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.”

Create a Privacy Screen with Clematis

Create a Privacy Screen with Clematis

Many residential districts these days are constructed along a certain pattern—bigger houses and smaller lots that bring neighbours closer together, often with only transparent chain-link fences to separate them. While being close to your neighbours is good thing, so is a little privacy, and in areas where bylaws restrict construction of new fences, getting a little space to yourself can be difficult. Fortunately, perennials expert Jan Goodall has a simple, yet beautiful solution—clematis.

Perennial Privacy

Clematis is a vine-like, very hardy perennial (some species overwinter even in Zone 2) with a compact growth habit that easily covers 2 m of fence or trellis. It’s perfect for covering the gaps in a fence that’s too see-through for comfort. Here are three species of clematis ideally suited for privacy screens.

Clematis alpina easily covers a 2–2.5 m fence with a thick, vertical carpet of foliage. Foliage emerges on old wood in early May; by the third week in May, it’s usually fully leafed out. As a bonus, small, 5-cm bill-like flowers appear in May or June in pinks, blues or whites. A smaller flush of blooms follows in the fall. During high summer, there aren’t many blooms, which Jan says is an advantage—that’s BBQ season and fewer blooms mean fewer bees on your patio. The growing point, or base, is fairly small, only about 60 cm across, so you won’t need a lot of soil space.

Clematis macropetala looks and performs much the same as alpina, but with fully double flowers in pink, white or blue.

Clematis tangutica is a more rambling variety, suitable for covering a larger area and more height; it will grow up to 9 m wide and 3 m tall, and produces yellow blooms from June to September. In Jan’s experience, tangutica, unlike other varieties, grows equally well in shade or sun. The basal growth is relatively small for this species, too, despite its massive top growth.

For the average home, one plant is usually sufficient for a privacy screen for one fence. However, like all perennials, clematis takes time to mature. Clematis alpina and macropetala grow large enough to suit most privacy needs by the third growing season, the faster-growing tangutica by the second.


Plant in rich, well drained soil. If you plant more than one clematis, make sure to plant them at least 1–1.5 m apart.

Since clematis is a climber, you’ll need to provide support. Jan uses stucco wire—it’s strong enough to support the weight of the plant even when it gets old and heavy, yet flexible enough that the entire plant can be laid down if you need to work behind it. You can use a fancy trellis, but Jan suggests this may be a waste, as the plant’s foliage soon hides the trellis from view.

Care and Nurture

Fertilize your clematis once a month with 20-20-20. Clematis is very tough and needs little care beyond fertilization and regular watering. Pests leave it alone, and it competes very well against weeds and even the native plants on Jan’s acreage. Plus, the above listed varieties are not prone to clematis wilt, a disease that affects some of the other clematis varieties.

In the fall, clematis looks somewhat messy with dead leaves and dried seed pods. To tidy, Jan uses a stiff corn broom to brush away the bits of detritus. It’s an easy job that takes only a few minutes, though you’ll have to rake up the debris, too—you were raking your lawn anyway, right? Don’t take down your clematis for the winter; these hardy plants will survive quite nicely left on their supports.


Clematis alpina and macropetala are compact, never get leggy and, therefore, require less pruning than tangutica. As it ages, tangutica tends to leaf out in June. To prevent an overabundance of growth in the summer, prune it back by 1/3 in the spring. The goal is to train the plant to grow thick lower down, as this helps the vine bush out and the end result is much more aesthetically pleasing. Prune the dead branches of any clematis species at anytime. According to a Robert Frost, “good fences make good neighbours.” A screen of clematis , so much more attractive than a fence, makes a good neighbour indeed.