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Versatile Vines
by Lesley Reynolds
December 10, 2000

1pt.gif (86 bytes)When you plan your garden it is important to consider not only the lawns, pathways and flowerbeds that make up the garden floor, but also the vertical and overhead spaces that form the garden's walls and ceiling. Planting vines against the house, fences, trellises, or any other garden structures integrates these hard features into the landscape, and gives the garden a finished appearance.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Vines may be selected for attractive foliage or a profusion of colourful blooms. Use them on fences and trellises in small gardens with limited planting space. They can provide privacy for decks and patios, enliven a blank expanse of wall, entwine decoratively around an arbour or arch, or serve as a ground cover on slopes or spilling over a retaining wall.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Many perennial vines thrive in prairie gardens. Common Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climbs using tendrils that wind around a supporting structure. It is a vigorous old favorite with deep green leaves consisting of five oval, sharply toothed leaflets that turn a fabulous burgundy red in fall. The inconspicuous greenish white flowers eventually become grapelike clusters of round, blue fruit. Engelmann ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia engelmannii) is a self-clinging vine that attaches to surfaces by means of adhesive disks on tendril tips. It is the only vine that does not require support; however, since the sticky disks can damage stucco and painted surfaces, you may wish to grow it on a trellis. On the prairies this vine is not quite as hardy as common Virginia creeper. For best results plant Virginia creeper in a sunny location in soil amended with plenty of organic material. Keep the roots shaded and moist.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Several North American native vines are grown primarily for their foliage or attractive fruit. Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant climber that can grow 6 m (20 ft.) in a single season. It has large, broadly lobed, coarsely toothed leaves that bear a resemblance to grape leaves, and produces small greenish-white flowers and fruit used for brewing beer. American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) bears small white flowers and orange seed capsules that split open to reveal scarlet seeds. The oval, pointed leaves turn bright yellow in fall. Both hops and American bittersweet prefer a sunny location and require male and female plants to produce fruit. In shaded areas plant climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a vine with small violet flowers and tiny red fruit. Since climbing nightshade is poisonous, it is not recommended for gardens frequented by young children. Vitis riparia, the riverbank or Manitoba grape, produces shiny, light green, three-lobed leaves, inconspicuous flowers, and clusters of small, dark blue grapes that are perfect for making wine, jam, and jelly. Riverbank grapes prefer a sheltered, sunny location and even moisture until established. Prune them regularly to control their vigorous growth and to ensure bountiful grape harvests.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Climbing honeysuckle has long been a favorite of prairie gardeners. Look for Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet', which brightens the garden with clusters of orange trumpet-shaped flowers that may even attract hummingbirds. 'Mandarin', a more recent honeysuckle introduction, is similar to 'Dropmore Scarlet' but it produces bigger, more fragrant flowers. Plant climbing honeysuckle in a sunny or partly shaded location in soil rich in organic material.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)The velvety, deep purple blooms of 'Jackmanii' clematis are a familiar sight in gardens across the prairies. However, gardeners are discovering many other clematis species and cultivars that produce spectacular floral displays. Be careful which clematis you choose. With the exception of Clematis alpina and Clematis macropetala, species that bloom on old wood only, classified as Group A, are of borderline hardiness in the prairie climate. Group B includes large-flowered hybrids that bloom in early summer on old wood, and sometimes later in the summer on new growth. However, since cold prairie winters frequently kill old wood to the ground and any flowers produced on new growth are inevitably sparse and late, this group is not recommended for this region. Some Group B cultivars are labelled as Group B/C or B2. They are a better choice; while they bloom on both old and new wood, numerous flowers appear on the new growth in July and August. Prune these back to 90 cm (36 in.) in fall or early spring. Look for 'General Sikorski' (mid-blue), 'Henryi' (white), 'Lincoln Star' (pink with pale edges), 'Niobe' (dark wine red), and 'Ville de Lyon' (deep red).
1pt.gif (86 bytes)The best clematis for prairie gardens are those in Group C, which bloom on the current season's growth, producing abundant flowers from mid-July through August. Prune these close to the ground in fall or early spring. The group includes many beautiful large-flowered cultivars, such as 'Ascotiensis' (sky blue), 'Comtesse de Bouchard' (mauve-pink), 'Ernest Markham' (magenta), 'Rouge Cardinal' (crimson red), 'Star of India' (purple with red bars), and 'Pink Fantasy' (pale pink with a darker bar). Recommended smaller flowered species will also produce cascades of lovely blooms. Look for Clematis texensis 'Duchess of Albany' (pink), 'Gravetye Beauty' (scarlet-red), 'Pagoda' (pink-mauve); and Clematis viticella 'Purpurea Plena Elegans' (double rose-purple), 'Abundance' (wine rose), 'Little Nell' (cream-white with mauve edges), and 'Venosa Violacea' (purple with white centres).
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Other rambling clematis species are characterized by small leaves and masses of dainty flowers. Clematis orientalis and C. tangutica bear yellow flowers that mature into attractive silky seed heads. The lovely Clematis x durandii is a hardy plant bearing indigo-blue flowers; plant it near a shrub for support. Although the old wood on these species overwinters, they bloom only on new growth. Prune as required to keep them under control.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Clematis require a minimum of four hours of sun per day and prefer a well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic material. Large-flowered varieties should be planted close to the house for protection, while the hardier species and smaller-flowered clematis will usually survive in more exposed locations. Try planting a small-flowered clematis under a tree; with a little support it will clamber up into the branches.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)To plant clematis dig a hole 45 cm (18 in.) deep. Add a layer of bone meal and well-rotted manure, then a thin layer of good topsoil. Place the well-watered plant in the hole, fill with topsoil, and add a layer of organic mulch to keep the roots cool and moist. Water regularly, especially during the first year of growth, and periodically pinch back growing tips to promote bushy, vigorous growth. Clematis benefit from a spring top-dressing of compost, or they may be fed with a balanced water soluble fertilizer.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)In addition to these perennial vines, don't forget to check out some of the annual vines available to grow from seed or as bedding plants at local garden centres. From old-fashioned fragrant sweet peas to exciting new introductions, vines can work magic in gardens of any size.

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