Lavendar wisteria flowers hang from an overhead trellis. (Getty Images)

Lavendar wisteria flowers hang from an overhead trellis. (Getty Images)

Give your garden a whole new dimension with climbing plants

From clematis and jasmine to wisteria and honeysuckle, let any of these vine varieties creep into your heart – and garden.

By Trevor Cameron / The Golfing Gardener

Going vertical with climbing plants adds visual interest to any garden, providing nice foliage and often ideal seasonal flower power.

There are useful vines out there in all shapes and sizes — some for larger areas and others to use as smaller garden accents or even as simple container specimens. Whether you are trying to grow on a decorative trellis or obelisk, up a post, along a railing, over a large pergola or arbor, or even naturalize something along a fence line, vines may be exactly what you are looking for.

Let’s start with one honest truth about vines: Reliably hardy evergreen options are few and far between for our climate. One of the most common questions I get from vine-seekers, year after year, is “which ones are evergreen?” There are indeed some evergreen choices, but many of these are right on the hardy line for the majority of us — locations closer to the water are usually easier, but farther inland they may not be so hardy. Finding a sheltered garden spot out of cold, desiccating winter winds, or even growing one in a container that can be moved for protection during cold spells, may help.

Here are a few options for evergreen vines:

Evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii): A great choice for part shade, sporting fragrant white flowers in spring. Grows rapidly and gets large, but can be pruned after flowering to control size. A variety called Apple Blossom has a light pink flower.

Evergreen climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea seemanii and H. integrifolia): These are for shade and will root into wood, brick, concrete or even tree trunks as they climb. They grow much slower and bloom with white lacecap-type flowers in summer.

Sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea): These produce fragrant color in early spring for shade, growing rapidly and producing cool, sausage-like fruits in summer, adding even more interest. The best variety for cold hardiness, to Zone 7, is the cultivar Cathedral Gem.

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides): Jasmines love the heat and prefer full sun, producing fragrant white flowers in summer. Look for the variety Madison, an option that is a full zone hardier. Often these are good in containers so they can be protected.

The list of perennial/deciduous options for climbers is seemingly endless, almost all of which are far more reliably hardy than their evergreen cousins. Choices like clematis, honeysuckle, wisteria, climbing hydrangea and akebia (as well as many others) thrive in our climate, and although they may go bare in the winter, their flowers, foliage and often fragrance are spectacular in the garden.

Wisteria: These are a larger-growing option, covering whatever you have and then some. Provide them room in pure sunshine and give them a very sturdy support structure to twine around. These may be the most impressive vine in flower, dropping a plethora of massive, fragrant clusters in mid-spring that hang down in shades of white, pink, blue, lavender or purple, depending on the variety. You can find Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis), Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda), Silky wisteria (W. venusta) and American wisteria (W. frutescens), with cultivars of each, offering even more choices as well. You can prune these hard each year, but give them a wide berth to mature into a show-stopping specimen.

Clematis: The list of options with clematis is substantial, and one can be found to match any garden location for size, color and sun exposure.

Do some research and explore these, but be sure to consider these series: The Vancouver Series is outstanding and Pacific Northwest-bred, offering a number of good cultivars such as Fragrant Star, Starry Night and Cotton Candy — honestly, the whole series is full of worthy candidates. The Boulevard Series gives gardeners a bunch of choices as well, with many staying smaller in size, ideal for tight spaces or container growing.

With all clematis, please keep in mind pruning when choosing the right variety for you as some bloom on new wood, some on old, and some on both. The world of clematis is an article all on its own, and we will definitely delve into these at a later date.

Climbing hydrangea: These types of hydrangeas will grow in most locations, and as with many vines, they are even useful as a sprawling ground cover. Green foliage cultivars can be grown in sun to shade, while any variegated form will like a partially shaded location much better.

Options here are Hydrangea anomala var. Petiolaris (and cultivars) and also Schizophragma hydrangeiodes (and cultivars), both of which do nicely growing on surfaces and adhering themselves to wood fences, trees, brick or concrete. The Japanese type (Schizophragma cvs.) is a bit flatter for fences in shade, while Hydrangea anomala is a bit bushier and sprawling. Each has good variegated forms, adding much needed foliage interest to darker shade gardens. Both also sport lacecap flowers in early summer in either pink or white.

Honeysuckle: The flowers of these vines are pollinator magnets and often a hummingbird favorite in the garden. These bloom in late spring into summer and can be found in white, yellow, pink, orange, coral or red, often with two tones on the same flower. Many honeysuckle are fragrant and will fill the garden with sweet scents. Be sure to grow them in sun to avoid excessive powdery mildew issues, and give them a nice structure to grow and mature on, like a fence, arbor, pergola, gate arch or large trellis.

Akebia: The Chocolate Vine is one option that packs some serious growth, covering large areas in minimal time. They are mostly evergreen around here, and only in the coldest winters will they defoliate a bit. Gardeners can find white or pinky-purple flower varieties, and there is even a rare variegated form, too, if you hunt around. These will grow nicely in sun, part sun or more shade, and bloom with fragrant, drooping flower clusters in spring. Cool little fruits emerge on mature plants, adding more interest in summer to fall.

Akebia are an excellent choice for covering a large fence or structure, but they can be pruned hard after spring flowering to control size. This to me is the safest bet for an “evergreen” choice, and a popular purchase from our patrons at Sunnyside Nursery, as we have a nice one in our entrance garden.

Also, don’t forget climbing roses, which provide summer color and fragrance in full sun, all the way until frost. Consider growing a fun annual-type vine, as they are seasonal flower power all summer long. Try Black Eyed Susan (Thunburgia) or Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla), but wait just a bit until we warm up some more — usually by mid-May these are ready to rock for the season.

You could even literally eat your vine by growing a fun kiwi or grape, or do some home brewing with a selection of hops. Maybe you are looking for some fall color? Nothing beats the durability and brilliant autumn foliage of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus cvs.).

Take a look around the garden, I bet you can envision going vertical in a number of locations with vines. In both sun and shade, these plants will amaze you with their rapid growth and make you smile with their flowers.

Free classes

Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville will host “PNW Vines” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, and “Useful Native Plants” at 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 21. For more information or to sign up, go to www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Trevor Cameron is a certified professional horticulturist (CPH) and serves as general manager for Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. He can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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