THE use of the word 'tender' in gardening is in reference to plants that are anything but hardy and either have to be a) provided with serious winter care to get them through our coldest, darkest months or b) are treated as annuals and at the end of the season become additions to the compost heap, writes TOM ATTWOOD.

Tender climbers are terrific because they grow their socks off once they get going and provided you start them off reasonably early in the season with a window of four months growing they can make a fantastic feature.

This year we have grown Rhodochiton atrosanguineus aka the purple bell vine through hazel wigwams in the carpark borders. The tops of the hazel frames poke up above the mass of herbacoeus perennials surrounding them with a beautiful web of pink/purple flowers enshrouding them with their distinctive bell-shaped flowers so synonomous with this Mexican native.

Last summer I was so inspired by the use of another tender climber used magnificently at Holker Hall Gardens, within the main courtyard Thunbergia alata. Known commonly as the black-eyed Susan vine, it was trained up large frames placed at the centre of sizeable square planters; they looked magnificent. This year we’ve planted some either side of our front door in bucket sized clay pots with a simple willow frame in each. There are various colour options from pure white through to peach, yellow and strong burnt orange. They are not the fastest climbers to grow initially, you have to be patient. Once they get going though, they erupt and grow with incredible vigour.

I suspect - though I must stress I have no data to back this up - that the various scented peas, including the quinessaintla sweet pea, are among the most widely grown tender climbers. I have a soft spot for the sweet pea as it was one of the first plants I grew; one inhalation of that heady scent and I’m transported back to 1991. The pea family includes other charming tender climbers: Lathyrus sativus f. azureus, Lablab purpureus Ruby Moon and Lathyrus belinensis.

They are worth every effort and despite being relatively fleeting deliver a potency of colour that is hard to match. Maybe next spring, order some seed and try growing one of these magnificent plants either in the ground or a simple container.

Next week: seeing red