English Vine, Trumpet Vine, Arbutus & Margaret Riley

About summer pruning of large trees and English ivy; newer Trumpet vines; just what is happening to Arbutus (Madrone) trees in B.C.; and, remembering Margaret Riley.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

July 11, 2010

Above: the flowers of red- and yellow-flowering Trumpet vines. Below: Margaret Riley in Meise, Belgium in 1982. Author photos.

This first question is left over from last week and I regret not being able to include it last week, but my response to Marva Berniko’s two letters turned out to be more than the length of a regular column.

Peggy Pictin wrote on July 5, as follows: “I just happened to read one of your articles from June 12th I believe. It is now July 5th and the weather is supposed to be turning hot. Am I too late this season to get some pruning done on a big deciduous tree? I don't know what kind it is but it has blackish bark and the leaves look kind of like a hazel nut tree. There are similar ones growing in areas of east Vancouver where I live, but mine has a nicer colour and smoother textured trunk--so not sure what it is.

“What about pruning a maple tree now--one of those larger growing ones that somebody did not plan well when they planted it here.

“Any suggestions on how to best prune ivy--that fast growing English Ivy that is on the warehouse building adjacent to my property? The birds nested in there but they have hatched now so I want to cut my side back as it's very long and thick.

“Are you able to recommend anybody in Vancouver who can do this work?

“I will appreciate your assistance before I start calling companies to give me estimates.”

In general it is not too late to prune most trees and shrubs now, even though the threatened hot weather has finally hit! I cannot think of any exceptions to that general statement. Certainly the maple you write about is likely the com-mon big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and it may be pruned at any time when in leaf.

As to pruning English ivy, that is a very necessary job here in the mild parts of British Columbia. If it starts to climb larger trees (of virtually any type, evergreen or deciduous) it can easily choke the growth of the tree(s) and lead to its (their) demise in not too many years. I would be tempted to “pull” the major growth down off the wall and cut them at ground level. You really cannot be too hard on this plant.

I know few contractors over on the mainland, but I have sent a note to one I could likely recommend, and when I hear, I shall advise you.

Regina Marlatt from nearby Port Alberni here on Vancouver Island actually wrote before Peggy (on July 3) with this question: “I am looking for a certain type of trumpet vine that has x-large flowers. It would be started in a container + I would transplant it into the ground. Can you tell me what it's called? I live in Port Alberni, our property is on a rock so the soil would have to be brought in and a built-up bed made. What kind of soil is best? I will be using this plant for privacy. Thank you for your time.”

At our garden in Toronto, we grew two Trumpet vines (Campsis radicans), specifically the cultivar ‘Mme Galen’ which has salmon-red flowers for quite an extended time from about now to September. I know of no other cultivar that has larger flowers, but there are several others with varying flower colours. For example, C. r. ‘Flava’ has yellow flowers; C. r. ‘Flamenco’ has orange-red flowers; and the simple species has red flowers, and also starts blooming a little earlier in June. There is also another cross species known as Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Indian Summer’ but as I said, none of these, that are known to me have extra large flowers--they all have pretty significant flowers.

I have not known trumpet vines to be particularly ‘fussy’ about soil--in Toronto we grew them in very heavy clay and they did fine.

Your idea of starting your plant off in a container and then transferring it to the ground does not sound that great to me. I would prefer you to build up the soil area (to a depth of at least 30-35 cm) before planting the vine from the container in which you get if from the nursery.

If you have considerable space to cover, you might wish to plant at least two plants and include both red- and yellow-flowering cultivars. I would get them in within the next month, and assure that they are kept well-watered through the hot weather.

The final letter this week came in this past Friday from Pat Eckford in Nanaimo. Her question: “What is killing the Arbutus trees in the Nanaimo area? I know these trees hate any kind of disturbance, and there has been a lot of housing development, some within 20 ft of the trees. Could this be the cause? I have witnessed trees dying with no development around them, so I am suspecting a more natural cause. Now that you are living in Parksville, (Yay, and welcome!), you may have noticed this in your area as well. Thanks for your input.”

Back as far as 2005, I asked arborist/friend Bill Granger in Vancouver, about what seemed to be an epidemic of Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) trees, or at least sections of individual trees dying. He told me he had just recently (then) attended a conference on this topic in Portland Oregon, and that there was nothing substantive to report from any of the researchers present. The problem is generally attributed to disturbance of the landscape (soil), and this is often evident in large stands of Arbutus where the trees on the outside of the stand are in bad shape, while the ones toward the interior of the stand look fine.

* * *

Just as I was concluding responding to the three questions here this week, I received the news from Toronto, that an old dear friend had passed away. Margaret Riley had celebrated her 90th birthday just a few weeks ago in her garden in Thornhill. Margaret, who travelled with groups of mine to Europe and Africa, was the wife of the late Leonard Riley, who was a 1940 graduate of The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, and also a Kew Grad, and exchange student from England. Leonard was the first NPC School grad to pass away. Margaret was a wonderful lady, and there are several stories about her I would like to tell you, but there is neither time nor space this week. I’ll include a photo of her I took in Meise, Belgium, just at the end of our group tour of the Royal Greenhouses there in the spring of 1982.

I am preparing a more detailed obituary, with the help of her son John, which will appear in this spot next week.

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