How to train your climbing roses


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I can't claim to be a particular expert in the language of getting wasted. Out of it, off your face, plain ole drunk: whatever you wanna call it. My friend Rose once told me on a Friday night she was "going to Taiwan-On this evening". I thought she was off to a glamorous new restaurant featuring yet another promising Asian cuisine, until she explained she was actually planning to "tie one on" – yet another evocative way of saying "plastered".

When I think about tying anything at all, especially round this time of year, I think about Rose. That's partly because of our Taiwanese mix-up; and partly because it's roses in particular that are begging for us to step outside in the spring sunshine with some nails, wire, string, secateurs (the whole gardening bag, in fact) and get on with some knotting, tying in and general training.

It's the perfect time to be doing it, what with the garden not quite into full-on growth mode yet. You can still see what you're doing, for a start. I've been urged into action this week by James Alexander-Sinclair, one of my favourite gardeners, who sent me a naggy Facebook link with a click-through to his excellent climbing-rose video on the IntoGardens YouTube channel. Climbing roses, James explains, have Actual Scientific Reasons for needing to be tied in and tied on. "Quite often," he points out, "climbing roses do not do exactly what we want them to do; quite often you will see that all the flowers are way, way, way up in the air, and there is nothing going on at the level of a person."

Left to their own devices, as any fairly lazy gardener knows, these aggressive, energetic plants sprout new so-called "structural" stems from the top, which may well be 6ft up. But trained horizontally along wires like a Tube line on the London Underground map, a totally different effect ensues: each budding group of leaves along the route egotistically believes that it alone is the top of the plant, so each "stop" produces flowers of its own. Twofold result: flowers lower down, which you can reach, sniff and even pick; and loads more of them. Is there a downside? No!

So how to proceed? First, buy some vine eyes. Of course you could just use nails, but then in a couple of years' time you risk watching your elaborate rose-training structure collapse. My technique is to sit myself down with the Screwfix catalogue, as another friend, Mark, recommends for a good evening in. Work out where to put the wires; where you want flowers and scent.

Now the biggest problem is to get the vine eyes fixed. Choose screw-in vine eyes for wooden fencing. (Motivate yourself to get out the drill to do some pilot holes and your hands will thank you later, preferably by not dropping a large glass of wine.) For brick walls, go for the triangular kind, which hammer in between the brick and the pointing (those of you who have done your own may weep at this point). Next, think about the wires themselves. "Horticultural" wire is generally green, in a gruesome deep shade that only "blends in" with plastic plants in hotel lobbies. I prefer Apollo's galvanised wire with a soft silvery finish: £2.99 from Screwfix.

Finally, it's time to bring in the plants themselves. Roses at this time of year should be sprouting away but still youthfully bendy, so it really is the moment to grasp the task. Use soft twine or string to do this last bit of the tying, and don't be afraid to do a little bit more pruning as you go, for shape. And then one last piece of advice: don't go to any parties, for a week or two, where people are going to look at your scratched arms and be concerned about your self-harming. Thorns, you see: the one bit for which I have not yet found a solution.