Reaching New Heights
The climbing, trailing, elegant vine
Story and photos by Christine Hall
If you are looking for a garden inspiration this spring, look no further than the climbing and trailing, elegant vine. Vines are bona fide additions to the home garden for their ability to sprawl, mount, and cling to surface – adding interest and dimension to even the simplest of garden spaces.
Diligent, vigilant, and resourceful are the words I would use to describe vines. Juxtapose these characteristics with the visual and sensory delight vines can offer and it is no wonder homeowners and professional gardeners alike incorporate them into their landscapes.
Because of a vine’s ability to adapt and thrive in the most hostile environments, I find more than one symbolic parallel to the ways in which we as humans operate in the world. Vines can reach, twine, or coil through reactionary sense of touch. They possess natural systems that enable them to make decisions in different environments to survive, just as we do.
In fact, the decisions vines can make when presented with challenges are quite an evolutionary accomplishment. After all, they do not have a central working brain like we do. And despite their inability to support their own weight, vines have astonishing resistance to pulling and breaking, and some species can grow up to 40 feet a season.
For centuries researchers and engineers have studied the characteristics of nature and its natural systems to inspire and inform real-world application. More recently, studies have been performed on climbing plants to grasp just what it is that enables vines to use their own tools to adapt, survive, and thrive.
Today, researchers study climbing plants and use their biological systems to serve as models for developing robots, smart devices, and other tools. These devices are engineered to translate the working principles from the natural world (such as grasping a trellis or coiling around a fence post) to the artificial world (such as robots manipulating and grasping objects in surgeries, rescue and recovery, or exploration).
Your Home Garden
Aside from its scientific marvels, vines can add romantic charm and induce soothing thoughts of English gardens around your homestead. Displayed on a trellis at the end of a meandering stone path or twined amongst an archway over an old gate, canopies of blooms and foliage can express personality and create lush backdrops with a sense of allure.
Here are several varieties that offer different textures and bloom times to fit any garden or patio.
Clematis offers woody blooming vines that climb by twining or trailing over support. They have a range of bloom times from late spring to late fall, and can be found in both evergreen and deciduous varieties. The most common varieties bloom in white and purple.
Support: Clematis do not feature tendrils that allow them to take hold of walls or support structures like an English Ivy vine does. Because of this you will want to provide vertical support by encouraging and securing stems in the desired direction as they grow.
Tip: Plant root ball in an area that offers sun for the above-ground plant leaves and shade at the base above the roots. The giant purple Clematis (pictured) can produce blooms as wide as 7 inches across.
Creeping Fig vine, also known as creeping ficus, or climbing fig, is a popular ground and wall cover for its petite, heart-shaped leaves that offer a uniform and serene effect. Because it does not flower or produce fruit, it focuses its energy on conquering whatever it can cling to.
Support: Before planting this evergreen, be aware that once it attaches itself to a wall or surface, it can be difficult to remove and doing so can damage the surface that the vine sucker arms attached to. Some gardeners may wish to grow this vine on a support structure that is replaceable.
Tip: As a Creeping Fig vine ages, heavily prune back mature parts of the plant to restart the growth of fresh leaves and vines.
English Ivy is popular for its ability to quickly green up spaces where other vegetation does not grow well. As such it can be a useful ground cover to fill in hard-to-plant spots in your landscaping or on a hill or slope to protect against erosion.
Support: English Ivy can be invasive and needs to be grown deliberately. With this in mind, above-ground pots feeding a decorative arch or trellis may be more desirable. Growing in wire topiaries or dangling from hanging baskets are other sensible options.
Tip: Look for selections that have varying leaf shapes and unique colors. Some offer shades of green that are variegated with white, pink, and silver. English Ivy comes in more than 200 cultivars so enjoy shopping for one that matches your own garden or patio décor.