Between the Rows: A range of vines to complement your garden

  • This trumpet vine was climbing high into a tree during Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley Garden Tour in 2017. Contributed photo/Pat Leuchtman

  • At Pat Leuchtman's former home in Heath, wisteria shaded the patio and living room in 2010. Contributed photo/Pat Leuchtman

  • Honeysuckle grew vigorously on the fence in Pat Leuchtman’s Greenfield garden last summer. Contributed photo/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

When we built a south-facing patio in front of our Heath house in 1990, we also planned a kind of loggia structure that would hold a wisteria vine to shade and cool the patio. That shade would also alter the quality of light in our living room and even keep that space a little cooler.

We had to keep our wisteria, Wisteria chinensis, in its pot all summer while we built the structure. This was not the best idea we ever had. However, we did get it in the ground in September. In the spring, the plant greened up and put out a few new shoots, but it did not climb and twine up the loggia support.

Over the years, our friends gave us all kinds of advice. Some said we needed to beat the plant. Some said we needed to give it more water. Others said we needed to stop watering it. Some said more fertilizer. No bit of advice had any effect.

In 1999, my husband swatted the low and languid wisteria, swearing that if the plant did not grow and bloom in 2000, he was pulling it out. So threatened, the wisteria complied, and we did have several years of lovely, fragrant and lush bloom.

Not everyone will have the same problems we did. Chinese wisteria is a beautiful and vigorous vine. It comes into bloom before the foliage appears in late May and into June. The drooping purple racemes are graceful and fragrant. However, the vine can be invasive. We did not have baby wisteria growing up all around the garden, but I did have to keep cutting back new vines that grew up from the root. What I did learn is that wisteria often takes a long time to bloom, and loves the sun and well-drained soil.

Because Chinese wisteria can be invasive, some people have chosen the better-behaved American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens. The flowers are smaller and less graceful. They bloom after the foliage so they don’t make much of a show and they lack fragrance. There are hard choices to make in the garden world.

We grew another large vine in Heath. To provide a background for a rose bed next to our shed, we planted a kiwi vine. This aggressive vine grew vigorously and climbed up the side of the shed on the trellis my husband built.

I only planted one kiwi, Actinidia kolomikta, because all I wanted was the beautiful green, white and pink foliage. It takes two or three years for the color to develop, but I think it is just lovely. It does need sharp pruning to keep it under control once it gets going. Like the wisteria, it likes sun and rich, well-drained soil.

If you want kiwi fruits, you need a male and a female plant. If one of them dies you will never remember whether it was the male or the female, and good luck ordering the appropriate replacement. I’ve heard stories.

In our new garden, we have planted trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, to ornament our wooden fence and to attract bees and hummingbirds. Once again, my husband built a sturdy trellis for the honeysuckle to weave itself around. The honeysuckle immediately began to grow and bloom, never looking back. It blooms energetically on the fence that gets shade part of the day. I do some pruning to keep it from going wild, and give it a helping of compost and mulch every spring.

The trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, is another very energetic vine native to eastern North America. It produces bright red-orange blossoms that are a delight, but it may take several years before it begins to bloom. The vines are not so shy and will begin growing immediately, and can grow to 35 feet. It’s aerial rootlets allow it to cling. These rootlets can damage stone, brick and wood, so do not plant a trumpet vine against your house. I have been told that it should be grown near concrete where it can be kept under control because it can make new plants by seed, and by sending out underground runners that may come up in unexpected places. When I was on a garden tour last summer, I saw a stunning trumpet vine climbing up a tall tree. The hummingbirds love it.

Like trumpet vine, the climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, clings to its support by aerial roots, so the same warnings apply. It needs a very sturdy wall, and will cling and climb on a tree. The Bridge of Flowers has several climbing hydrangeas, although most of them artfully dangle down over the side of the bridge. Even from a slight distance, the large lace cap flowers are beautiful. They do not get any pruning but just continue blooming year after year. It is a slow growing vine, so it is necessary to practice patience the first few years after planting.

The least problematic vine I have in my garden is the Grandpa Ott morning glory. It is the plumy purple exclamation point at the end of my fence. I provide a few strings from the ground to the top of the fence for the Grandpa to climb on; little patience is required before it clambers up the strings and blooms. After an autumnal frost, I cut it all back and wait for spring. Then I arrange new strings and wait for new shoots to appear. Grandpa Ott always leaves a few seeds in the soil, so I don’t even need to replant.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.