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Friday, July 16, 2010

A guide to vines and climbing plants

What is a vine? What sets a vine apart from shrubs, trees and your average perennial is their relatively flexible stems and their killer instinct. Actually, I should call it a survival instinct which often goes awry and becomes a killer. But it’s really not the vine’s fault so let’s not take up a vendetta against them or stick them all in Plant Prison. Let’s hear their case first.

Vines, like those folks climbing the corporate ladder, started out life at the bottom and have to spend their life reaching up for the light. This reaching up started in dark, damp jungles where they were over-shadowed by huge trees all competing for space. The vine had to adapt to survive. Thus they started growing long, flexible stems clinging and twining up trees, shrubs and whatever else they could use to get to that life-giving sun. If it took over a tree and killed it in the process, well, we all gotta live, don’t we? Even the tiger has to eat an occasional deer. It’s the same in the floral world. Survival of the fittest.

Be that as it may, I have learned quite a few things about vines by growing them in my garden, by observation and by trial and error. Here is a useful guide to vines and climbing plants.

These free flowing stems can be trained to go where you want either sprawling on the soil to form a nice ground cover, flowing gracefully over the rim of a hanging basket or up on a trellis giving height to the garden. Vines come in the usual varieties as other plants, annual and perennial but they also fall into different groups according to their climbing style.

There are four types of vines and each takes a different gardening approach for maximum use in the garden. They are the twining, clinging, those with tendrils and the ones with no means whatsoever for attachment.

The twining vine includes Morning Glory, Hops, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Jasmine and Scarlet Runner Bean among others. These vines encircle their stems around anything that gets in its way from shrubs and trees to the pole and trellis. They require no help to climb though they need quite a bit of guidance to keep them in check otherwise they’ll ramble all over the place. These are great to cover a fence. They add charm to any home climbing on a lamppost or trellis.

Clinging vines are the pernicious of the bunch or at least they can be. These include the Boston Ivy which cover all those New England buildings, hence the term Ivy League College. Boston Ivy also makes up the infamous Wrigley Field outfield wall where baseballs go to die for a ground rule double. Planted several decades ago the Ivy is reportedly 6 feet deep now. If an outfielder runs into that he might never come back out. Vines can be scary.

Clinging vines grow little claw-like protrusions or tendrils with suction cup-like disks which indeed cling desperately to brick, stone, tree trunks, poles, aluminum siding, heck, you name it! Some of the more popular varieties in this group include Trumpet vine, Climbing Hydrangea and Virginia Creeper.

Vines which climb using tendrils are Passion flower, Clematis, Sweet Pea, Grape and Cup-and-Saucer among many others. These require thin poles or string to help them climb as the tendrils are rather small and curl only around things less than an inch in diameter in most cases.

The last group includes Rambling Roses, Euonymus Fortunei and others with no means of climbing or clinging. These need to be tied to a trellis or fence in order for them to grow vertically otherwise they tend to sprawl on the ground or ramble onto bushes. Some, like the rambling rose use their hook-like thorns to help them along mostly by chance. The wind might blow a branch onto a bunch of leaves on a growing tree and just takes it along for the ride. Down by my mailbox there’s a rambler that did just that. It’s currently thirty feet tall and tangled between a birch tree and a phone pole. It’s a beauty in bloom.

And that’s the most important thing to know about vines. Most are very attractive for any garden. They are very versatile and easy to grow but it’s their endless flowering and tenacity which should be admired and admired is what they will be ad infinitum.

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