This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Anyone who has followed me over the years knows that one of my many mantras is “There is always room for one more plant.”
No matter how packed my garden is, on any given day I can find a little patch of bare earth that is just screaming for something to be planted in it.
My wife often fondly refers to me as her “hortiholic with a planting addiction” and I suppose it is true. I just love planting things and then watching them grow. But regardless of how many little bare patches of dirt I find, there just never seems to be enough places to fit it all in. This is where my climbers help feed my passion.
It is one thing to look at a bare horizontal surface and envision a lovely green plant growing there, but what about all those vertical surfaces that go unplanted. There are tree trunks, arbors, trellises, fences and sometimes just a lone four-by-four post that are begging to be shrouded with something green and alive. Climbing roses, wisteria, honeysuckle, trumpet vines, clematis and so many other wonderful climbing plants can give us compulsive planters a whole new outlook on life. Suddenly, our gardens have expanded exponentially - what a thrill that realization becomes!
Climbing plants come in several forms; from annuals - like sweet peas, scarlet runners, nasturtiums, and morning glories that grow and bloom in one season and then have to be replanted the next - to perennial vines, like hops that can grow 30 feet in one season but then freeze back to the ground only to return just as vigorous the next spring.
Woody vines - like honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and the Godzilla of all woody vines, wisteria - will retain a branching system all winter long and over time can become quite a considerable mass of vegetation. Most woody vines are deciduous and will lose their leaves in the winter, but there are a few evergreen models that northwest gardeners can enjoy, such as Clematis Armandii, Akebia, Hydrangea seemannii, Holboellia, and if you are lucky enough to have a protected spot, star jasmine.
If you are looking for some examples on how to incorporate climbers into your yard, consider touring my garden next to the nursery. On the north side of my house, in total shade, is a ground cover plant called Euonymus fortunei “Kewensis” that I have let climb up my chimney. It has formed a green carpet of tiny leaves and I trim it close to the bricks twice a year. Peeking through it are two large colorful wire dragonflies that add a bit of whimsy in the otherwise dark, shaded side of the house.
Several years ago I planted an evergreen hydrangea at the base of a large Kwanzan flowering cherry on the northwest corner of my house, thinking it would slowly grow up the trunk. OMG! In ten short years it has clamored 20 feet up the tree and is now reaching out to all the upper limbs. The main trunk of the vine is four inches in diameter at ground level and the tight matrix of stems reminds me of a strangle vine you might see in a tropical jungle. In another five years if I don’t do some pruning, I think it will completely smoother the cherry tree.
Next week I will extoll the virtues of some of the other vines in my garden that I can’t live without, but in the meantime, look around your garden and see if you can find a spot to add a climber or two. You will be glad you did!
Sunnyside will be hosting a free class and a free event on Saturday, August 3rd. At 10:00 am we'll present "Summer Powerhouse Perennials" and from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm we'll host the Pilchuck Fuchsia Show.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at email@example.com.
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