Matchmaking with Perennial Vines

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.

Practical Considerations

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.

Annual Alternatives

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.

Virginia creeper

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.”

Perennial Planters—The Bachelor’s Best Friend

Perennial Planters—The Bachelor’s Best Friend

By Earl J. Woods

As I approach my mid-30s, it occurs to me that one of these days I’m going to have to make the terrifying leap into the world of home ownership. But what if I should buy a new house, one without any landscaping? I’ll need a quick and easy way to add some colour and life to the yard.

Fortunately, Hole’s perennial expert Jan Goodall has come to my rescue with some expert advice on simple landscaping solutions. Her suggestion? Perennial planters. When you think of planters, it’s usually bedding plants or vegetables that come to mind. But Jan showed me that with a little imagination and planning, I could create colourful and creative perennial pots.

A Landscaping Solution

My lesson began with a short lecture from Jan. “Perennial planters are ideal when used as an interim landscaping solution,” she said. “Often, people move into newly constructed homes without any landscaping—no lawn, no plants of any kind, and it just looks terrible. Who wants to wait for seeded grass and small trees to reach their mature sizes? Perennial pots can instantly add some colour to that dusty brown emptiness during the summer.”

When you have completed the landscaping around your new home, you can remove the perennials from their pots and install them in traditional perennial beds. The empty pots can then be used for late-season annuals or indoor plants.

Starting Out

When creating perennial planters, you need a few essential ingredients

  • A sturdy, aesthetically pleasing pot

  • High quality potting soil

  • Several perennials of mature, blooming size

Care and Nurture

Perennial planters require little maintenance. Consistent watering is vital—irrigate only when the top 3 cm or so of soil has dried out. For fertilizer, add 20-20-20 once every two weeks or once a month until the first week of August.


In colder zones, perennials will not overwinter in pots outdoors. Wait for the first hard
frost of the fall then cut the foliage to about 5-8 cm tall. Leave the pots outside until the
weather remains consistently cool, but before the soil freezes solid. Then, you have a
choice—you can remove the plants from their pots and plant them in the garden or bring
the pots indoors. A heated garage is ideal, but any indoor location with a temperature
that hovers close to the zero degree mark and receives some light (as from a window)
will do.

“Overall, though, I’d recommend taking the plants out of the pots and planting them in your garden,” Jan notes. “They’ll always have a better chance of overwintering successfully in the ground than they ever will in a pot. Also, if you plan to overwinter perennials in their pots, then you must make sure that the pots you choose are large enough to contain the mature roots.”

Jan had one other caution for me—if you love the look of your perennial planters so much that you move them from your garden back into the pots each year, you should choose varieties that don’t mind having their roots disturbed on a regular basis. Hostas, variegated sage (Artemesia ‘Oriental Limelight’), daylilies, bluebells (Campanula), stonecrop (Sedum), Hens & Chicks (Sempervivum) and ornamental grasses such as moot grass (Molinia), lime grass (Elymus) or blue oat grass (Helletotrichon) are good choices. But astilbe or bugbane (Cimicifuga) will probably deteriorate if you move them around too much.

The Black Thumb’s Dilemma

Jan makes a convincing case for perennial planters. In fact, she was so enthusiastic that I may actually discard my arrested adolescence and start looking for a real home, rather than a teeny apartment crammed full of comic books and DVDs of old science fiction movies. And if the Black Thumb can enjoy and appreciate perennial planters, it’s a cinch that you will, too.

Uses for Perennial Planters

Condo or apartment balconies
Housewarming, wedding and graduation gifts
Temporary landscaping

Jim Hole's Favourite Plants for the Bees and Butterflies

The Extraordinary Traits of Everyday Plants

For many of us, selecting plants is all about the aesthetics. We want brilliant blooms, fancy foliage and perfect performance. What hardly registers at all is that these beautiful ornamentals have other extraordinary traits. Some are helpful at preventing erosion and
at keeping our yards in shape, while others tend to our health—cleaning the air we breathe, feeding us and providing medicinal properties. 

For the Bees and Butterflies

Gardens designed to attract bees and butterflies aren’t just beautiful; they also serve a
practical purpose. Without pollination, seeds wouldn’t set and the food crops we rely on wouldn’t produce. So lure some bees and butterflies to your garden this year. Here’s what you need to know.


Borage officianalis

Star-shaped flowers in a brilliant purple tone make this herb shine. Any vegetable that needs pollination, such as cucumber or squash, will benefit from having borage planted nearby. Besides attracting bees, this annual herb also serves as a larval food source for some butterflies. The mild-flavoured leaves and star-shaped flowers are similar to cucumber. Readily self-seeds. Height: 60–90 cm; spacing: 60 cm. Sun.

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Pink Shades’
Cosmos, Sonata Series

Simply scatter these seeds and be dazzled by candy-pink flowers and lacy green foliage. This series has a nice compact habit and daisy-like, 10–cm flowers. Irresistible to bees and butterflies alike. An excellent cutflower and ideal for backgrounds or mass displays. Wind tolerant. Height: 50–60 cm; spacing: 25–30 cm. Sun.

Tagetes erecta ‘Gold’
African Marigold, Marvel Series

Impressive double blooms make this series a surefire selection—and the bees and butterflies will agree. Held on extra-sturdy stems, the rich golden-yellow flowers are 7–10 cm in diameter. Great garden performance; weather tolerant. Height: 40–45 cm; spacing: 35 cm. Sun.

Verbena bonariensis ‘Buenos Aires’

This airy annual looks most impressive as it matures. Its clustered heads are densely packed groups of small, purple flowers. Superb as a cutflower. Use as a hedge or in tall borders or mixed planters. To complement this verbena, grow shorter plants in front of it. Heat and drought tolerant. Height: 60–90 cm; spread: to 60 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Zinnia elegans ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’

Wow bees, butterflies and neighbours with the exceptional colouring of this zinnia. Each bloom features a central red-and-yellow cone surrounded by petals that are magenta-orange with yellow tips. This plant has a bushy and vigorous growth habit, so allow good air circulation and don’t crowd. Remove dead blooms. Height: 60–75 cm; spacing: 60–75 cm. Sun.


Alcea rosea ‘White’
Hollyhock, Chater’s Double Group

Hollyhocks are an old garden favourite that shouldn’t be forgotten. Tall and majestic, they’re perfect along a fence or as a background plant in a perennial bed. This one has spires of double, powder-puff flowers from June to August. The slightly hairy and rounded leaves have three to seven shallow lobes. Height: 1.5–2 m; width: 90 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Dianthus ‘Starlette’
Pink, Double Star Series

Strong, spicy notes are a nice bonus with this great performing dianthus. You’ll also be thrilled with its perpetual double blooms. Each frilly edged, magenta flower has a deep-red eye. And each variety in this new series features compact and sturdy blue-green foliage. Mounding form; evergreen. Attracts butterflies. Height: 15–25 cm; width: 15–20 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Eupatorium ‘Phantom’
Joe Pye ‘Phantom’

Shorter in stature than most Eupatoriums, this dwarf variety doesn’t fall short on flower size. In fact, the fragrant wine-red heads aren’t much smaller than those on standard varieties. Joe Pye is one of the showiest fall-blooming perennials available. A favourite of butterflies. A virtually pest-and-disease-free plant. Clump-forming, upright habit. Keep moist. Height: 80–90 cm; width: 60–70 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’
Blanket Flower

Abundant flowers and a longer bloom period make this hybrid superior to other blanket flowers. It’s also heat and drought tolerant and abides poor soils. Its daisy-like blooms have peachy-orange petals with yellow tips. Clump-forming with blue-green foliage. Prefers dry, well-drained soil. A short-lived perennial that reseeds freely. Height: 55–65 cm; width: 30–45 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Monarda didyma ‘Pink Lace’

You don’t have to wait for this beebalm to start performing—it flowers robustly the first growing season. ‘Pink Lace’ has dark-purple stems that bear light-pink flowers with purple centre cones. The aromatic, bright-green foliage is reminiscent of Earl Grey tea. Will lure both bees and butterflies. Compact and clump forming. Blooms in summer. Avoid dry sites. Height: 55–65 cm; width: 30–40 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Phlox paniculata ‘Pink Flame’ (syn. ‘Bartwelve’)
Garden Phlox, Flame Series

Grow this compact garden phlox, and treat yourself to a bevy of large flower clusters. Bees and butterflies will also be pleased with the pink flowers, which have darker pink eyes. To prolong the midsummer bloom period, deadhead the spent clusters. This series features shorter and more compact plants. Fragrant. Do not crowd; water at base. Height: 25–30 cm; width: 30 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Trees and Shrubs

Diervilla sessilifolia ‘LPDC Podaras’
Southern Bush Honeysuckle ‘Cool Splash’

Variegated foliage and red stems make this shrub particularly eye-catching. It’s not a true honeysuckle (despite the common name), but its small yellow blooms are tubular shaped and perfect for butterfly snouts. The leaves have deep-green centres surrounded by yellow-to-creamy-white margins. Blooms in early summer. Forms a dense colony and suckers. Easy to grow and tolerates a wide range of soils and light conditions. Height: 75–120 cm; width: 1–1.5 m. Sun to P.M. sun.

Syringa meyer ‘Palibin’
Dwarf Korean Lilac

Ideal as a compact hedge or as a specimen shrub, this lilac has very fragrant blossoms. Red-purple buds open to pink in late spring. For best flower colour, pick a spot that’s shaded from hot afternoon sun. To promote more flowers next season, prune just after flowers finish, removing only the seed heads. Burgundy fall foliage. Non-suckering. Height: 1-2 m;width: 1.5–2m. Sun to P.M. sun.

Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’

Plant this shrub where you can enjoy its intoxicating orange-blossom fragrance. Its early spring blooms are white with a maroon blotch in the centre. This mockorange also has beautiful mahogany coloured stems. Prune after flowering. Height: 1.5–2 m; width: 1–1.2 m. Sun to P.M. sun.

Malus ‘Rescue’

There’s nothing quite like the buzz of bees in flowering fruit trees. To experience it yourself, try this crabapple. ‘Rescue’ is a favourite that produces lots of good-sized fruit. Yellow-green apples with a red blush are 3–5 cm in diameter and mature in late summer. Good for eating and for jelly or juice. Fireblight resistant. Requires another crabapple, apple or pear for cross-pollination. Height: 5 m; spread: 4 m. Sun.