Green, living walls

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Photographs Francois Oberholster

Tickey creeper

If you have an unsightly wall you’d like to cover or you just want to create contrast against an exposed brick wall, tickey creeper (Ficus pumila) is an excellent choice. This climber clings to almost any surface and doesn’t need extra support or tying back.

Initially, it grows slowly but the small, young leaves that cling to the wall make a lovely show – it almost looks as if the young stems with their bright green leaves are creating a pattern all along the wall.

After a while, horizontal stems that grow away from the wall will form on the thin main stem. These stems don’t have the ability to grip onto the surface like the initial new growth, and the leaves that form are larger. If the plant is left to develop these side stems, the leaves will not only be larger, but the plant will become shrubbier and form thicker, woody stems. If you prefer the smaller leaves that grow against the wall, trim off some of the side stems.

New small leaves will keep on sprouting, so your wall won’t look bare when you trim off the larger growth.

Tickey creeper is an easy grower and other than pruning it needs little maintenance. Plant it in compost-rich soil that drains well. Keep the plant well-watered until it is established.

Thereafter, it doesn’t need a lot of water; however, the soil should not be allowed to dry out completely. It’s also easy to multiply these climbers. Cut off a small stem of about 10–15cm and trim off the top 3cm – this soft, new growth wilts quickly. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the stem and place the lower half of the cutting in a pot with potting soil.

Keep moist. You can also use those shoots that creep along the soil and form roots to make more plants. Dig out these stems, cut into smaller pieces and plant them in a pot. Cut off excess leaves so that the cuttings have more energy for rooting.

Tip Tickey creeper won’t harm foundations but should not be used to cover cracks as the roots will grow into them and make the crack worse. So check your plants regularly and keep them trimmed.

Plant guide

Common name Tickey creeper

Botanical name Ficus pumila

  • Sun to semi-shade
  • Average water needs
  • Frost-hardy
  • Evergreen

Necklace vine

For a dainty climber that grows well in the shade, necklace vine (Muehlenbeckia complexa) is just the ticket. This climber is evergreen in warmer parts of the country and deciduous in colder regions. It grows quickly and soon forms a dense mass of interlaced twigs.

The small, dark green foliage contrasts beautifully with the reddish-brown of the stems. Necklace vine needs a light framework to grow up but doesn’t need to be tied back – the stems will thread themselves around the support.

Plant it in moist, compost-rich soil that drains well. Don’t plant it in too hot, direct sun and make sure that it doesn’t dry out.

Only prune this climber if it becomes untidy or grows where you don’t want it; otherwise it requires little attention.

Use some of the older, harder growth to make cuttings. Cut a sprig of about 10cm long and remove the leaves on the lower part. Press it halfway into a pot with potting soil and keep it moist until there is enough new growth – this is also an indication that roots have formed.

Necklace vine makes a lovely pot plant, with graceful stems that droop over the edge of the pot. Or place a framework in the pot over which it can grow; it will form a striking focal point.

And feel free to pick the twigs for indoors – they last a long time in a vase.

Plant guide

Common name Necklace vine

Botanical name Muehlenbeckia complexa

  • Semi-shade to shade
  • Average water needs
  • Frost-sensitive
  • Evergreen and deciduous

Sources Gardening with Keith Kirsten by Keith Kirsten; plantophiles.com; portlandnursery.com

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