One way to look at the woody plants in your yard and landscape is as scaffolding for beautiful flowering vines.
This is not a landscape trick to be overdone. Not every tree or shrub needs a floriferous vine tumbling out of it. But when the right vine is paired with an otherwise uninteresting woody plant, the result can range from charming to spectacular.
Here in USDA Climate Zone 9, we can grow a wide range of vines with colorful and often scented flowers. A lot of these vines are out of reach for folks who live in hard winter areas, so we’re triple blessed by our moderate climate.
What kind of woody plants make good scaffolding for vines? Among trees, the best are compact and grow to about 20 to 25 feet tall or less.
Some very vigorous vines like the salmon-flowered Passiflora jamesoniae can grow to nearly cover full-sized trees, almost swamping them. But smaller trees like semi-dwarf fruit trees, or those with other ornamental features like Stewartia pseudocamellia with its mottled bark, keep the vine-tree pairings within reach.
This makes maintenance, such as pruning, much easier, and allows you to see the combinations up close.
Dogwoods, star magnolias and other trees of moderate size are all candidates for flowering vines.
Among woody shrubs, plants like bay laurel, pineapple guava, Japanese pittosporum, viburnums, flowering quince and oh-so-many others that keep to a height of 10 to 20 feet, can benefit from a pairing with a pretty vine.
As for the vines themselves, think first of climbing roses, especially those whose size will match the tree or shrub you’re using for scaffolding. The idea is that you plant the vine just a couple of feet from the woody plant and train its climbing shoots up the trunk or stems so they emerge near the top and tumble over, mingling with the leaves and flowers (if any) of the woody plant. So you wouldn’t plant the very vigorous climbing rose ‘New Dawn,’ which muscles out 15 to 20 feet, with a shrub that only grows 5 or 6 feet tall, or ‘New Dawn’ would engulf it. A small shrub calls for a dainty rose like climbing ‘Royal Sunset’ that only reaches 6 feet.
Some other well-behaved vines to pair with medium-sized trees and shrubs include the Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea), often planted in our region, that bears lilac trumpets on vines that seldom reach 10 feet; Cape Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) also stays to 10 feet maximum, and produces scads of ravishing sky blue flowers, perhaps to pair with a red landscape rose. And for fragrance, grow Royal Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) into a shrub, giving it a perch from which to throw its exotic scent.
Many other vines and combinations are possible, but there is one genus of flowering plants that is the best for this purpose — Clematis.
There are two categories of Clematis, and almost all of the vines in those categories are suitable for pairings.
The first category is Species Clematis — that is, forms of Clematis that are found in the wild, although they may today be propagated and sold in commerce. Here are some of the best:
Clematis alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’— 6-foot, bushy stems with blue flowers in early spring.
Clematis armandii — To 20 feet, evergreen vine with white, fragrant, star-like flowers in late winter.