Beth Burrell and her husband Scott own Giving Tree, Ltd providing 25 years of expertise in plant and landscape design, education, consultation, installation and specialized maintenance. Beth is a horticultural educator with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Hanover Master Gardeners and lectures throughout Virginia.

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Vertical Gardening
by Beth Burrell    

A garden was not intended to be a flat space and certainly the right proportions of plants offering dimension, color, texture and unique forms are the mainstay of any landscape.      

Home gardeners sometimes neglect to make use of the space created by vertical areas in their yards. Vertical dimension creates new vistas and views, giving the landscape a three dimensional elegance.   

Why not use what you have on hand or consider adding a decorative structure that makes a statement even before the vines take hold and start to climb? 

Around the House     

Our gardens are an outdoor extension of our home, with a unique style that reflects our personal tastes. Many of us have limited space and it’s essential to use plants that yield maximum benefits throughout the year. Utilizing vertical structures and spaces that make up our everyday landscape can be delightful lending another creative outlet for eye-catching annual and perennial vines.     

Lamp, birdhouse and mailbox posts are a very common feature which rise out of the ground begging for a plant to grasp onto. Lamp and mailbox posts are an important part of front entry appeal. Clematis ‘Miss Bateman’ is a favorite with 4-inch creamy white flowers set off by almost black stamens. Only climbing to around 6 feet, this is a great size that won’t overtake the post and makes for easy maintenance. Lonicera ‘Mandarin’ is a beautiful selection reaching to 10 feet. Deep copper-hued new growth is a fashionable complement to the masses of red-orange tubular flowers attracting hummingbirds in the spring. This ornamental honeysuckle will repeat bloom throughout the summer with its warm blossoms. Garden tape or loose-fitting zip ties make easy work of training your vine up the post and holding in place throughout the year.

Clematis ‘Miss Bateman’ clings nicely to the lamppost. It produces a large white bloom with ornamental seed heads persisting into the summer.

Lonicera ‘Mandarin’ is a choice vine, which attracts migrating hummingbirds into the garden.

Fences also offer unlimited possibilities for making use of vertical space in the landscape. It doesn’t matter if you have wood, metal or a chain-link fence, adding climbing plants only softens and enhances what you already have. With a much greater surface area to cover in width and height, vine selections are limitless.      

A part-shade-loving vine to consider is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) commonly considered by landscape and garden experts to be the most diverse woody climbing vine, bringing to your vertical structure just about every attribute you desire. The leaves are a deep green, with a glossy sheen and are rarely bothered by insect or disease troubles. In early summer large umbels of creamy white flowers with an engaging, light bouquet cover the plant in a snowy mass. Fall turns the leaves a golden yellow, and when they drop, the woody branches are also a notable feature with their peeling, cinnamon colored bark.

Fragrant Carolina jasmine pulls the eye skyward looking like a sunray on the lattice fence.

Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) brightens the dreariest fence. Sunny yellow flowers pop in spring with a punch of sweet fragrance filling the air. Grown in cool sun to partial shade, Carolina jasmine is evergreen and self clinging. This vine is more aggressive, so be prepared to get the clippers out after several years to keep it in line.

For partial shade or sun, climbers crossvine Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’ and Clematis armandii give off a “Wow Factor” during their spring bloom eruption. Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’ proves to be an excellent vine for both sun and partial shade, growing on fences, up walls, arbors and trees. Reaching to 20 feet the evergreen foliage and stems climb by producing self-clinging rootlets and tendrils, bursting into bloom in the spring with a second more refined bloom out in the late summer to early fall.  

Clematis armandii was named in honor of a French missionary, Père Armand David (1826-1900).  With elongated, glossy leaves it has a tropical look and is often not even recognized to be a form of clematis. In early spring when it’s in full flower, the scent is blissful, with hundreds of small white flowers covering the plant. New growth on both vines is an attractive copper, with winter bronzing in the mature growth.

Crossvine ‘Tangerine Beauty’ tangles with clematis adding bold dimension to an otherwise flat space.

Clematis armandii has evergreen, elongated foliage that boasts fragrant white flowers in early spring.

Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’ a unique variety with bold purple stamens that persist even after petals fall away.

Wisteria is a very aggressive vine, shy away from using on deck areas. The fragrant flowers attract carpenter bees and the vines weaken the railings.

‘Fourth of July’ rose has tie-dye painted petals in red, pink and white.

Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’ is an unusual clematis with a flower that resembles a passion flower and is much sought after. A cluster of dark purple stamens emphasizes full, white petals. Interestingly, the purple stamens persist a month beyond petal drop giving the illusion of still being in flower.

For fences and decks, there are several vines to avoid: Wisteria, a lovely, but aggressive vine is always wanted in the spring when it comes into bloom. However, the large, fragrant purple flowers attract carpenter bees, which are aggressive to people in their territory. Climbing roses are another plant to avoid using, as most are very thorny, and are not children or adult friendly. I remember as a child playing at my neighbor’s house. We were playing on the back deck when I was pushed into a massive climbing rose bush. Scratched from head to toe, with thorns still attached, I never got within 20 feet of that dreadful plant again.

Exterior walls give many vines the freedom to lend their attributes to give a flat space a nice dimension. Home walls, tool sheds and other outside buildings usually have a nice wall area to take advantage of. Either growing directly on the wall or to an attached arbor or trellis, walls are often overlooked as a place for vining plants. To give the rose its due, this can be the correct spot to utilize these prickly climbers. ‘Fourth of July’ is stunning with its splashes of red, pink and white in a different combination on each flower.

Since many roses are mainly spring bloomers, I like to take the European approach and mix several vines together. Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is a vivid deep blue, with bell-shaped flowers that bloom non-stop from late spring until early fall. This by far is a top 10 favorite, must have plant in the garden. It has a non-aggressive habit, stretching to 7 feet, and looks pristine on any spot. It can grow from sun to part-shade.

 It’s time to get planning, take a walk out in the garden and around the house and look for the possibilities to add vertical appeal and colorful dimension to your home spaces and structures. 

From State-by-State Gardening May 2009. Photos courtesy of Beth Burrell.


Posted: 01/02/13   RSS | Print


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Richard+ - 01/16/2013

Gorgeous photography! Stunning! May I make a comment on the text and to the caption to the picture of the “Carolina jasmine”? It is not usually called “jasmine” (although “jasmine” is, clearly, sometimes used as a common name) in South Carolina, of which it is the official state flower. It is the “Carolina jessamine.” (Pronounced JESS-a-mine.”)  Carolinians use the common name “jessamine.” I don’t offer this as a “correction,” mind you, but merely want to say that in the state in which it is the official state flower, it is called “jessamine” rather than “jasmine.”

I’m new to the site and I am enchanted! Keep up the great work!

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thelittlebulldog - 03/27/2013

I live in Columbia, SC and have just built an large pergola and I want to cover it in something.  You warn about wisteria but what about the newer America varieties that are not as aggressive…and if not wisteria… what would you recommend…it needs to grow at least 20 feet…and I don’t want foliage on the top…not the vines going up the vertical supports.  Nice article…I’ve already bought some of your recommends.

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Christopher (Louisiana - Zone 8a) - 04/05/2013 suggests American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) as an alternative to Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). That site doesn’t address the issues raised by the author concerning Wisteria attracting carpenter bees and weakening wood structures.

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