Gardeners cling to vines as a great landscape idea

October 06, 1990|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Vines -- a tangled undergrowth or a climbing beauty lush with opulent blossoms and rich foliage.

Naturally, it's the second kind you'd want in your garden, so for guidance on how best to choose and use vines, I called Baltimore landscape architect Catherine Mahan, principal in the

firm of Catherine Mahan and Associates Inc.

It was the memory of the vines I had seen in her small townhouse garden some years back that led me to seek her advice. Their arrangement and color infused the garden with a feeling of warmth and intimacy that made you want to stay in it forever.

Although Ms. Mahan has since moved, the garden is still fondly remembered, especially the two trumpet vines, one yellow-flowered, the other with red-orange blossoms, that grew at each end of a cedar fence.

The trumpet vine was a favorite of my mother's 40 years ago, and her affection for it rubbed off on me. I'll never forget the example I saw on a trip to Deep Creek Lake several summers ago covering a ramshackle old house. The bright blossoms bathed it in elegance. The situation of the vine on a property long abandoned gave testimony to its self-reliance. And indeed, Ms. Mahan says with a chuckle, "you'd have to shoot it to kill it."

Trumpet vine is pest-free, easy to grow and flowers all summer long. The blossoms, moreover, are formed at the end of the stems, so the more the plant is pruned, the more flowers it will produce. A rampant grower, it needs clipping anyway to keep it in check. And because it develops a thick woody stem, a fence makes a good support.

Sweet autumn clematis, or Clematis paniculata, is a vine she's especially partial to. It too, decorated a fence in her garden. Not as showy as the hybrid variety, this species' white-flowered-type bears smaller blooms. (A study of this popular genus, by Christopher Lloyd with Tom Bennet; Capability's Books, $32.50, takes in every aspect. To become familiar with the various cultivars, the tantalizing color photographs in Barry Fretwell's "Clematis," Capability; $24.95, should increase your knowl

edge substantially.)

For sheer loveliness, the climbing hydrangea (H. anomala petiolaris) gets my vote, hands down. When it's in bloom in mid-June, it's to my mind one of the most aristocratic plants in the garden. The flowers, unlike those on a bush or tree-type hydrangea, are flat-headed. Adding to the plant's ornamental effect are its three-dimensional structure, glossy dark green foliage and exfoliating bark that creates winter interest.

As a vine that attaches itself by small rootlets, or holdfasts, as the structures are technically called, the climbing hydrangea falls in the category of a clinging vine. The trumpet vine is in the same class, as are ivy and Virginia creeper. Such vines adhere to a wall without extra support. They're better suited for use on brick or masonry walls -- although they may cause deterioration of mortar -- than on wood. Because clinging vines lie so snuggly against a wall, moisture become trapped behind the foliage. On a frame surface the condition could easily lead to rot.

If a wood wall is all you have to provide, you can cheat a little by anchoring a trellis about 3 feet in front of it to shoulder the vine. That will allow for air circulation with no loss of effect.

Vines such as clematis, wisteria, honeysuckle, bittersweet and Dutchman's pipe actually require a trellis or a polelike structure to keep themup. Classified as twiners, they ascend by winding runners around their support. The flat surface of a solid wall, therefore, fails to serve their needs. For crawling up an arbor, a lamppost or a porch column, twining vines are made to order.

But like creepers, twining vines too can be bent to your will and with a bit of manipulation made to climb a wall. You can use the same trellis trick as for creepers, or you can mount a wire grid to the wall, bringing it out several inches to again per

mit air circulation. Run the lines across or up and down or any other direction that suits your fancy or intersect them for a more complex design.

To construct a grid, Ms. Mahan says, insert screw-eyes 1 1/2 -to-2 1/2 inches long into the wall at 3- to 4-feet intervals, spacing the lines or rows 2 feet apart. Draw 12-14 gauge galvanized wire through the loops, wrapping it once or twice around each one to provide extra strength. On a brick or stucco wall, you may need to drill holes first and set in masonry anchors before placing the screw-eyes. For air circulation, let the end of the screw-eyes protrude an inch or two to distance the vine from the wall. Ms. Mahan says it's a good idea to plot the arrangement of the wires on paper before you begin to put them up.

For more about vines, two handy little references, "Simon & Schuster's Guide to Shrubs and Vines" ($11.95) and "Ground Covers and Vines," ($3.95 plus 80 cents postage), a handbook in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's "Plants & Gardens," series, contain useful information. The Botanic Garden's publication may be ordered directly from the source at 100 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225.

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