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Climbing out of the garden. (Gardening).

Sometimes weeks of hard work in our gardens can blind us to the obvious. With the last frost behind us, we trudge about excitedly moving plants in, moving plants out, adding ornaments, pruning, and culling. In anticipation of our finished work, we stand back and survey, only to find we are met with an unexpected feeling: boredom.

If inspiration hasn't struck yet, I guarantee one simple solution is to look up and observe.

Is there anything to see? If the answer is no, then a horizontal haze has succeeded in limiting the height of your garden and hiding a simple solution from you: climbing, twining plants.

A garden without climbers is a stagnant, perpetual horizontal line where most plants live at knee height. Standing under an arbor buried in the shady fragrance of a rose or dining under a pergola covered in bougainvillea could never be classified as a humdrum experience. Climbing plants can disguise unattractive areas, serve as groundcovers, and add softness and dimension. A southern garden benefits additionally from vigorous climbers that can quickly cover outdoor living spaces, enveloping them in cool shade.

In her book, Flowering Vines 101, Karen Cutler makes the interesting observation that vines are a "behavioral group," having adapted to environments lacking in light, soil, water, or space by climbing out of them. Most of us would not recognize the botanical term "circumnutation," which she describes as the "elliptical motion of twining plants." This basically means that plants twine clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the species.

So why is the difference important to know when gardening? With climbing plants, most need support, and growth characteristics will determine how they cling to the support or structure and what kind of structure is most suitable. Climbing plants can grasp by twining, climbing, and catching with aerial roots or thorns or by tendrils. For any of us having come in contact with a vigorous grower, this delicate distinction between climbers seems laughable. A vigorous grower could cover a slow moving Southerner before supper.

The majority of climbing plants are relatively carefree and fun to grow. Gardeners can benefit from permanent perennial structures or can choose easily sown annual vines that are fragrant, fast growing, and nostalgic. Moonflowers are an annual vine sown by a pea-sized seed and result in a large, showy, evening flower that is intense in fragrance. The moonflower could be considered a cousin to the morning glory.

Another vine grown from seed is the hyacinth bean. Hyacinth can be successfully grown on small trellises or mailboxes and have wonderful purple blooms and edible beans. An older couple introduced me to the Cypress vine, which covered an arbor in their garden with a wispy, feathery foliage accompanied by small, roundish orange blooms. Any of these vines would also be wonderful for children's garden spots. All of them should be sown in full sun in early spring after the last frost. Loosen the soil several inches, adding organic material if the soil is hard clay. Cover with 1-2 inches of light soil and keep moist until seeds appear.

Of all the perennial climbers, the rose perhaps holds tightest to Southern hearts.

Gardeners have a large variety of climbing roses to choose from, and unlike hybrid teas, climbers are less fussy. Popular varieties include Cecile Brunner, Blaze, Zephirine Drouhin, and Lady Banks (pictured on page 65), to name just a few. In a former garden of mine, both Blaze and Cecile covered half a trellis in just one season. By the second season, the roses were reaching for low, overhanging branches. Southerners interested in growing climbing roses should investigate Roses in the Southern Garden, written by Mike Shoup. Not only is this reference book full of homey tales and wonderful photographs, Mr. Shoup smartly indicates which roses fall into the "vigorous" or "mannerly" climbing category. This distinction is important for growers, because unlike other climbers, roses need to be tied and trellised or anchored against a wall or building. Choosing a vigorous climber for a small support will result only in headaches later. Climbing roses are generally at home with strong supports located in sunny spots.

Most roses arrive bare root and should be planted while dormant, before the plant begins leafing out. Upon arrival, inspect roots and canes, pruning any damaged or broken parts. It is important to keep the plant moist until it is planted. Choose a sunny, well drained site. Roses don't like wet feet, so be sure the site drains well. Dig a hole and mound dirt in the middle. Set the rose on top of the mound, spreading roots out from the plant. When covering, leave the bud union an inch or so above the ground and then lightly press dirt around the plant to settle the rose in the ground. Water the new rose. No fertilizer is needed until the plant leafs out and begins to grow.

If roses don't suit your style and your garden still remains vertically challenged, there are plenty of other options. Carolina Jessamine or Jasmine is seen frequently in the South. This medium growing native vine has evergreen, glossy leaves and bright yellow blooms. It needs support and pruning. A new variety, Jasmine Lemon Drop, introduced in 2001, behaves more like a mounding ground cover and grows best in full sun or part shade. The old standby favorite, Clematis, almost goes without mentioning. Gardeners are drawn to the Clematis for the bold, vivid colors and showy flowers. The trick to growing Clematis is to plant in full sun, but keep the roots mulched and shaded. The crossvine is another popular climber. Evergreen with bright orange trumpet shaped flowers, this vine is also referred to by some as a trumpet vine. A popular tropical vine which is successfully grown in this area is Mandevilla. Although the vine will not survive the winters, it is a fast growing vine with showy pink flowers and dark glo ssy leaves making it a good selection during the season for planters, beds, or hanging baskets.

For those less beguiled by flowers and more interested in foliage or coverage, ivy is the epitome of stately southern grace. Large plantings under trees are very effective as ground cover, and if left unpruned, will attach and climb any vertical structure in its path.

According to a Mississippi State publication by James Perry, English Ivy is slow to spread and has a medium growth rate. On the other hand, he classifies Boston Ivy as a deciduous, fast grower. Personal experience has shown that ivy can be slow to start, but after established, grows at a faster rate and makes an effective blanket to deter weeds. Plant ivy starts at least 6-10 inches apart, with larger plants at least a foot apart. Ivy is fairly adaptable to poor soils and growing conditions. Once established, ivy will need to be regularly pruned to keep in a contained area.

Native twining vines offer interesting variety, but are usually fast growing and can be invasive. Honeysuckle grows in almost every roadside, field corner, fence post, or ditch in the South. The vines are so intertwined and dense they can effectively choke out other plants. The fragrance is unmistakably sweet and the pale, creamy colored flowers easily recognizable. Another native vine, that early in my garden days I believed was truly a weed, is the passion flower. The flowers are generally a purple, however, cultivars have resulted in blue and red flowers. The bloom is almost indescribable, circular in shape with fuzzy, hairlike threads that radiate outwards. These flowers almost look eerily cosmic. Bittersweet vines are another native neighbor. This vine can circle back on itself, tying itself up in knots. Bright orange berry-like blooms appear in late fall, usually after the first frost and make good dried arrangements.

Climbing plants can offer the gardener a whole different dimension of creativity and practicality. Rapid growth in most vines will please even the most impatient gardener, and the tropical nature of some vines will brighten the house indoors during the winter. Discovering a twining plant will lead a gardener and his garden to undiscovered, exciting heights.


* An arbor is a wonderful base for a climbing plant, and once the plant is mature and covers the top, it provides a shady spot. The arbor above uses Carolina Jasmine to achieve this effect.

* Bamboo canes made into "teepees" are an easy-to-make base that works especially well with Clematis.

* Consider planting at the base of a tree. Creepers such as running roses or Clematis will scramble up the trunk and through the limbs. You may have to tie on to the tree until the plant is well-established on the trunk.

* For brick walls, you can buy suction cups with holes or hooks. Attach them on the wall and run twine from the ground to the hooks. The plant will grow along the twine and establish itself along the wall. For other walls, nails and twine or florist wire will work well.

* Climbing plants can make good cover-ups for storage sheds or large areas of blank outdoor wall space.

Tips courtesy of Polly Leslie of Brandon
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Title Annotation:climbing plants
Author:Mayer, Karen
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:May 1, 2002
Previous Article:The perfect table the perfect menu.
Next Article:Roses 101.

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