’

Jasminum officinale is a species originally from the Caucasus and West Asia, introduced and widely grown throughout UK. Cultivar Jasmine officinale ‘Clotted Cream’ offers larger cream-coloured flowers that are even more highly scented. This versatile and quickly spreading climber, flowers from June to August and is ideal for a sunny sheltered spot perfect for butterflies. It offers an excellent source of nectar and pollen for bees and various other pollinators and with its summer evening fragrance is particularly attractive to the impressive Privet Hawk-moth and Pine Hawk-moth.

Jasminum officinale ‘Clotted Cream’ will take partial shade if well-drained but a sunny sheltered site is preferred and brings out the fragrance best. It can cope with dry conditions and is perfect grown against a wall or up a trellis, soon covering around 2-3 metres.

If you want an evergreen alternative, Star Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides provides general shelter for birds and insects, as well as highly scented white flowers for pollinators. We’ve noticed the day flying, Hummingbird Hawk-moth love it! If you like the idea of cream-coloured flowers try Trachelospermum jasminoides STAR OF TOSCANA PBR.


Hedera algeriensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’

Our native climbing ivy Hedera helix provides long-lasting, evergreen cover, berries and an essential source of nectar for insects during autumn and winter when little else is about. However, if you want something to brighten up a space, Hedera algeriensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’ has been a great success for wildlife in our garden. This self-clinging evergreen climber, with variegated grey-green and cream-white foliage, provides year-round shelter for wrens, robins, sparrows or blackbirds. It has restored the house-sparrows in our garden from just a few to a well-established colony of over 20 birds which nest in the ivy. It provides shelter for a host of other hibernating creatures, including butterflies such as brimstone, peacock and small tortoiseshell. It’s small yellow-green flowers provide valuable nectar and black berries in autumn are particularly attractive to robins, thrushes, and small mammals.

Hedera algeriensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’ holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit, is suitable for growing in full sun or partial shade and prefers an alkaline or neutral moist but well-drained soil. Self-clinging and ideal for growing against a wall, out of cold drying winds, it will easily cover 2-4 metres.


Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris

Native to Eastern Siberia, Japan, China and South Korea, Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris is an excellent choice of climber for the less publicised pollinators and natural predators. This self-clinging, deciduous climber is slow to get going but ultimately vigorous. It is covered with stunning creamy-white lace-cap flowerheads in summer, its foliage turns golden yellow in autumn and its exfoliating bark adds winter interest. Like other climbers it provides shelter for a range of species and a nesting site for birds such as wren. Its flowers are a magnet for pollinating hoverflies and other beneficial insects, more so if grown in a sunnier position, although flowers do last longer in the shade.

Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit and is one of the best climbers for a shady wall. Although some shade is ideal it will take full sun if the soil is reliably moist, rich and fertile. Avoid planting it in a frost pocket. Once established, it can easily cover an area of 8 x 4 metres.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’

Although Chaenomeles speciosa is native to China it is widely grown in UK gardens and is invaluable for producing nectar and pollen rich flowers for bees flying early in the season. When grown as a thicket-like wall shrub, it is great for supporting birds and other wildlife. Choose a single flowered variety such as Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Moerloosei’ with masses of white flowers, flushed deep pink, or semi-double to double variety such as Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’. Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’ blooms are always busy with bees and other pollinating insects. It has nectar and pollen rich, salmon-pink flowers borne slightly later than other varieties. Whilst semi-double to double they are open and easily accessible. Quince fruit, produced in autumn, survive on the plant and store on the ground well into the winter and are eaten by both birds and mammals.

Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’ holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit. It flowers best in a moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun but will tolerate partial shade and most soils. Wall grown shrubs can be trained to be much taller and wider than a stand-alone shrub and will cover 1.5-2 metres. If you want an alternative colour, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Yukigoten’ is an excellent early-flowering variety with elegant semi-double to double greenish white flowers.


There are many other interesting choices of climber and wall shrubs for wildlife. If I had space for a few more I would select; Clematis tangutica cultivars for their fluffy seedheads, excellent nesting material for birds; Humulus lupulus as a great food plant for caterpillars and micro-climate for insects; Red or orange berried Pyracantha cultivars with flowers perfect for pollinators, autumn berries and protective shelter for birds and small mammals; and Rosa canina as an important source of nectar and hips for birds and small mammals. I hope you find a suggestion amongst these that suits your garden and interests.

Lovegrove's is a specialist plant nursery based in Gloucestershire and on the borders of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Clare produces an inspiring selection of rare and unusual trees, shrubs and climbers, complemented by a few other choice plants. All of her plants are peat-free and British-grown.