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Marin IJ Articles

Vines add charm, shade, interest

  • Nanette Londeree
  • Have a bare fence in the garden that could use some sprucing up? An arbor over the patio that doesn’t get enough shade in the summer? A brick chimney that’s a little stark? Adding some vines might be the solution to these garden challenges.

    Think of vining plants as flexible shrubs that just keep on growing. In his book “Gardening with Groundcovers and Vines,” author Allen Lacy says that vines are “Plants whose nature is to climb and clamber and lift themselves aloft.” They’re versatile plants that can cover a huge area or add a charming touch to a tiny garden. They can provide a dense, hedge-like screen or produce a softening effect on fences, walls or screens, accentuate horizontal lines in the garden, create vertical interest, and elevate flowers and fragrance to eye and nose level.

    Most vines grow rapidly, putting their energy into making foliage rather than cellulose for structure. As limp plants that need support, true vines have unique methods to hold them up as they climb. There are the twiners, like wisteria and honeysuckle that encircle whatever they come into contact with. Clingers are outfitted with small discs, rootlets or similar attachments that adhere tightly to almost any surface; tiny suction cups enable Boston ivy to cover mammoth brick buildings. Tendrils, coming from the leaf or the stem, act as little lassos to grab onto whatever is handy enabling grapes, clematis and sweet peas to travel.

    Climbing roses and bougainvillea are not true vines as they have no natural way to attach themselves to a structure.

    Vines are generally easy to care for; give them sufficient sunlight, water, an adequate support and a periodic trim, and they’ll flourish. That said, there are vines that can engulf a home or tree if not kept under control. Growth rate, ultimate size and the nature of the plants support should be considered when deciding what to grow.

    There are vines for just about every type of garden; in our mild winter climate, here are some favorites:

    • If you like fragrance, the evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii) sports creamy white flowers with an intense vanilla aroma in late winter, framed by lance-shaped leathery leaves. Exquisitely perfumed blooms cover the glossy foliage of star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), a well-behaved twining plant that can also be trained as a small shrub.

    • Many varieties of grapes (Vitis sp.) yield fruit in the summer and produce shade during the heat of the season; a single healthy vine can cover about 50 square feet of arbor space. Actinidia deliciosa produces fuzzy, brown-skinned kiwifruit on a striking plant with lustrous, dark green foliage. Like grapes, it loses its leaves in fall.

    • Clinging type vines are the most reliable to climb straight up, adhering to solid surfaces along the way. Creeping fig, Ficus pumila, may take some time to get established, then this evergreen really takes off to scale heights. Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala var. petiolaris, with its lovely lacecap flowers, can potentially reach 60 feet. Both Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and cousin Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), can readily cover enormous areas. Their rich grass green summer foliage is followed by a show of brilliant golds to crimson in the autumn. All of these vines can grow in some shade.

    • Looking for vines the deer don’t care for? Vivid canary yellow blossoms dress up the emerald green foliage of the early spring blooming Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), while wisteria sports lovely lavender, pink or white blossoms. Both the potato vine (Solanum taxum) with its profusion of opal-tinged flowers, and white jasmine (Jasminum officinale), a sweetly scented plant, can grow rapidly to 30 feet, and completely cover whatever they come close to.

    All of the plants described above are woody shrub-like or perennial plants that, given modest care, should thrive for years and add a new dimension to your garden.