In the Garden:
New England
March, 2007
Regional Report

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The variegated leaves of this hardy kiwi vine look like they have been splashed with paint.

Climbing the Walls

Spring may not be just around the corner but there are signs we're on the downhill slope of winter. The sun is staying longer in the sky. My forced bulbs are peeking out of the soil. In the evenings I sit with plant and seed catalogs in my lap and am captivated by bold colors, showy blossoms, and plants that will make a big display. Then I have to remind myself not to forget plants that may strike us as more subtle now but that will greatly enhance the garden in summer when the showstoppers have faded.

Vines fall into this category. Their vertical growth grants them a powerful presence even though they typically don't take up much space in the garden. Some -- clematis is a popular example -- provide a focal point or draw our attention, some create living walls or ceilings, some serve as privacy screens, others hide unsightly structures.

Vines for Screening
One of my earliest memories of vines was the Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla) that climbed up the side of my grandmother's porch. Now I finally have a place for one as our deck is several feet off the ground and needs something green to, well, "ground" it. Grown for its wide, heart-shaped leaves, this perennial vine can grow 20 feet in a year.

Other good perennial vines for screening are grapevines (Vitis spp.), with the added benefit of fruits; hardy kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which also produces tiny fruit if you plant both male and female plants; Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata); and silverlace vine (Polygonum aubertii), which produces fragrant white flowers in late summmer.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a vigorous grower (rampant in the south) that also makes a dense screen but it can damage wood trim so it's best kept away from the walls of buildings.

Some annual vines also grow fast and densely enough to make good screens, such as morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) and scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus).

Vines for Shading
On the opposite side of my deck, I'm building an arbor, and here I'd like a flowering vine that would create some dappled shade and just generally be good company. I like everblooming honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii) for its flowers but the bees like them too and might spoil the fun of sitting close by. American wisteria (the noninvasive type) is one option, as long as the structure is VERY solid because the woody vine gets extremely heavy.

I could combine a midsummer-blooming clematis with a late bloomer to keep things interesting. Autumn clematis would put on a fragrant show in fall, if I don't mind waiting until then for flowers. Silverlace vine would work well, but here, too, I'd have to wait until late summer for flowers.

I love roses, and there are many tempting varieties. True climbers need lots of room to spread and flower best on horizontal canes, so the flowers would be most abundant on the top "ceiling" of the arbor. If I choose a pillar-type rose (less vigorous than a climber), I could train the plants to the outer two posts of the arbor and would get more blossoms at eye level.

Since I'll only use this area in summer, an annual vine would do, but I wouldn't get the overhead shading unless I chose a vigorous vine like morning glory. Purple bell vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineum), canary creeper (Tropaeolum peregrinum), and sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), are all distinctive, but they don't cover much ground in a summer.

Vines for Accents
Vines are commonly planted against a trellis but some will be quite content to climb a tree trunk or through a shrub. There the flowers and foliage intermingle with the growth of the host plant, sometimes making striking combinations. Roses and clematis are long-valued companions. As long as you keep the clematis roots well mulched or shaded to keep them cool, the vines will climb skyward through most any plant that affords the vines enough sunlight.

Another place vines can really show off is against a wall or fence. If your fence is unsightly, choose a dense, vigorous vine, such as autumn clematis or Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). The latter has beautiful leaves and blue berries in summer, and bright red fall foliage. Keep it off wood siding and shingles because it climbs using sucker discs that can cause damage.

The same is true for the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris), which climbs by rootlets that cling best to stucco and brick. It can scale a 50-foot wall. The lacy, white flowers make a gorgeous display for a month in summer. Mine is slowly making its way up my chimney.

You can create a more formal look by making an espalier with vines against a wall of the house or other building. Using screw eyes, attach a framework of strong wires to the structure in a geometric design and train vines along the wires. I've seen this done effectively with Boston ivy.

Whether you're ready for the permanence of a hefty vine like wisteria, or prefer a more fleeting container of trellised, fragrant sweet peas, try to squeeze more vines into your summer plans. There's always room for more.


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