Climbers for Wildlife

By Andy McIndoe

Walls, fences, pergolas and archways present a wonderful opportunity to attract wildlife into your garden.

By growing climbers they can be a source of food for insects and wild birds, they provide shelter as well as a more permanent habitat and place to nest and breed.

In a small enclosed garden a wall or and fence can fulfil the role of a tree which space might not allow.

Bare walls and fences, devoid of vegetation are a wasted planting opportunity both in terms of wildlife and creating a green living environment.

So which are the best climbers to plant for wildlife? In reality any climber can provide a habitat.

Akebia quinata

For example, Akebia quinata is a vigorous climber that soon makes a thicket of tangled stems if not controlled.

Its fragrant flowers appear early in spring; they are reasonably attractive to bees and pollinators. It also produces large, hanging fruits in favourable conditions; these may be taken by wildlife, but are not particularly tempting.

However, its tangled stems provide a wonderful place for birds to roost and nest. This one has been home to robins, wrens and blue tits.

On the walls of the house it provides a warm sheltered environment and remains semi-evergreen through winter.


Like it or loathe it, ivy is the most wildlife friendly evergreen climber. This self-clinging evergreen is often seen as a threat to trees and structures, but it can provide both shelter and food for a great variety of wildlife.

Even a cultivated hedera, such as Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’ is a good wildlife plant, especially when mature. It is also highly attractive, bringing year round colour and interest to a bare, shady wall or fence.

Older plants produce the branched shoots that grow out from the stems to produce flowers and fruits.

The common ivy, Hedera helix is a strong-growing evergreen capable of smothering structures and scaling mature trees.

On a sound wall or fence it does no harm, likewise on a healthy, mature tree. However, what it can do is to increase wind resistance making an old or declining tree unstable.

For wildlife it provides a habitat: birds, insects and small mammals make it their home.

The green flowers are a valuable source of nectar and pollen and the berry-like fruits are eaten by wild birds in winter.


Another woodland native, the common honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum is the other ultimate wildlife friendly climber. Here again the tangle of stems of mature specimens can be a popular nesting site.

The fragrant summer flowers are a rich source of nectar, especially appreciated by moths in the evening and night. The species, and many of the cultivars such as the free flowering Lonicera ‘Graham Thomas’ develop shining, juicy red berries after the flowers; these are soon taken by wild birds.

The evergreen honeysuckles are useful garden plants. Most do not produce berries for birds, but their fragrant, nectar rich blooms are popular with a wide variety of insects through day and evening. Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ is a rampant climber, useful for screening.

It forms a thicket of branches and can be left to grow to form a dense mound of tangled stems.As such it makes a great shelter for wildlife. The fragrant blooms are produced in the leaf axils over a long period in summer. Its only drawback is that it is prone to mildew.

Lonicera similis var delavayi is a mildew resistant alternative. This lovely climber is not usually as rampant as Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ and has an abundance of fragrant blooms from summer through to early autumn.

It is a good choice for any support, but is also useful when scrambling through less hospitable shrubs such as laurel.


Wall shrubs are also worth considering when greening walls and fences and providing for wildlife. The pyracanthas, firethorns, are great wildlife plants that can be grown as free standing shrubs, used in hedgerows, or trained against supports.

Clusters of white flowers in spring are followed by red, orange or yellow berries in autumn which last into winter. The red berries are usually the first taken by birds. This thorny shrub also provides a safe roosting and nesting environment.

As with all flowers the single and semi double varieties are favoured by pollinators.Some of the rambling roses are especially useful wildlife plants where space is unlimited.

Rambling Rose

Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ is a large, vigorous rambler which could be grown through a tree, or allowed to scramble over a pergola, old shed or garage.

It is not one to train against a wall. The semi-double fragrant flowers are abundant and loved by bees in early summer. If unpruned sprays of small red hips are enjoyed by wild birds in winter.


The most popular evergreen climber in many countries is the lovely Trachelospermum jasminoides. A twining climber it needs support: it is perfect to clothe a sunny wall or can be left to cascade and scramble.

The small, leathery evergreen leaves colour red in winter in colder climates. The jasmine-like, fragrant flowers are freely produced in early summer, their sweet fragrance attracting insects in search of nectar.

The tangle of stems of mature specimens provide a safe haven for small birds, such as wrens to nest. Trachelospremum will grow happily in shade, but it does not flower as freely.


Few climbing plants give such as spectacular display as wisteria. In its native habitat this strong growing climber scales tall trees blooming high in the branches.In gardens it adorns sunny house walls, pergolas and archways and needs regular pruning.

A mature wisteria in flower is a wonderful sight and its fragrance soon attracts bees and pollinators in search of food.

It may not be the ultimate wildlife friendly climber, however all climbers provide a greener environment which has to be more beneficial to both the garden owner and the creatures he shares that plot with.

Recommended course

Gardening for Wildlife taught by Andy McIndoe

Gardening for wildlife teaches you how to create a garden to attract birds, bees, insects and small wild animals.

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Andy McIndoe

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