Sometimes it can be difficult to visualise how a wall that receives very little direct sunlight throughout the year can be brightened up with plants. A dull wall can be transformed by avoiding plants with dark evergreen foliage and choosing deciduous climbers with pale or bright flowers that can tolerate shade,
One easily grown climber that prefers a shaded rather than sunny wall is the climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris. It will cling to a wall, in the same way as ivy, and once it is established it requires no support. Early foliage is lime-green, and then in late spring, white lace-cap blossom is displayed from top to bottom of the plant. Even very old specimens of this plant still produce flowers towards the base so you can always enjoy them at eye-level. It is extremely vigorous and will need to be kept trimmed back but it responds well to this treatment.
If you love climbing roses then there are several that can be grown in semi-shade or on a north-facing wall.
These include ‘New Dawn’ with pale pink and slightly fragrant blossom, ‘Zépherine Drouhin’ with bright pink, perfumed flowers and the added advantage that its stems are thornless, and ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ with large, cream-coloured sweetly scented blooms. One of the most important needs of roses planted against a north-facing wall is soil that is freely draining and never waterlogged. Well-established climbing roses should be pruned and tied-in every year to help air circulation through their stems because north-facing walls can hold the damp and cause diseases to flourish.
Rampantly growing Clematis montana is often seen clambering through trees but it will grow equally well against a shaded wall so long as it is given a strong support of wires or a sturdy trellis. They don’t need pruning in order to flower each year, but you will no doubt find that established plants will need to be kept under control. The easiest way to do this is to cut growth back immediately after flowering. You don’t need to be too fussy with this – a hedge-cutter is ideal for larger specimens.
For those who like their gardens to be productive, there is always the option of growing a ‘Morello’ cherry. Pure white blossom in spring is followed by fruit in the summer. Although the cherries will never become sweet or fully ripe on a north wall, they can be picked and used for preserves, tarts or pies. Young trees can be fan-trained against a wall and will need to be carefully trained and shaped every year. They can also be bought already pre-trained and shaped for this purpose from nurseries– all you have to do initially is plant them in well-drained soil close to a wall. Blackbirds adore the ripening fruits, and a fruiting ‘Morello’ cherry tree will help to attract them to your garden. But if you want to harvest the fruit, trees will have to be netted to prevent blackbirds from raiding them. The method of growing ‘Morello’ cherries against walls has been recorded in Britain since the 17th century when they were regarded as a popular food source.