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May 20, 2013

Vines aren’t as twisted, complicated as you think



By Mary Reid Barrow
Virginian-Pilot correspondent


Whether providing shade, height, privacy, camouflage or beauty, vines are jacks-of-all-trades in a garden.

The graceful twiners can be the answer to most any problem you might have, said Les Parks, curator of herbaceous plants at Norfolk Botanical Garden. He also can be seen in weekly video blogs on the garden’s website,, where he talks about different plants and how to grow them.

One day recently Parks was teaching a class at the garden on “Selecting and Growing Vines.” He discussed the attributes of various vines, where they can be grown and their good and bad points.

Vines can be a real asset in a small garden, he noted. They “add vertical design elements,” because vines fit into small spaces or narrow beds where a tree or shrub would be too big.

“Vines create privacy by screening,” Parks added. Because vines are fast growing, they can give you almost instant privacy while you wait for something more permanent to grow in its place

“Vines also soften walls, fences, post or rock surfaces,” he said.

Their tendrils twine around a solid structure almost as if with love, and their willowy branches arc through the air reaching for the next thing to hug.

Vines will grow horizontally and can provide shade for a deck or patio if grown on an overhead trellis, Parks noted.

“Deciduous vines provide shade in summer and let in the sun in winter,” he said.

Vines also camouflage ugly sights, such as the garden shed, that old wooden fence or the garbage can container. Again, vines grow quickly, and you can camouflage an eyesore in almost a season.

“It might only take a summer,” he said.

There are not many plants that can come to the rescue in so many ways. Plus, vines are interesting to watch grow. Up close, you can see that they have a variety of ways to get to where they are going.

Some vines climb with tendrils, “little curlicues that are modified stems,” Parks said. They wrap around whatever they can find like a baby’s hand around the closest finger.

Others grow by twining, weaving in and out, round and round. Still others, like ivy, grow by clinging, he said.

“They use aerial roots to hang on. You have to be careful where you use them, because the roots leave a mark on the surface.”

The last category of vines is the group that Parks calls “sprawlers.”

“They don’t climb on their own.” Parks said. “They have to be shown the way, like a rose.”

Some vines are annuals. Others are hardy, and still others are evergreens. Each has its own shade/sun, wet/dry preferences, but most are not too fussy. Because of their growth habits, they are more apt to run exuberantly away from you.

“The nice thing about annuals is you are not committed,” Parks said, “and you are not using up any permanent real estate.”

His list of annuals ranges from morning glory and moon vine to black-eyed Susan vine, love in a puff and Malabar spinach, an edible. Cross vine, climbing hydrangeas, coral honeysuckle, passion vine and climbing roses are among the vines on his list of hardy vines.

As for evergreen vines, he suggests Carolina jessamine, Confederate jasmine, creeping fig and evergreen clematis, among others.

“Confederate jasmine is one of my favorite flowers,” Parks said. “It smells so good. Confederate jasmine will take a lot of shade, too.”

There are far too many vines that Parks recommends for this area to list them all, but here are the vines he suggests you avoid. Though most are beautiful, they are either invasive non-natives or rampant growers that are hard to control:

- Porcelain vine, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata

- Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus

- Sweet Autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora

- English ivy, Hedera helix

- Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica

- Japanese and Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis and W. floribunda

Mary Reid Barrow,


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