I have a love-hate relationship with vines. When I moved to North Carolina 26 years ago, I had a front yard covered with English ivy, the backyard nourished Japanese wisteria while the side yard featured Chinese honeysuckle. The only horrid vine I didn’t have was poison ivy.
Over the years, we worked to get the garden vine-free — and here I am contemplating covering my fence with vines.
Vines have a lot going against them because so many of them suffer from over-exuberance, a quality that we gardeners consider undesirable. With global warming and its accompanying carbon dioxide, vines are flourishing: Poison ivy is getting increasingly virulent, English ivy is thriving as are kudzu, Chinese honeysuckle and Japanese wisteria.
But I still want to cover my bare wooden fence.
We are often told to buy our native wisterias and honeysuckles but they are not foolproof by any means. Wisteria frutescens, a Southeast native, will reach a height of 30 feet and according to Allen Armitage in his Vines and Climbers, it will cover your house in five years. The difference between it and the oriental wisterias is that it will not cover your neighbor’s house as well.
I have found clematises are a satisfying place to gingerly get one’s foot wet in vineland. Clematises come in all sizes and shapes. There is, however, one clematis to avoid: Sweet Autumn Clematis, a.k.a. C. ternifolia or C. paniculata. It’s incredibly beautiful, yet very seedy. Once you have it, you’ll never be rid of it. Try our native C. virginiana instead. It’s not quite as showy but it’s far more manageable.
I am more comfortable with annual vines in that they die back before taking over the world. It’s best to avoid those that are vigorous self-seeders, such as many of the morning glory vines. There are two vines, a black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia alata, and the hyacinth bean vine, Lablab purpureus that potentially could satisfy my efforts to cover the fence without overtaking the world. If you have lots of sun, consider using either mandevilla or Passiflora.
Or you can turn to one of my passions: climbing roses.
The Lady Banks rose is not suitable for higher elevations simply because it’s technically a zone 8 rose. It will survive in zone 7 if planted in the spring, allowing time for its roots to develop before the first frost. My favorite, ‘Peggy Martin’ also needs zone 7, although she’s listed as surviving in zone 5. However I have found that this New Orleans lass doesn’t thrive in zones colder than zone 7. For the mountains I recommend ‘New Dawn’, an Earth-Kind rose that loves to grow while remaining cold hardy down to zone 5.
So how have I satisfied my urge to cover my fence? I’ve experimented with various clematis, climbing roses, and Lablab purpureus. The latter brings the child out in me as once the frost date has passed, I barely cover the large seeds with soil, watering them well. Soon sprigs magically appear followed by lovely deep pink flowers that bloom throughout the summer — this is just what an annual should do.
I began planting various small flower clematises along the sunny areas of the fence three years ago. Like a lot of perennials, they slept through the first season, crept through the second one, and I hold out great hopes that this growing season they will make their leap. The same goes for the climbing roses.
What I have learned about vines and me is this: I’m far more comfortable researching and growing ones that thrive but are not “exuberant,” as I avoid all plants carrying that label. Do I have to wait for my covered fence that I have dreamt about? You bet — but it’s worth the wait.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email firstname.lastname@example.org.