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Made for shade: beat the summer heat with structures and plantings designed to cool things down a bit.

Gardening regret is a terrible thing. With each passing season, all those planting ideas left undone become highly evident at the most inopportune times.

During the dog days of endless summer sun, the pursuit of shade--and lots of it--becomes a new summer sport. To avoid another shadeless summer tinged with regret, homeowners can begin planning now. What is a hot, useless spot this year could be transformed into a shady oasis in just one season. Larry Magee, horticulturist with Four Season Garden Center in Hernando, a branch of Homestead Farms, speaks from experience. "With water and fertilizer, it's amazing how fast plants can cover a structure."

Creating shade does not necessarily require years of patience. It does, however, require the ability to choose vines or trees that grow vigorously and make the task possible from the start. While some plants are medium- to fast-growers once established, these do little as far as providing impatient, hot gardeners with instant gratifying results. The plants mentioned below, especially the vines, don't fall into this category. Rather, they are fast-growing from the start and, some may argue, could be categorized as invasive or pesky because of their rapid growth. For quick shade, however, these take the prize.

Old Southern homes had deep, wide porches for good shady reasons. Homes today rarely have porches but do have concrete patios, which are only good for baking homeowners in July or August and adding a little year-round interest. Garden structures, such as pergolas, have become wildly popular and are a quick way to create shade, even before adding vines.

A pergola is similar to an arbor in that it is an open framework on which vines can climb. They differ, however, in that a pergola refers to a larger structure with open rafters or latticework as a roof. Pergolas can be built of wood or metal and can be simple or elaborate. Best of all, when combined with a vigorous vine, the result is a sensational, shady summer spot in a short time. With cooler months approaching, fall is a good time to build a garden structure so it will be finished in time for spring planting.

Southerners are blessed with a wide variety of interesting vines that are rapid growers. Vines can be both annual and perennial. Combining both annual and perennial vines can be highly effective, as annual vines tend to be faster-growing than perennial vines. Planting a fast-growing annual with a slower-growing perennial can solve a short-term coverage problem while establishing a longer living plant. Air annual vine such as moonflower not only grows quickly but also has a wonderful scent and large white blooms. Try combining it with a climbing rose, which tends to grow more slowly until well-established.

In her book Fast Plants, Sue Fisher recommends several fast-climbing vines such as bluecrown passionflower, which "soon covers all sorts of structures and creates an air of permanence." This vigorous vine with curious purple blooms can grow as much as 16 feet per season and will easily grow in our area. For all the clematis lovers, Fisher believes this favored vine could also be a medium- to fast-grower if given optimum growing conditions. For extensive flowering and fast growth, she also recommends trumpet creeper vines.

While impatience and heat will drive the most tolerant gardeners to find a fast-growing vine, some vines need to be planted with a note of caution since they could easily cover a house after just a couple of seasons. It is hard to discuss fast-growing vines without mentioning wisteria. Most Southerners recognize the light purple, drooping blooms of wisteria, which can grow high into treetops and strangle trellises. Chinese wisteria or Wisteria sinensis is an aggressive vine that can grow 10-15 feet each season. Pruning unwanted growth as it emerges will keep this vigorous vine politely tamed.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all fast-growing vines is the silver lace vine. It is a perennial that blooms in late summer, displaying small white flowers that resemble clematis. This vine is extraordinarily adaptable and will grow where most other vines won't. It can be planted in sun or shade and can easily grow 15 feet in one season.

"I knew someone who planted this vine in Ohio on a shade structure that was approximately 15 feet high," recalls Magee. "Even in a Northern climate, this vine completely covered the structure and was heading for the house after just two seasons."

Another rampant grower is five-leaf akebia or "chocolate vine." This vine can grow to 40 feet and needs to be pruned to control growth. It is another good choice for covering large structures and tolerates light shade.

For those not-so-faint of heart, fast-growing vines can also be planted on homes or garages. Although the debate rages about the effects on stone or brick, the truth remains that many people still prefer the appearance of a vine-covered wall and the added protection from weather extremes.

Several quick-growing vines are part of the Parthenocissus genus. Interestingly enough, these vines are part of the grape family as well. At the forefront is Virginia creeper or woodbine, which is often seen in the wild growing up fences and trees. Some people mistake this palmate-leaved plant for poison ivy. Because birds drop seeds, it spreads easily and can become unwanted. A slight variation is the silver-vein creeper, a fast-growing variegated plant that is attractive when grown on large walls or fences. Boston ivy also falls into this category of creepers. Also known as Japanese creeper, Boston ivy is a vigorous grower and covers many city walls. All of these vines also provide sensational seasonal interest with their bright red fall color.

Those searching for good old-fashioned shade from tall Southern trees will be relieved to know that certain trees are better choices for quick shade. The bald cypress is a native tree that grows rapidly when young. It has the added benefit of a long life. The lacebark elm, also called Chinese elm, is another fast-growing, long-living tree. Unlike the American elm, this tree is resistant to Dutch elm disease, which has devastated many elms in the United States.

If the heat has smothered any gardening ideas, plan to create a quick shady spot for next summer. Sitting under a vine-covered pergola will erase any gardening regrets from previous years and replace them with the pleasure of shady days.


1. Silver lace vine (Polygonum aubertii)

2. Virginia creeper or woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

3. Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata)

4. Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)

5. Trumpet creeper vine (Campsis radicans)

6. Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

7. Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

8. Clematis

9. Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

10. Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
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Title Annotation:Gardening
Author:Ott Mayer, Karen
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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