The Garden Life: Vines clingy, but worth effort



Different vines cling and climb by different means.

Some, such as the Boston ivies (Parthenocissus ssp.), are self-supporting, producing suckers that cling and even emit a gluelike substance to assure they hold fast. Clematis and honeysuckle use tendrils to wrap around a support and hold the plant in place.

Ivy climbs almost any vertical surface by aerial rootlets. These rootlets will burrow their way into cracks in siding and will destroy most painted surfaces.

Hedera is the Latin name for this particular vine. Be aware that three cultivars of ivy are class C noxious weeds in the state of Washington. Hedera and its varieties are vines that seem appealing for their ability to cover unsightly fences and walls quickly. However, anyone who has grown them in the Northwest garden can tell you that they become aggressive with invasive tendencies.

Most vines look best when trained and pruned to some degree. Wisteria needs to be cut back in summer before it gets out of hand. It can get away from you, and it will take parts of your house with it, lifting roof shingles and squeezing fence posts until they snap. This one requires a commitment to regular pruning, not only for form but also for maximum flowering.

Some vines look great in summer and awful in winter. Keep this in mind if you are planting a vine in a highly visible part of your garden or an area designed for all year interest. The honeysuckle (Lonicera ssp.), so exquisite in bloom and scent, can look like a gnarled version of Medusa’s head in winter. In my opinion, these plants are worth growing but need to be strategically placed in the garden. Plant these vines on a strong support, off to the side of beds and borders.

If you have lost the tags on your plants, especially clematis, that tell you which pruning group they fall into, monitor the plant through the year to see when it blooms. Spring bloomers flower on the previous year’s growth. Cut these back a month after flowering. Summer and fall-blooming clematis bloom on wood produced in the spring. Cut back in late fall after flowering or in early spring as buds swell.

Seeking inspiration

Gardeners are an ingenious lot and long ago developed the concept of visiting a variety of garden-oriented locations to expand their horticultural knowledge. Every gardener should do at least one or two garden tours each year, alone or with a group of friends. Five or 10 is even better. A garden tour can be a trip to a local nursery that is known for its display gardens or a group outing to a full-scale home and garden show. Many of the best tours are community fundraisers held in private gardens.

If you are seeking inspiration for your own garden design, the best way to approach a visit is with an open mind. Begin by clearing away any ideas and notions that are not essential to your concept of the perfect garden. Do not get hung up on terminology such as formal, informal, organic or native. Most plants and many garden features are interchangeable in different styles of gardens.

Do keep in mind the elements that are essential to your ideal garden. Choose plants and ideas that match your enthusiasm for gardening. Take only what you really like and leave what you do not like. As you enter a garden, notice how it makes you feel and why. Does a shady reading nook fill you with delight? If so, take the time to consider the logistics of this feature and how it would fit into your garden plans.

Your first impression will be that of the visitor. To get the most out of a garden tour consider looking at each element of the garden as if it were already established in your own design. Liking a feature does not always mean you want it for yourself. Does a formal flagstone dining area fit into your landscape plan? Do you like the herringbone brick pattern used in the walkways or would you prefer the earthy crunch of a gravel path under your feet?

Gardening is one of only a few adult pastimes that allows us to take a field trip with friends in search of our heart’s desire. It can be a delightful experience imagining that every feature in every garden you visit is a possibility in your own. The more gardens and garden events you visit, the better your chances of finding new ideas that fit your lifestyle. How lucky for us that a garden task can bring this much joy to our lives.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at