Do you agree with me that climbing plants have something special? Annuals in particular… In a short time, holding on to trellises, posts and even walls, they grow tall and green with foliage and in most cases they also fill with colorful flowers…
They are a necessary element in many gardens, because they add that vertical dimension that many green places so badly need. But which ones are the best annual climbers to grow?
Annual are far less common than perennial in gardening and a small portion is made up of annuals, especially in the Leguminosae family. Some are household names like sweet peas and nasturtium, others are less known and even exotic looking like the stunning Asian pigeonwings. They also include climbers that live as perennials in tropical countries, but as annuals in temperate regions.
Reading this article you will find that between the two groups (cold hardy annuals and annuals for temperate and cold climates) there is a good choice if you are planning to introduce some climbing annuals in your garden.
You will be able to see them, recognize them and extol their beauty, but also give them the care they need.
So, just read on to find out more!
Growing Climbing Annuals
I know I am keeping you waiting – but only one minute… There are a few tips you will need before you go ahead and plant your chosen climbing annual in your garden or on your terrace… And here they are!
And now the moment you have been waiting for… Here are our beautiful climbing perennials.
15 Perfect Climbing Annuals For Your Garden
We searched far and wide to find annual climbers you can grow in your garden. From South America to Asia, in fact, and here are 15 perfect climbing annuals perfect for growing up arbors, fences & pergolas.
1. Sweet Peas (Lathyrus Odoratus)
We had to start with the queen of climbing annuals: the now classical sweet pea! There is little to say in front of these marathon flowering plants: they just take your breath away…
They will fill your pergolas, trellises, fences or walls with a colorful sea of wonderfully scented flowers from spring till the first frost.
And all this with very low maintenance. It is just amazing how they can turn even the dullest corner of your garden into a wonderful paradise in a matter of months.
Then again, they have a special place in botany (genes were discovered with sweet peas) and growers and gardeners have developed a world of cultivars of all colors.
You can go from the fully white ‘Clotted Cream’ to the striking pink ‘Gwendoline’ with waving petals or the deep purple ‘Black Knight’. And these are just a handful out of hundreds of varieties.
They are ideal for cottage gardens and in general informal gardens, because their fresh but old world appearance brings life, light and energy in a way that cannot be tamed, but only admired.
2. Morning Glory (Ipomoea Purpurea)
Morning glory is another classic climbing annual. Its beautiful trumpet shapes violet purple flowers are as iconic as showy – and abundant!
They reach 3 inches in diameter (7.5 cm) and their vibrant color makes them hard to miss. And they do keep coming… This beautiful annual vine will start at the offset of summer and keep blooming till well into fall!
And the flowers are not the only beauty of this plant… It also has large, emerald green heart shaped leaves that are both abundant and attractive.
So, if you want to hide your old gate with a covering plant that blocks the view of passers by but also stuns them with an amazing display if colorful flowers, this fast growing annual is just perfect.
But it will also look great climbing into a pergola or wall – and it is suitable for hanging baskets too!
3. Black-Eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia Alata)
Now just imagine your fence or wall covered with a tapestry of heart shaped deep green leaves and scattered frequently all over them rich orange flowers with a dark, almost black center…
The effect is stunning isn’t it? And it is even more so because the five large petals are heart shaped too.
This vigorous exotic plant from Eastern Africa is decorative when in bloom, but also from spring to fall thanks to its beautiful and dense foliage.
In Nature, it is actually a perennial. It grows in very hot countries with extremely mild winters though.
But in gardens all over the temperate world, including most of the USA and Canada, it can only live till the very first frost. And this is why it is grown as a beautiful annual instead.
4. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum Majus)
Here is another classic and beautiful climbing perennial: nasturtium. You will love it for its large brightly colored flowers but also for its unusual foliage.
In fact, the leaves are roughly round but with waves at the margin. They are attached to the petiole at the center.
You can see that as a dot on the upper face of the leaf where bright and visible veins start like rays and reach the end of the leaf.
The blooms of nasturtium are very abundant round in shape. They are large, up to 3 inches wide (7.5 cm) and showy.
The most common colors are on the warm scale, from yellow to flaming red, with amazing shades in the orange range. The center of the flower, though, is often of a different color, which makes them even more eye catching.
The great thing of this climbing annual is that it will cover your fence, trellis, wall, patio with flowers from early summer till the first frost comes! And it is also good as groundcover or in hanging baskets…
5. Cup-And-Saucer Vine (Cobaea Scadens)
Think exotic, think luxurious and think showy. Cup-and-saucer vine is a Mexican climber that can take your breath away.
The flowers in fact are beautiful velvet deep purple violet, bell shaped, abundant and large. They are usually about 2 inches long (5 cm) and have long twisting yellow decorative stamens that hang in the mouth of the bell.
The sepals are green and sculptural too, as they may remind you of a cathedral’s roof…
The leaves are large and abundant, about 4 inches across (10 cm) and made up of four green leaflets.
They will start in may and keep going till November. This too can be grown as a perennial in hot countries, but in our temperate regions it can only be grown as a semi-hardy annual.
But this does not mean that it will not grace your patio, fence, wall or arbor with flowers… They will start in July and keep going till November as long as you deadhead spent flowers.
6. Hyacinth Bean (Lablab Purpureus)
Did I say we searched far and white for climbing annuals? Here is the proof… Also known as Egyptian kidney bean, hyacinth bean is an African climber few people know about. But it is amazing…
Let’s start with the leaves. They are large lanceolate and pointed, and they are made up of three leaves.
They are large top, at about 6 inches wide (15 cm) and of a bright green color. You will get plenty of leaves, but also amazing flowers…
The flowers are the typical bean flower shape, like sweet peas, with banners, wings and a keel in the center…
But they come on long and upright racemes, which makes them quite unique. They are purple, magenta, blue or white. Or a mix of these colors.
But their beauty does not end here… After the bloom, you will get impressive purple pods with about 3 to 5 seeds in each, and they look a bit like large butterfly wings!
Just imagine this beauty on your pergola covered in butterflies!
While it is not well known today, this plant was cultivated already in 2,500 BCE, and it is reported to be both medical and – unfortunately – poisonous (only the raw seeds apparently).
Having said this, it is cultivated also as stock forage – a strange plant indeed!
7. Purple Bell Vine Flower (Rhodochiton Astrosanguoneus)
Mexico has given us another wonder that we can grow as an annual climber (but it is perennial in Central America): purple bell vine flower.
It has a very exotic look, with flowers that seem to defy all norms… There are two parts of the flower in fact, a bit like in fuchsia.
There is an open bell at the top, where it attaches to the petiole, and this is usually purple to red purple.
This hangs down and, in the middle, there’s a long trumpet shaped “inner flower” of a brown to dark purple shade…
It is a plant rich in character and personality, also thanks to its large heart shaped leaves.
The foliage and the flowers will transform any structure you get this plant to climb on to, turning it into an exotic wall of interesting shapes and amazing colors. No wonder it has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit!
8. Painted Lady (Phaseolus Coccineus ‘Painted Lady’)
Have you ever thought about growing runner beans for declarative purposes? No? Yet gardeners have done it for centuries now, and they have bred a cultivar which is quite famous for its beauty: ‘Painted Lady’!
All legumes have beautiful flowers in fact, but this variety has gained the attention of gardeners because the flowers have a striking contrast between bright flaming red and white. When in bud, in fact, the flowers are red.
But as they open, they reveal more petals in the center which are white. The contrast becomes even more beautiful but harmonious against the rich light green foliage of this annual climber.
It is a very generous bloomer that will flower for the whole of summer, but it os also a cheap option.
With literally a few cents you can cover that fence or wall that troubles you, or, if you fancy. Trust me, it is really worth it!
9. Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus Scaber)
This very decorative climber looks great draping gates and hanging on to balconies and terraces. It is quite popular especially with ancient monumental homes around the Mediterranean, where it can grow as a perennial.
But this South American beauty is treated as an annual in most of the USA, The whole of Canada and most other temperate regions.
But let me tell you about it… The shiny green leaves start off on the vine in sets of two, but then develop into 5.
With the tendrils and the thin stems, they give you that impression of “Art Nouveau”. That’s also why it looks great in wrought iron gates and banisters.
Then there are the bountiful flowers at the end of the stems… They are long and tubular and of the brightest orange shade or sometimes of a deep red color.
But at the opening, where you can see “sketched” petals, they tend to be yellow. They come in clusters of about a dozen, making a good display of vitality and color.
When fall comes, this climber will also present you with beautiful green pods that hang among the leaves.
10. Asian Pigeonwings (Clitorea Ternatea)
Revered as a holy flower in India, this exotic looking climber is sure to catch any passer-by’s attention thanks to its vibrant colors and unusual look.
Related to peas and beans, but with that bold appearance you get in tropical plants, this South Asian vine has flowers that loom like large mouths with big lips, usually bright blue.
But by the center, where the joint and round petals turn yellow and white, there’s another set of smaller, semi-opened colored petals. And this is where the name comes.
While the most common color is blue, there are also white, lavender and crimson red varieties.
The leaves are pinnate and abundant, which, together with the tendrils, gives the foliage a very fine and interesting texture.
Despite their exotic appearance, they are easy to grow and if you are after a climber that really stands out and tells your visitors that yours is not the “average” garden, Asian pigeonwings cannot be beaten.
11. Climbing Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ (Petunia Hybrid ‘Tidal Wave’)
“Petunias are great for hanging baskets,” you may think, “they are not climbers”… But there are some varieties that actually climb on fences, posts, trellises or any form of support you want to give them.
And being petunias, as you well know, they will fill with flowers “from hear to toe” from summer all the way to the first frost.
There are a few climbing petunia varieties, but one that gardeners favor is ‘Tidal Wave’.
This cultivar has a color range that is both beautiful and eye catching: white, off white pink, bright magenta and red. These vibrant and warm colors will fill your garden with depth and energy all the way to the end of fall.
Grow them in large groups and you can literally have a fountain of amazing flowers by your front door, on your patio or on your terrace.
12. Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea Quamoclit Cardinalis)
Do you want to use a beautiful climber to play with light effects and give your fence or pergola an amazing fine texture? Do you also want very brightly colored flowers? Then have a look at cardinal climber…
This is a stunning climber, annual in most areas, but you can grow it as a perennial in hot regions.
It has stunning star shaped crimson flowers with five pentagonal petals at the end of a tubular part of the flower head.
They are not large, about 1 inch across (2.5 cm), but plenty. They will keep coming from early summer to fall.
They look great as they are, even in terms of size because the foliage has a very fine, “lace-like” texture.
The leaves are in fact like many soft and light green needles on a stem, which makes this plant perfect to give your garden a fine but elegant texture.
13. Love In A Puff (Cardiospermum Halicabum)
This is not a climber you want for its blooms, but for what it does after the flowers have spent.
In fact, the flowers are small and unassuming, but still beautiful… But as soon as the bloom has gone at the end of summer, the plant will reveal its full potential.
In fact, the name means “heart seed” and it has a reason. Love in a puff (a.k.a. balloon vine) will fill with Chinese lantern like pods, that are light green and papery in texture and inside you will find three black seeds with a white heart on them! These tiny lanterns of course do look like hearts too.
This is a climber you want for a delicate oriental touch, on terraces or climbing over a trellis somewhere fresh and relaxing, or, of course turning your pergola into an open room with an oriental feel…
14. Spanish Flag (Ipomoea Lobata)
This stunning climber has it all. It has amazing blooms and beautiful foliage. Spanish flag, in fact, has this name because the spikes of flowers may remind you a bit of the flag of the famous Mediterranean country.
They have about a dozen flowers each, all facing in one direction (away from the plant) and each looking like a small standard.
But what is most striking is that the ones at the bottom of the spike are yellow, the ones at the top are flaming red. And the upright habit of the spike completes the effect…
These will come on a backdrop of large three-lobate leaves, which are emerald green in color and have deep veins.
The effect of this plant on your pergola or as a climber on the side of your wall is one of lush freshness on one side (thanks to the leaves) and flaming heat on the other (thanks to the flowers).
It is so beautiful that it has received the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
15. Speckled Swan (Lagenaria Siceraria)
Have you thought about growing a completely different plant as your climbing annual? Do you know that there are many ornamental gourds, which are climbers, of course, and which have a great decorative value because of their shape.
For example daisy gourd (Cucurbita pepo) is famous for its range of flower like patterns. But I have chosen a very special one for you…
Speckled swan is a stunning decorative gourd because it looks like – well you guessed – a swan!
It has a long and curving neck and then a head on top of it, while the larger part at the bottom looks like the body of this beautiful aquatic bird.
Why speckled though? Because it is dark green, with a very shiny sheen to it, and it has lighter green spots.
The flowers are actually showy as well: they are bright yellow, large and shaped like stars.
Decorative gourds have good architectural qualities but they are also very playful. So, maybe, speckled swan is the ideal plant if you have children, or if you want to pamper the child within you…
The Vertical World of Annual Climbers
Remember the importance of climbers in your garden, and of the “vertical dimension”. And of you live in a temperate region, or you need a fast growing plant that fills that spot for a year, these are the best annual climbers you can find.
Are there others? A few, mainly related to the Leguminosae (legumes, like sweet peas and ‘Painted Lady’) we have met.
They tend to be similar in look and personality, so, you can add common vetch (Veccia sativa) and Indian pea (Lathyrus sativus) to the list, but they are mainly grown for food and fodder, even if they do have beautiful flowers.
But with exotic and temperate looking plants, the list is large enough for you to grow some really beautiful, even unusual vines in your garden or in your terrace.
After many years as an academic in London, Adriano Bulla became a writer, publishing books like A History of Gardening, Organic Gardening and Elements of Garden Design; he then decided to become a gardener, following his childhood dream, and has been following his dream writing and gardening professionally in Southern Europe, where he has specialized in new and innovative organic gardening fields and techniques, like permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests and hydroponics.