Grow up! Vines Weave Magic in the Garden

May 6, 2016 8:48am

Clematis montana var. rubens at full tilt. Image: Erica Browne Grivas

If you seek privacy, depth, a hint of magic and mystery, or just some more growing space in your garden, look to the sky and let vines get to work drawing with leafy spirals.

Grown vertically up walls and on trellises, vines add crucial dimension to a garden that makes a space feel complete. They help frame the garden and encourage the eye to stay within your yard rather than wandering to the neighbors’ second floor deck, for instance.

Vines can:

  • Screen unwanted views
  • Glam up a fence – What wire fence?
  • Create focal points and define a space using arbors and trellises
  • Feed you: beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas all grow up
  • Make shrubs do double duty – for example, twine a medium-sized clematis through a rhodie to get more flowers in June

Evergreen or deciduous, annual or perennial, there are hundreds of options. Evergreen is your best bet for long-term privacy, though annuals can be great for one-season speed. If you’re in a hurry for screening, plant both and the annual should get a good start while the evergreen is getting settled in.

The most important thing is – do your research!

I once bought a 4-inch pot of a “Lady Banks” Rose at the UW Arboretum plant sale on a whim. I’d read about how lovely it was, but it wasn’t until I got home that Google told me it was the Guinness record-holder for the largest rose – planted in Tombstone, AZ in 1885 and still going. Erp. Here it is now,  buying time beautifully.


Some vines grow 20 – 30 feet – not a planting decision to be made lightly. How vigorous is it? When and how often does it need pruning? Wisterias are beguiling, but require relentless pruning at least twice a year to be kept in bounds. Here’s why.


Now showing on 56th Street N. at 1st Ave. N. Image: Erica Browne Grivas


How does it grow – does it twine, lean (requiring tying in, like a climbing rose or squash), or does it stick on its support with holdfasts (aerial rootlets) that could do damage if removed? English Ivy is one example – it might be ok for cement or chain-link, but not for a tree, wood fence or brick. This sweet pea grows by tendrils which cast about like fishing lines (only when you’re not looking) until they can lasso a thin branch, stake, or rope.


Sweet pea. Image: Erica Browne Grivas

Evergreen ideas:

Clematis armandii– early spring, vanilla-scented white or pink single flowers, leathery pointed leaves. Sun or light shade.

Holbellia coriacea – the unbelievably named “Cathedral Gem Sausage Vine” has small purple flowers  with an “intoxicating fragrance”.

“Star Jasmine” aka Trachelospermum jasminoides – deliciously fragrant pure white flowers spring into summer, glossy leaves. Sun to partial shade.

Deciduous ideas:

Climbing Hydrangea – lacy white flowers on a strong, holdfast-climbing vine with beautiful peeling bark in winter.

Clematis montana rubens (shown at top) – fragrant pink, anemone-like flowers with leaves that mature from green to bronzy-purple. Fast growing.

Dicentra scandens – a climbing yellow bleeding heart that blooms all summer. Yup.

Annuals are your go-to for quick coverage –  they range from the veggies mentioned above, as well as sweet peas, nasturtiums (edible – pop em in a salad), to time-telling moonflowers and morning glories (not the invasive perennial) and the flashy flowers of cup-and-saucer vine (Cobea scandens) and thunbergia.

Lastly, in case you were wondering, sources say it’s correctly pronounced CLEM-ah-tis.