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February 13, 2018 > Vines: the perfect fit for any garden

Vines: the perfect fit for any garden

By Daniel O'Donnell

There is a phrase every gardener should know: right plant, right place. A jigsaw puzzle displays an image when all the pieces are placed in the correct spot. The best gardens are created when plants are grown in the right place. Incorporating an appropriate vine into the garden fulfills an important piece of a larger landscape puzzle.

The word vine is now used to refer to any plant that produces long stems that climb, ascend, or cling to various structures. A more precise definition of the word vine is relevant only to grapevines. The word vine comes from the Latin word v?nea, that means grapevine, vineyard, or vine-garden. All other plants referred to as vines should actually be called climbing plants. However, generically calling these plants vines is as common as calling any sparkling wine Champagne.

Vines evolved without trunks by finding another way to leave the ground in order to capture sunlight. A trunk provides the support a plant needs to survive off the ground. Without trunks, vines needed different adaptations to compete for light.

One adaptation climbing plants made to achieve vertical mobility was to develop tendrils. Tendrils are stems or specialized corkscrew-shaped leaves that find a structure by touch and wrap around it for support. Some tendrils produce adhesive pads to help further strengthen their bond. Sweet peas are an example of a vine that uses tendrils to hold up its scented, delicate flowers.

Another group of climbing plants produce small aerial roots that have the ability to cling to a wide variety of surfaces. Aerial roots can support a plant without the need to be buried in soil. These modified roots can absorb water, minerals, and nutrients from the air around their host, or in some cases, even photosynthesize. Ivy is an invasive example of just how efficient aerial roots are at providing the nourishment for a fast-growing plant.

Vines also climb by voluble stems. These are uniquely flexible stems that wind themselves up a tree trunk, light pole, or any other structure that will lead the plant upwards. Although these stems begin soft and herbaceous, they can mature into woody stems that will support more weight, allowing the plant to get extremely large. Wisterias are prized for their magnificent hanging flowers and intriguing twisting wooden trunks and stems.

Another means by which a climbing plant can rise to new and productive heights is by using thorns or hook-shaped specialized leaves to anchor itself to a host. The thorny branches stab footholds in the host structure as they climb their way up, much like using crampons to climb an ice wall. Colorful Bougainvilleas can be seen piercing their way up trellises and along fences throughout the Bay Area.

When choosing a vine there is no rush to get it to cover an arch, pergola, or even a wall. Climbing plants will not stop where they are meant to look the best. They have adapted to be aggressive and invasive. There is no point in planting a fast-growing vine just to cut it back every week, especially if it has thorns.

It is important to know a climbing plant's characteristics before selecting which one to plant and where. It might take some research, but choosing the right vine and proper place to plant it can save countless hours of work and pain. Below are some vine choices that are appropriate for common garden wishes.

Growing food at home is a rewarding trend. Passion fruit and Kiwi are two types of vines that thrive here and are easy to maintain. Both produce abundant exotic fruits that are colorful, healthy, and taste great.

California can dip into back into a drought at any time. A type of Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia californica is a drought tolerant California native vine that produces flowers that look lovely and attract pollinating insects. The leaves are a favorite food of the red spotted black caterpillars that will become California swallowtail butterflies.

Star Jasmine is a relatively easy vine to manage. The small amount of added maintenance will be overshadowed by its fragrant flowers that entice people and bees alike. It is one of the most versatile vines; it can grow on trellises, doorways, and fences, or used as a trailing ground cover.

Clematis and climbing roses can deliver stunning results with their flowers. Growing vertically is essential when space is limited in the garden.

Creating a multi-storey living wall with a vine can be a spectacular addition to any urban environment. Maintaining it can be difficult. Creeping Fig, as the name suggests, is a slow growing climbing plant that requires less maintenance than a faster growing vine.

Once a gardener, always a gardener. If there is no garden, Pothos is a tropical vine that is easily grown inside.

It is in a vine's nature to climb. The garden will come together nicely by taking the time to choose one with the right fit, like placing the final piece in a puzzle.

Daniel O'Donnell is the co-owner and operator of an organic landscape design/build company in Fremont.

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