The Only Way is Up

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Here in the Charente Maritime houses and buildings have donned their summer clothing, pretty pastels and vibrant colours abound. Everywhere I go there are climbers, reaching upwards, the bigger the better;  these are the social climbers of the plant world, they twist and turn around anything they can cling to for support, or anything that will enhance their status!

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Plants and flowers bring out the frivolity of summer; and a climber is a house’s necklace, encrusted with jewels.

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Vertical colour and foliage is nearly always a good thing, and instantly transforms even the smallest garden into a much richer, more interesting space. There is something quite magical about climbing plants in a garden, they scramble, creep, climb and eventually cover, sometimes they take their time to get established, but the wait will be worth it.

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Some of the most stunning houses that really stick in my mind are those with beautifully trained plants that clothe their walls , wrapping themselves in a summer shawl of leaves.

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Even the plainest of walls can be transformed with the addition of greenery

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although faded French shutters in tones of blues and greys truly need little embellishment.

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First impressions really do make all the difference; they hint at what lies within and anything flowering above an old door is a stunning partnership, a relationship that never fails to be a success.

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If you lack garden space or have a bare wall to cover you really need a climbing plant. Walls can be dramatic in a supporting role and they’re a magical backdrop for plants. Old mellowed stone and climbers are a match made in heaven.

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Wisteria will automatically have its influence, casting an air of sophistication much as a beautiful scarf might lift an ordinary suit. Our’s is being most obliging this year and has just had it’s second flush of flowers, the perfect purple petals hang like raindrops suspended in motion, while a supporting cast of bees flit about the topmost blossoms.

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Rather like in fashion, if you don’t like prints and florals then stick to basic colours; the same rules apply to the garden and the effect can be just as captivating.

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Anything and everything will be enriched if you let roses ramble all over them, even if they grow almost wild at the edge of some long forgotten wall along a rarely walked path.

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For no plant epitomises the classic cottage garden more than a stunning climbing rose. I think it’s the most romantic of plants, and of course climbing roses are perfect for framing a door or decorating an arch.

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Have a great Sunday and for those of you in the States a very happy 4th of July x

89 thoughts on “The Only Way is Up

  • Oh i love climbing roses but they never grow very well for me. you’ve inspired me I shall try again, maybe I need to go to the store and buy food for them

    • Hi Erin, I do feed our roses with a specialist fertiliser, once in the spring and again in the height of the summer. It really helps them. Keep persevering, dead head and feed and water the first year. Have a great weekend, Susan x

  • Love the photos – a lovely quick blast of French summer from the magic of the internet. Thank you Susan. You couldn’t slip a platter of fruits de mer into your end of the ether for me, could you ? Willy Wonka Chocolate TV style? Or just some langoustines….choice is yours. I’ll go and get a plate ready with a slice off lemon and some aioli.

    • Ha ha Simon, I could, and a few oysters too, as you probably know this is the oyster capital of France! Trouble is I can only post a photo to tease you rather than letting you actually eat them!!! Susan x

  • So beautiful! We used to have a lot of clematis growing all over our walls when I was little, such stunning flowers.

  • All the beautiful climbers are what I love about the European countries like France and Italy. I would love to do this on our house, but it would be extra work to keep it trimmed so I will just enjoy from afar.

    • Hi Kim, I missed climbers when we were in Florida. Of course no one had climbers or trees within a couple of feet or more of the house because of bugs. Here it’s not something we have to worry about, it’s certainly a very European thing. Have a great 4th July Susan x

  • Where did you get that sunlight? I’m only about 90 minutes north of you and it looks like a very cloudy fall day out there. Anyway, love the roses. And is that Virginia creeper? I’m planning to grow that on the back wall of my house — and maybe the front. Strange, isn’t it? I’m dropping bundles to have the thing resurfaced but I can’t wait to get it all covered up.

    • Hi Lynn, it must be the much talked about Charente Maritime microclimate, that truly stretches to within about 30kms of La Rochelle. It seems to be the case time and time again. It’s a little cloudy now but we had a gorgeous lunch outside and yesterday were at the beach without a cloud in the sky all afternoon. The weather has certainly not been as good as normal and so much cooler but it’s meant to be getting hot this week, fingers crossed! I know that anywhere north of us seems to be having a horrid time, our 16 year old is in Brittany, sailing with her godmother and the weather, she says, is like winter, she’s wearing a hat, a scarf, and a thick coat and it’s July! Susan x

  • I enjoyed this post SO much! Your BEST to date!! I have not seen Wisteria or Roses look so abundant and healthy! Thank you for sharing. Judy

    • Hi Judy, thank you so so much, I am guessing you are a gardener! Our Wisteria is looking incredible this year, maybe because it has been a little cooler than normal, the roses have taken a beating with the rain but are coping rather well! Have a great 4th July weekend, Susan x

  • These pictures are glorious! I read and absorbed it all with a smile on my face. Thank you for feeding my soul this morning!

    • Hi Nancy, thank you so much, I thought it was something lighthearted and simple for a Sunday morning and let’s face it we can all use a little eye candy to start our day! Hope you have a wonderful th July,xxx

  • I find it amazing to see these plants, particularly hollyhocks and roses, growing up out of what appears to be a tiny hole in the bricks/pavement/walls. So very pretty!

    • Hi Judy, I totally agree with you and they do quite literally grow out of nothing, a crack in a piece of concrete, but underneath of course it’s all soil and their roots go down. I love seeing self seeded hollyhocks beside old stone walls, they are everywhere here in abundance. Have a happy 4th July, Susan x

  • Oh heavenly, looks like you have much better weather in France than we do in England. I long for some of your blue skies and warm sun, but thank you for cheering me up today.

    • Hi Lisa, I don’t think anywhere is having a great summer so far. We get hot days and then it dips back down again, we’re getting a lot more sunshine than many, but it’s still far from good settled summer weather. Hope it all changes soon! Have a great evening. Susan x

  • Your post today has convinced me even more that Charente Maritime is definitely where I want to live when we sell our house, fingers crossed it won’t be too long. I loved all your fantastic photos, showing all my favourite summer plants. Wisteria,across the walls,climbing roses framing the doors and the spectacular Holly hocks growing out from the cracks in the concrete. You made my Sunday special.

    • Hi Barbara, I am intrigued, is it very different to the Limoges area? I believe you get hotter summers but colder winters as a general rule, but I know the weather has been so awful everywhere this year, we have escaped the worst of it here, even half an hour inland from us gets a lot more rain. I think Hollyhocks have become my favourite plant since moving here, they grow everywhere and they are so tough, they can survive most things and they go on and on, they are like the plants that keep on giving!!! Have a lovely Sunday evening. Sun is forecast for the week. Susan x

  • Thank you for sharing the climbers collection. I feel like I’m on a wonderful tour Susan. Looking forward to a change of scenery and weather at end of August. Grateful for my daily walks that happen early morning or evenings before the sunsets to avoid the Arizona desert heat. Bonne soirée.

    • Hi Carmen, I feel your pain, it’s tough having to only get out and about very early or very late. The climate here is a little more hospitable even in the far south. So glad y ou enjoyed my little tour of climbing plants, they look so stunning everywhere I go that I simply had to share them. Enjoy what remains of the weekend and 4th July. Susan x

  • Fabulous photos, Susan. Every time I visit your blog, I think of moving to France. 🙂 I know that if we had plants climbing up around our house, the iguanas would think it was their personal ladder up onto the roof, not that they need one. They manage to get up there somehow. 🙂

    • So I take it Kiwis like rain and lower temperatures? What a strange Spring and Summer, meant to be lovely this week, although I can’t complain yesterday was beautiful and today was really warm just a little cloudy. We just need lots of endless sun for the tomatoes and the aubergines, they are very behind this year! Susan x

      • This afternoon was beautiful here, clear blue skies and no wind. We ate dinner outside this evening and with our first tomatoes, freshly picked and still warm from the sun, my favourite way to eat them. Hope summer is here to stay now!

      • That sounds so scrumptious! My next house is going to have enough sun to really nourish tomatoes. (Our current property used to have a big vegetable garden, but over 31 years, the rhododendrons belonging to our uphill neighbor have grown to block any direct sun.) We are really looking forward to the first non-hothouse tomatoes at the farmer’s market!

      • On a positive side if something had to block your sun at least it is something that can look quite spectacular! We ate our first tomato from the garden last night, still warm from the sun, utterly delicious, quite incomparable to cold supermarket varieties. The sun is out and it’s meant to be hot this week so hopefully a few more will ripen. Enjoy the farmers market.

  • What sort of climbers do you have in your own garden? I’ve always struggled with them so much, you seem to have a much greener thumb than I!

    • Hi Helen, of the flowering variety we have wisteria, roses and passion fruit. But we also have lots of Virginia creeper, it covers a vast amount of our property and I don’t have to do anything with it at all, except cut it back occasionally. The wisteria I prune twice a year and the roses I feed and deadhead regularly. Apart from that I don’t do anything, I kind of learn as I go along!!! Susan x

  • These plants are soooo much more attractive than human social climbers 🙂 !!! Thank you for the refreshing photos of Summer beauty.

  • Hi Susan! The combination of your beautiful photos and evocative writing made this such a joy to read. The colors seem so rich as if they’ve been painted and the contrast with the rugged rocks, oh my, I feel a song coming on! What a Wonderful World… Hugs, Pat @ Bringing French Country Home

    • Thanks so much Pat, at this time of year everywhere looks so stunning here, I love climbing plants and putting them against old stone walls is perfection in my opinion! Have a wonderful July 4th. Susan X

  • Everything looks absolutely stunning Susan, and can’t wait to catch up at the end of the summer. Sorry haven’t been in touch but we’ve been out of town quite a lot. Best wishes to Roddy and the family x

    • Thanks Neil, weather has been too bizarre, hot one minute and then grey and quite chilly for the time of year. Meant to be beautiful this week so I hope it settles into a more typical summer routine. Everyone says hi and is looking forward to seeing you both. Susan X

  • Your photographs are a lovely compendium of the glorious beauty of the climbers, trees, shutters, and doors of your area…thank you!!
    We live in a mid-century modern house that, to my eye, lacks almost any architectural distinction, but the wisteria we planted in front of it two decades ago renders it beautiful 8 months of the year. The wisteria has wended its way up to the second story and across the entire deck railing that spans the front and one side of that étage of the house. The only challenges the wisteria poses are (1) keeping it from pulling over the railing and its pickets and (2) cutting it back often enough so that it does not envelop the entire house.
    So far, it has been a quiet July 4 here, which we much prefer because of what the sound of fireworks does to the dogs and to the combat veterans living in the area.
    Peacefully, Leslie in Oregon

    • Hi Leslie, I can imagine the wisteria completely changes the house for 8 months of the year. Once they are established they seem to romp away. I have to keep cutting ours back endlessly in the summer or else it would cover every window and the front door! I know just how your poor dogs feel, Bentley is terrified of fireworks as well, he literally quivers and trembles for hours, the same with a thunderstorm, he can sense when one is coming long before we can – you can imagine he hated Florida in the summer with our almost daily storms! I never thought about it affecting combat veterans before, those that need and deserve the most peace. Hope the day continues to be happy and restful. Susan x

  • How wonderful. Photos take my breath away then I sigh. I am just happy that the scarlet runner bean is scrambling up my apple ladder.

    • Thank you so much. Are you growing your scarlet runner beans as an ornamental or as a vegetable? Last year we grew them here as vegetables but they were invaded by blackfly and we had to take them all out, so this year I stuck to small French beans. Have a wonderful day Susan x

  • Wow. What an eye you have. My favorite is near the top, the white building with the brilliant blue door and shutters and the white flowers. Okay, I don’t want to be a spoil sport, but don’t the climbing plants hurt the buildings? Or do they pull down the vines after the summer?
    If you get a chance, come play along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

    • Hi Paulita, thanks so much, I just adore climbing plants, as you can probably tell! Most climbing plants do no harm at all. Certainly the Virginia Creeper which is clothing the houses in a solid wall of green does nothing. We have it all over our guest house. It clings with tiny forked tendrils that have glue pads on them, so they stick to the walls. English Ivy is the plant that is known to do damage. The wisteria doesn’t cling so it needs supports, the only problem here is it can pull things over with the sheer weight of it. Susan x

  • Great photos, Susan. Looks like the French like their climbing plants almost as much as the English do! Very apt timing – we need some sun, so when you have finished sending that other fellow his lobster can you send some sun our way?

    I see no bougainvillia – is it too cold where you are? I would have thought they’d do okay where you are in your microclimate?

    • Hi Phil, Actually we need some sun too, we don’t really have enough to share around at the moment! It’s a strange old summer, warm enough but grey skies half the time, not at all usual. With regards to the bougainvillea it is sold here in garden centres, and it thrives in the summer, the problem is it doesn’t like frost at all and has to be taken inside in the winter, so it can only ever be grown in pots. Maybe I shall try some, you have tempted me! Susan x

  • Fabulous pictures! These would be great postcards, is there even such a thing anymore? Or, should I say screen savers? 😎🌸🇺🇸

    • Hi Audrey, I like postcards! We received one only the other day from the Isle of Scilly where a friend is staying. The children always send and receive postcards during the holidays from various summer vacations, I hope they never disappear but alas they probably will, along with the written letter! Susan x

  • A very belated reply! Roses are gorgeous and lift the spirits with their beauty. I’ve never been able to grow them until now and have just planted a Shropshire Lad to climb up our blue painted arbour and Gertrude Jekyll has arrived today from David Austin Roses, ready to plant next to the chestnut arch at the end of the flower garden. Can’t wait for them to grow! We were at the beautiful Sissinghurst Gardens last week and bought a really pretty rose called Ballerina, also David Austin. It has clusters of lots of tiny pink and white roses which are just devine. So this weekend will be busy! Thanks for a lovely post and wishing you a happy coming weekend. (Our 4 days trip to Giverny begins on 14th!! Can’t wait!!)

    • Hi Marian, sounds as if you are going to be planting endlessly this weekend. All of our roses were already here except for one, so I don’t know the names of any of ours, but they all seem to do rather well! I hope you have a fantastic trip to Giverny, and I hope the sun shines, it should be wonderful, I would love to go there and look around the gardens, maybe one day, one day when I am not so busy with children and life, although, as I am sure you know, I wouldn’t change a thing. When you get home do the chickens then arrive?? We have just had a pair of silkie chicks hatch, hopefully to replace the one our dear Evie killed. We bought the eggs and popped them under a broody bantam. They are adorable, a week old now, hopefully one will be a female! Susan x

      • Congratulations on the hatch your silkie chicks, Susan. That is quite a feat! We had a paid of bantam silkies for years, and they were such characters (and so beautiful). If you have time, please consider taking a photograph of your chicks and posting it, for us to admire. XOXO, Leslie in Oregon

      • Hi Leslie, I will, I promise, they are adorable, the fluffiest little things I have ever seen with little pom poms on the tops of their heads! I am sticking my neck out and predicting one male and one female, and the same with the two frizzle chicks too, hope I am right, but we shall have to wait and see! Susan x

      • Yes, Susan, the hens arrive when we get back from France but not sure of exact time yet. You will know the minute they arrive!! I hope your little silkies are fine and female – perhaps some photos on a post??! At least you’ll know they’ll be safe and happy in the new deluxe chicken run! x

      • Hi Marian, how exciting, two things to look forward to, France and hens! On the post I published today, The Sounds of Summer, I posted a couple of photos of the Silkie chicks if you want to go over and have a look! Susan x

  • Hi Susan, this is where I let out a long, big sigh. Looking at all the beautiful climbers and gardens in these photographs gave me a stab of longing. I have wanted to create a wild and wonderful garden for so long. Today I awoke to the WIND which reminded me that I am dreaming. It is the infamous South Easter, or “Cape Doctor” which could probably be compared with the Mistral. It howls and whips things into tatters. I would soooo love to have purple Wisteria, as much as possible, all over the show. This is prairie living, and while I love it madly, I do long for the softening touch of fronds of green and a riot of blooms defying the challenging elements. One day, one day.
    When this wind blows, Table Mountain is said to have a white “cloth” over it. Our mountains too. I posted a picture this morning of the clouds spilling like a fat duvet over our mountains: http://www.facebook.com/laviedePraerie/
    regards, Jeanne X

    • I just went and looked at your Facebook, oh my goodness the photos are so so gorgeous, I have followed of course! My husband lived in SA for three years, mostly fishing our of Simonstown. His brother still lives there with his family. He always says he must take me as it is such a beautiful country, as yet I have still not been, but seeing your photos and reading your blog has made me want to far more. It sounds as if you have a difficult climate for plants, quite harsh, what grows really well? I watched a gardening programme last year where they visited SA, they grew kniphofias (red hot pokers) they seemed to cope very well with harsh conditions which is funny because they also thrive in our garden, we have quite a lot of them! Susan x

      • Hi Susan, what a very strange coincidence. While we were away and I had the chance to see other gardens, it struck me suddenly, that I would come home and plant Red Hot Pokers! My mother had them in her farm garden when I was a child, and they do bring a lively splash, as well as being hardy. It amazes me that you should have mentioned them, thank you for that tip, and also for your support of my facebook page! Yes, in SA it is possible to experience unbelievable beauty and indescribable freedom ……as well as the opposite. I think of it as a ‘high risk, high return’ country. And this does have the effect of making one feel truly alive…. ❤

      • What a strange coincidence indeed. We have several in our garden and they, for some bizarre reason, flower at different times! The biggest plant probably has about 30 tall pokers, they start in May and are finished by mid June. However there are quite a few slightly smaller ones and they are all flowering now. I love them. I can quite understand the “high risk, high return” my brother in law lives with his suitcase and passport packed at the ready, just in case, one never knows, but at the same time he absolutely loves life there, as do his children, he has been there for 30 years now and I can never see him leaving. xx

  • You had me from the very first second with the blue trim! What??!!
    Too captivating.
    Then, one of my favorite lines I believe I’ve ever read;
    Flowering plants are like a house’s necklace encrusted with jewels.
    Wow
    True indeed!
    The photos are magnificent- I have been transported.
    Your blog is so incredibly well written and presented. What an enormous treat!
    Thank you so very much as I feel as if I have travelled along with you, again.

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