Matchmaking with Perennial Vines
By Jill Fallis
One of the easiest, fastest and inexpensive ways to transform your yard from simple to spectacular is by growing vines. Perennial vines are wonderful. With an array of varieties to choose from, they are both functional and beautiful. From the practical end, vines provide shade, privacy or camouflage. Aesthetically, they add the element of height as well as seasonal colour, interest and sometimes fragrance. It’s fine to grow one vine, all on its own, but when you mix and match your vines, allowing one to weave itself within the tendrils of another, you create a glorious garden tapestry.
The house where I now live has a splendid garden; against the unpainted wooden fence,
weathered to a soft grey, grows a patchwork quilt of vines. In the early fall, when the Virginia creeper blazes crimson, an adjacent clematis throws out a late magenta flower or two, the yellow stamens a brilliant statement against the fiery backdrop.
Making the Match
Use your imagination. Think of colours, blooming periods and flower size. Do you want to blend or contrast? Think, for example, about whether you would prefer the purple of clematis blended with the mauve of perennial sweet peas, or contrasted against the red of roses. Do you want flowers to follow in succession, so that your vines appear to be in unending bloom from spring through summer? Or do you want a great mix of flowers all at once?
Consider choosing flowers entirely of the same or different sizes. While the effects are altogether different, both displays can be stunning. Two clematises climb up my neighbour’s fence, spilling twin blooms in white and purple over the fence top. In another garden, multiple vines mask the fence in a glorious tangle of big purple clematis flowers floating on the creamy cloud created by the small lacy blooms of silver fleece vine.
For best results when mixing vines, choose varieties that are compatible in their growing requirements for sun or shade as well as their growth habits and vigour. As a general rule, don’t mix the self-clinging types, such as climbing hydrangea and English or Boston ivy. They attach themselves to whatever they’re growing against with aerial roots or little adhesive pads, and they’re too aggressive to grow with other vines. Hops and perennial morning glories are also off the list for the same reason.
Use annual vines to enhance your display. A new perennial vine may take a few years to reach its peak performance, so in the interim, enhance the floral show with faster-growing annuals.
Again, choose an annual vine that is not too vigorous, so it won’t overtake the perennial vine. Morning glories, for example, may grow too eagerly and shade the perennial vine with thick foliage. However, canary bird vine or annual sweet peas will clamber alongside happily, still allowing the perennial vine sufficient sunlight, moisture, nutrients and space to grow.
Where to Plant Vines
Grow vines on a lattice, arbour or fence. Attach them to a trellis: either freestanding or affixed to a sturdy fence, the side of the house, or even a cement wall. Use vines to enhance your view. You can screen or camouflage an unsightly object with a vine. A flowering vine transforms a plain garden shed or garage into a thing of beauty.
Another option is to focus on the vine itself. One gardener found his next-door neighbours were a little too close for comfort. His bathroom window faced directly into one of their windows. Rather than using privacy blinds, he trained evergreen and montana clematis to grow horizontally along the side of his house and over the bathroom window. The result was a living, leafy lace curtain that allowed sunlight to dapple the room, and as a bonus, perfumed the air in spring with fragrant flowers.
Perennial Vines for Matchmaking
With many species and varieties to choose from, you can have clematis blooming from spring through fall. Clematis mixes wonderfully, as long as you segregate the hybrids from the species types. The latter will overwhelm the slower-growing hybrids. Grow two or more hybrids together, or mix a couple of species clematis with different blooming periods. In warmer zones, grow Clematis montana with the earlier-blooming evergreen clematis (C. armandii), or in cooler zones, mix C. macropetala with the later-blooming golden clematis (C. tangutica). Consider combining clematis with other vines. Again, however, make sure that whatever partner you choose is equally aggressive.
Lonicera spp. Scarlet trumpet blooms from spring through fall and is the hardiest type of honeysuckle. Treat yourself to a show by mixing it with hummingbird vine (Campsis radicans)— the red trumpet flowers of both vines not only look gorgeous, they also attract hummingbirds.
Perennial sweet pea.
Like the annual sweet peas, these flowers can be cut for bouquets. The perennial type blooms in mauve, pink or white; unfortunately, it lacks fragrance. Grow this carefree vine in a sunny location, mixed with any of the vines listed here.
Silver fleece vine.
Polygonum aubertii, also known as silver lace vine, is a fast-growing vine with glossy, heart-shaped leaves and frothy masses of flowers in late summer. In cooler climates, an early frost may prohibit blooming; try planting in a sheltered location. Mix with vitacella clematis and perennial sweet pea.
A favourite vine for its brilliant fall foliage, Virginia creeper produces thick masses of five-fingered leaves. Grow it with alpine clematis, which blooms in spring and again in late summer. The clematis flowers into fall and holds its foliage after the creepers have shed.
The most reliable climbing roses for gardens across Canada are the Explorer series, which bloom profusely in red or pink. Gardeners in warmer parts of the country have more choices. Unlike vines, roses aren’t natural climbers and will need to be tied to a trellis or lattice.
Roses with clematis are a marvellous mix. I first discovered this in the garden of a house where I lived years ago. Against the lattice that hid the deck supports, purple-flowered clematis and a red climbing rose were intertwined in a breathtaking display. And ever afterward, when I see a huge clematis in bloom, I think to myself, “That vine needs a rose.”