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Versatile Vines

By Anne Halpin

Vines are seldom the stars of the garden or landscape, but  they play important supporting roles in many successful landscapes. Vines enhance the focal points and features of the garden, and in the right location at the right time of year can have their chance to shine, too.  You might choose a flowering perennial climber such as clematis or trumpet creeper or climbing roses to bring glorious color to the garden for several weeks in spring or summer, year after year. Or you can plant annual vines like canary creeper or morning glories to brighten the garden all summer. You could select a climber like jasmine or moonflower for its enchanting fragrance.

Vines are versatile. If creating a garden or designing a landscape was like making a movie, vines would be the special effects department. Vines can frame an entryway or a view. They can cast shade, camouflage an eyesore, or screen off a view of the street, or your neighbor’s garage.  You can use vines for privacy, to provide vertical line in the garden, or to soften the look of a wall or fence. Because they are so linear, you can use them to draw the eye toward a feature you want to be noticed, such as a piece of sculpture or a fountain. Because they take up so little ground space, vines can make a small garden feel bigger by drawing the eye upward.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vines are wonderful for covering arches to frame the entrance to the garden or your property. When placed at the street, a vine-covered arch is welcoming. If you use a fragrant vine such as climbing roses (which aren’t really vines but are trained to act like them), or the night-blooming moonflower, you are greeted with a draft of perfume when you walk in. You can also place a vine-covered arch over a garden path for shade or a place to rest on a bench beneath it.

You can line up several arches in succession to make a shady tunnel. Connect the arches with horizontal crosspieces. If you want to try out a tunnel or arch without making a permanent commitment to a particular plant, grow annual vines like morning glories. The great beauty of annual vines is that they allow you to change your mind every season. They can be tremendously useful in the garden.

Vines can work beautifully on fences, too. They can camouflage an ugly chain-link fence or deer fencing, or soften the look of wrought iron.

Vines can be lovely on lattice panels, lined up as a fence or used for vertical accent in the garden (try honeysuckle or clematis). Help them climb by attaching the stems to the fence at intervals with twist ties or Velcro garden tape (sold at garden centers). Vines are a charming way to dress up a lamppost or mailbox, too. Out by the street or at the end of a driveway they welcome visitors, while closer to the house they inject a note of color.  There are also planters that fit over mailboxes, and these can be planted with small-leaved ivies or trailing plants like black-eyed Susan vine or canary creeper. Their slender stems hang down alongside the mailbox but won’t get in the mailman’s way.

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Another interesting trick you can play with a vine is to plant one next to an evergreen shrub and let it spill out over the top. For example, clematis can clamber over an evergreen shrub such as boxwood and appear to make it bloom, or try one on a rhododendron or azalea to give the plant an apparent second season of bloom.

One particular vine that can be spectacular here on the East End is climbing hydrangea. This beauty is at its best climbing a tree trunk, and in summer it sports lovely white “lacecap” blossoms that are more delicate in appearance than the round flowerheads of their better known blue relatives that are so iconic in summer gardens here. An extra bonus: when the leaves drop in autumn, they reveal the beautiful russet-brown, shaggy stems which add winter interest to the landscape.