Whenever I’m asked to suggest a vine that will provide vertical interest in a garden, create shade over an arbor or scramble up a wall, I always hesitate.
Vines can be beautiful and fast-growing problem solvers, but they can also become a mass of tangled twigs and a maintenance hassle. Besides those concerns, our enduring drought weighs in with the admonition that, if we plant a vine at all, it should be a low-water-requiring species.
All vines require support for upright growth. Many develop their own means of attachment — clinging rootlets, curling tendrils, twining stems — and can train themselves if they’re given something sturdy to lean on.
Not any support will do, however, especially not a flimsy sheet of lattice if the vine grows to great height or weight. Some become quite heavy in full leaf or after they form thick stems.
Only those with clinging rootlets will scamper up a smooth surface. Key considerations for all types are whether a background surface such as a water tank, wall or fence will tolerate fasteners and eventually will require paint or reinforcement with age. A hinged trellis or other movable material may be needed.
Once a decision has been made to plant a vine, a barrage of questions arises. Should it be evergreen for year-round beauty? Deciduous with stems exposed in winter? Flowering for seasonal color? Needing maintenance twice a year or not at all? And how much water does it call for?
At this point in time, the demand for water is likely most important, though all plants require sufficient moisture at least until established. For some, winter rain is all that’s needed.
Vitis californica “Roger’s Red,” a wild grape, is a California native or at least a hybrid with a native and has great value for summer shade on a pergola and vibrant color in fall. This cultivar was found growing wild and will do well in drought-tolerant gardens.
But, as in vineyards, this grape must be heavily pruned annually to control growth, and its fruit and self-sowing seeds can be messy. Yet in the right place, it is an excellent choice.
Evergreen star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is widely planted and usually irrigated, but in my own garden irrigation was removed after one summer in the ground. Several plants grow in heavy clay with roots sinking behind retaining walls where enough residual moisture promotes continuous growth. I trim the plants once a year to form a long, sprawling border. In another spot, this vine climbs unirrigated on a fence.
Woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum “Serotina”) is a low-water-requiring selection. This is a type of honeysuckle, similar to the common, highly scented, invasive Japanese species but far less rampant in habit. It requires support for twining up to a 10-foot height.
“Serotina” blooms summer through fall with typical, fragrant honeysuckle trumpets, but tinged with yellow and reddish purple. In mild winter microclimates, it remains semi-deciduous.
Although our native Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia) — a food source for pipevine swallowtail butterfly larvae — will grow up into trees if left untended, it can decorate a post quite nicely when trimmed annually. Plant in part shade to economize on water.
Large-leaved Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis) is often planted as a ground cover. Not only does its dense growth overtake small shrubs, but it can harbor rodents. Smaller- leafed English ivy (Hedera helix) has become an invasive nuisance throughout the North Coast and should not be planted in the ground.