Tablet Life & Arts

Neil Sperry: These plants are clingy, in a good way

Vines perform many of the same functions as shrubs (breaking up the harshness of fences and walls, privacy and screening, shading and so on), but they typically do so in just a fraction of the space that the shrubs would require.

That’s especially great if your landscape is around a town home with a tiny garden in which to plant. So there definitely is a place in almost anyone’s landscape for vines.

It’s really special, however, when you have a vine that will do all of that and then bloom as well. Some of our prettiest spring and summer flowers are actually found tumbling over fences and twining up trellises.

Shop early, because vines are about to hit full stride for the season, and supplies of the prettiest types always run out too quickly. Let’s consider some of the best choices, and we’ll do so in the very general sequence in which they might flower in your own garden.

Carolina jessamine. Native to East Texas, this handsome and compact climber is one of the few truly evergreen flowering vines. Its tubular bright yellow flowers are also highly fragrant. It is more tolerant of shade than most of the other plants listed.

Wisteria. An iconic vine of the spring, this popular plant is strong growing, often 30 to 40 feet along a fence or up into trees. Its panicles of highly perfumed lavender or white flowers are spectacular, and the vine itself is attractive during the rest of the season, although it struggles with iron deficiency in shallow, highly alkaline soils.

Lady Banksia rose. Thornless. No black spot. Strong growing, but refined. What more could you ask from a climbing rose? Well, it isn’t fragrant, and it only blooms once in the spring. But it’s a lovely plant to grow on fences and up over patio covers. It leans, so you’ll have to train it a bit as it’s getting started.

Climbing Pinkie, Sea Foam and other recommended climbing roses. These two are both listed as Earth-Kind and, therefore, extremely low-maintenance, by the research program begun by Steve George of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and there are other nice choices as well.

Confederate star jasmine. Perhaps the most delicious of all floral fragrances (my opinion, at least), this is a great evergreen vine. It’s a sister to our popular Asian jasmine ground cover, but it’s even less winter-hardy. Plantings of it in North Texas took a beating this winter, so if you’re going to plant this one, put it in a protected spot or grow it on a trellis in a large patio pot that could be moved into protection. I have one that I’ve been handling that way for 20 years. I can’t go through the spring without smelling its fragrance.

Crossvine. At a gallop you might mistake these vines for trumpet vines. The flowers do look somewhat alike. But crossvine blooms in mid-spring, and its leaves and habits are entirely different. It twines and clings and is more compact in its form. It does best in morning sun with a little shade in the hot afternoon, especially if it’s growing against a reflective wall. There are several improved forms in the market.

Honeysuckles. Hall’s honeysuckle is the old-fashioned type with green leaves and white-then-yellow flowers. It’s almost invasive, and its seeds and seedlings do come up almost everywhere. Purple Japanese honeysuckle climbs a little, but it’s better as a tall ground cover. So that leaves us with coral honeysuckle, a North Texas native. It’s handsome, but powdery mildew can be an issue. Honeysuckles need to be mentioned in any story about vines, but those are the reasons you don’t see any more of them than you do.

Clematis hybrids. You’re going to see these northern hybrids in nurseries this spring, and you’ll probably be tempted. If you plant them into well prepared garden soil, give them some shade from the afternoon sun and trim out the dead growth, you can have a pretty nice display here in North Texas. But they won’t look like the plants you may have seen in the North and Midwest.

Evergreen clematis. Seldom seen, this is a glorious shade-loving vine for a trellis. It produces creamy white flowers in spring, and its foliage is pretty enough to be a houseplant. It is marginally hardy in our area.

Madame Galen trumpet creeper. This robust vine is much less invasive than its native counterpart. It blooms from June into the fall, with large orange tubular flowers that bring hummingbirds in from miles around. Give it ample room, however. One plant will cover 15 or 20 feet of fence, or one or two plants per large patio shade. It does drop its fleshy flowers as they mature, so it’s best not to put it directly above a surface that could be stained.

Sweet autumn clematis. The final vine of our list, this plant dies to the ground every winter (or should be cut almost completely back), only to regrow strongly each spring. Its quarter-sized flowers have some fragrance, and they cover the vines in late August or September. It’s best in morning sun and with shade in the hot afternoons.

Finally, just a brief shout-out to our fine annual vines such as hyacinth bean, morning glories, moon vine, cypress vine, cardinal climber, black-eyed Susan vine and others. If you need magic, and if you need it in a big hurry, these might be your new best friends.