When my family moved to the south when I was at the impressionable age of eight, I was amazed with some of the colloquialisms I heard that were so foreign to my ear transplanted from South Philadelphia, like one from my our next door neighbor Ethel who liked to say how much she loved her husband even though he was as “ugly as a mud fence.”
I thought of that phrase recently when I pondered an ugly fence confronting me upon removing a row of sickly hemlocks, stricken years ago by a thrip infestation, pulled out by their roots, revealing a weather beaten stockade fence that separates the back of my property from another. It had fallen into disrepair with slats cracked and pieces missing here and there. Rather than replacing it at considerable expense, I thought of a more creative approach: that of hiding it with a fast-growing vine. I called in John Fitzpatrick of Fritz Landscaping to help me make the choice of which would be fastest growing. He suggested honeysuckle.
Fast-growing vines give flexibility of form and function to the home landscaper: they can be directed to grow into unique, arching flights of design fancy, or they can sprout into a quick, concealing blanket to cover up any unsightly structure or serve as a privacy screen. On a steep slope they can even spread out into a groundcover to slow down erosion.
If you want to use vines creatively in the garden, it helps to become familiar with the growing patterns of the varieties available: tendril climbers, twining vines, scrambling plants and clinging climbers.
Tendril climbers shoot out thin shoots from the main stem of the plant, and these twist around any narrow support. This variety of vine grows very well on trellises and heavy gauge wire netting.
Twining vines climb by wrapped their main stems directly around a support. These vines usually need to be gently trained to grow in the direction you want. Whatever structure you use to support a twining or tendril climbers, be sure that it does not lie flush against a wall or other surface. Not only does the vine need space behind the structure to grip it, but the ventilation will help keep the vines and any wooden support dry and healthy.
Scrambling plants don’t wrap themselves around any support. Instead they grow out long shoots that climb over whatever they encounter. These vines serve as excellent groundcovers or “cascading” plants, but it’s best if their dead stems are pruned out regularly.
Clinging climbers grip surfaces with small, adhesive aerial rootlets, which hang on even after the stem dies. These should only be grown on stone or very solid masonry as the grips can dig into and damage wood and brittle surfaces.
An additional concern with vines is keeping them from taking over the yard. In a worst-case scenario, the vines can completely smother trees and other plants in the landscape, as can be seen with the infestations of Asiatic Bittersweet along some roads in the metro New York area. (My local readers can visit vinecutter.com to join groups that cut these vines down.)
On my own, smaller scale, I find that planting vines in pots or plastic pails set into the ground keeps the growth well under control. I used this method successfully with bugleweed that has the unfortunate habit of taking over a lawn.
You can grow vines for fruit, flowers or shade, but what I investigated for hiding my ugly fence were the following vines that grow quickly:
Honeysuckle, a twining vine, can grow from 7 to 30 feet in a single summer, depending on the variety and growing conditions. Give them a support to grow on if you don’t want them to become shrubby. These fragrant blooms attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Virginia Creeper, a climbing vine, can grow up to 50 feet. It is identified by its leaves, which have five leaflets, are green, but are tinted with red when they first grow. In the fall, all the leaves turn deep red.
Clematis Etoile Violette grow 8 to12 feet in a summer and sport profuse purple blossoms in July and September. They are good on posts, fences or wire frames.
Wisteria needs training in the beginning, but will eventually develop woody stems that in themselves are beautiful year-round. The cascading blossoms are spectacular, but take care that the vine doesn’t spread past where you want it.
Evergreen clematis grows by tendrils, and its downward-drooping leaves give it a “weeping” effect. This white-blossomed vine is an excellent choice for quickly covering a mailbox or wire fence.
For any garden advice or landscaping needs, call John Fitzpatrick at 914-618-1549.
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.