Let’s face it: With a lot of gardeners, vines have a bad rap. There’s this notion they’re invasive, can’t be controlled, and that they strangle other plants and trees. But there are good vines and bad vines, and for serious cottage gardeners, the good ones are a must-have.
That’s because well-chosen, established vine species are a feast for the eyes and often smell wonderful, especially when in full bloom at the height of summer. They’re great for practical purposes, too, like covering up unsightly structures or highlighting attractive ones. They can also provide shelter for nesting birds and can become a favorite hangout for hummingbirds, bumblebees, honeybees, and butterflies.
Somewhere in your neighborhood, for instance, there’s probably a massive trumpet vine. It started life as a small potted plant with a stake, but an appreciative gardener planted it in full sun, then tied it to a thick, 15-foot pole that supported an ornate birdhouse. Under these conditions, the vine did what it does best—reaching, winding, and binding itself to that single pole. Available in bright yellow or deep orange, it blooms from July to September and produces lovely fluted trumpets, with slightly swept-back, scalloped edges.
Another romantic vine is summer jasmine, an old-fashioned variety that produces a vigorous tangle of deliciously scented white flowers from June to September. It may grow to 30 feet and if planted in rich, well-drained soil, will thrive in full sun or partial shade. It also can be trained to do magic tricks such as framing a window.
For a quick fix to hide any sort of eyesore, try mandevilla. It brings to the table a screen of shiny, dense foliage and clusters of either deep red, yellow, white, or pink flowers, grows up to 15 feet as an annual, and blooms in full sun from June until frost.
A favorite among bees, early cream honeysuckle and the common honeysuckle are a familiar sight among our neighborhood lanes and create perfect barriers, thickly covering ugly fences, for instance, with sweetly scented blooms that can ramble along to about 20 feet.
A trickier species that’s worth the extra attention is the exquisite clematis. For starters, clematis needs plenty of humus and well-drained soil. Plant them slightly deeper in the ground than they were in the pot in sunny or slightly shady spots. There are many varieties of clematis, ranging in color from white and pink to deep purple and yellow, and it often displays flowers that measure up to six inches across. Many bloom in May and June, then put on another show later in the summer, ranging in height from eight to 12 feet. Another repeat bloomer is Elsa Spath, which produces deep purple flowers and grows to 10 feet.
Engineered for the sole purpose of strongly attaching itself to the walls of houses and garages—even shopping malls—is the climbing hydrangea, a hardy, hybridized version of the original shrub that grows to 20-50 feet and produces cream-colored, lacy flower heads in midsummer. It thrives in almost any soil in full sun or partial shade.
Another benefit? Its dense foliage is good for filtering out traffic noise.