Chilean Nightshade

Chilean nightshade is less aggressive than related potato vine.

Yellow centered blue flowers like those of the familiar potato bush, on vines almost like those of the comparably familiar potato vine would be like the not so common Chilean nightshade, Solanum crispum. However, Chilean nightshade needs to be trained onto support in order to climb, and only reaches fifteen feet or so. The cultivar (cultivated variety) ‘Album’ is like a shrubbier redundancy to potato vine, since it has white flowers. ‘Glasnevin’ is the most popular cultivar because it flowers freely and is hardier to frost.

The nearly inch wide and slightly fragrant flowers bloom in small clusters from May or June until about now. Small but sometimes prominent green berries that turn yellowish orange and then dark purple are toxic. Partial shade inhibits bloom and vigor.

Bower Vine

Bower vine bloom sporadically until cooler autumn weather.

Autumn needs to get a bit cooler before bower vine, Pandorea jasminoides, will be ready to stop blooming. It may not always bloom profusely, but it does bloom for a long time, beginning with warming spring weather. Flowers can be white, pink or white with pink throats, but are most often pink with burgundy throats. Even through late autumn and winter, the glossy evergreen foliage is appealing without bloom. Mature vines can climb more than fifteen feet high. Those with variegated foliage might stay somewhat smaller.

Good Neighbors Make Good Fences

Is privacy really worth big fences?

Good old fashioned suburbia will never bee the same. Bigger modern homes on smaller modern parcels leave little space for gardening and trees. What is not shaded by the taller homes is shaded by the taller fences, which are ‘needed’ for privacy since the homes are closer together. Building codes in most municipalities limit the height of fences, but lattice screens are often added on top for extra height.

Because lumber is not of the quality that it was when shorter light duty redwood fences were built decades ago, relatively expensive modern fences do not last nearly as long. They might last longer if they would get repaired instead of replaced when only the posts rot. Green technology seemed to work better before it became trendy.

Ironically, no one wants these bigger and bolder fences that are closer to home to be so prominent in the landscape. We try to obscure them with vines that can tear them apart, or shrubbery that can push them over. Watering these vines and shrubs accelerates rot in the posts.

Shrubbery intended to obscure a fence should not be so voracious that it wants to displace the same fence that it is intended to obscure. Some types of pittosporum work nicely because they support themselves without leaning against other features in their surroundings too much, even if they eventually get quite large. However, they do get quite thick, and can obscure a fence so well that no one would miss the fence if it were to get pushed over! A good hedge without a fence is sometimes a better option.

Many types of vines can be kept much closer to a fence than shrubbery can, but most tend to be more destructive. Star jasmine works nicely if allowed to climb a trellis directly in front of the fence, but should not be allowed to get between planks in the fence, or to get too intertwined in lattice. If it gets too fluffy, it can be shorn back like a light hedge.

Clinging vines like creeping fig can be very appealing on fences, and can be shorn like hedges, but will eventually necessitate the replacement of the fences that they climb. For those who appreciate such a tailored appearance, replacement of the affected fences every few years is a fair compromise.

Red Passion Flower Vine

Red passion flower seems quite exotic.

Compared to the common passion flower, the three inch wide red passion flower, Passiflora manicata, is more colorful with cherry red flowers, but does not so prominently display the weirdly distended floral parts that passion flowers are known for. Bloom is not as profuse either, particularly among vigorous vines.

However, red passion flower vine has the advantages of somewhat more resilient and greener foliage, and sturdier vines that can climb almost to thirty feet high. It grows so vigorously that it can be surprisingly overwhelming, even if pruned severely or cut to the ground at the end of each winter. It is not so rampant in light shade.

Copies (new vines) are easy to propagate by layering, which involves merely burying a section of vine while still attached to the parent vine until it develops enough roots to be separated. The buried section should be at least a few inches long. At least a few inches of the tip of the vine should extend beyond the buried section.

The fruit of red passion flower vine is considered to be toxic, but often gets eaten anyway. Fortunately, fruit rarely develops.

Vines Have Unique Personalities

English ivy clings with aerial roots.

Boston ivy and creeping fig are good aggressive vines for freeway overpasses and sound-walls. They are resilient to harsh exposures and pollution, and help to muffle the sound of traffic. Boston ivy provides remarkable foliar color in autumn before defoliating in winter. Creeping fig provides thick evergreen foliage that overwhelms any graffiti that it can reach.

However, their aggressive behavior that is such an advantage on freeways is precisely why they are not so practical for home gardens. Boston ivy gets around so efficiently because it grabs onto surfaces with ‘holdfast disks’ (modified tendrils) that damage paint, stucco, wood and just about anything that is not built like a freeway. Creeping fig is at least as destructive with clinging aerial roots, as well as constrictive stems that can crush smaller plants, fences and anything else that it might grab hold of.

Most vines are aggressive in nature. They exploit trees for support, and then compete with them for space. Some are complaisant enough to mingle relatively peacefully with the trees that support them. Less honorable vines have no problem overwhelming the canopies of their supportive trees. Creeping fig and other related figs are known as ‘strangler figs’ because their constrictive roots and stems crush and kill the same trees that help them get above the forest canopy.

Such behavior needs to be considered when selecting vines for home gardens. Bulky and potentially constrictive wisteria vines that would tear lattice apart can be quite appealing on sturdy arbors or trellises. Lattice could instead be adorned with docile Carolina jessamine, lilac vine, mandevilla or even regularly pruned passion vine. Star jasmine and the various trumpet vines work nicely to obscure chain link fences. With regular selective pruning, pink jasmine, honeysuckle and potato vine work well on rail fences.

Climbing roses and bougainvillea do not climb on their own, but can be trained almost like vines. Some varieties stay small enough for low fences and trellises. Larger types are proportionate to larger fences and arbors.

Red Passion Flower Vine

Red is simpler but more colorful.

The mostly white and blue common passion flower likely remains the most popular. After all, it is the weirdest. Elaborate and disproportionate floral parts imply that it is of another planet. Red passion flower, Passiflora racemosa, although less peculiar, is perhaps a bit more colorful. Its brick red flowers bloom randomly for as long as weather remains warm. 

Flowers are about three or four inches wide. They develop in open racemes that seem to spread out somewhat evenly over the exterior of their foliage. Bloom is not profuse, but is somewhat continuous until autumn. Newer flowers replace older flowers within the same racemes. Leaves are as wide as their flowers, with three blunt lobes and axillary tendrils. 

The lushly evergreen foliage can get shabby through winter, or completely ruined by just mild frost. It regenerates vigorously though. Aggressive pruning as winter finishes delays bloom, but promotes vigorous growth. Vines can potentially reach more than twenty feet. Fruit is rare without manual pollination. Fruit flavor can be bland without tropical warmth.

Vines Are Aggressive Social Climbers

English ivy can cling to anything.

Regardless of how appealing many of them are in home gardens and landscapes, vines are flagrantly exploitative. They rely on shrubbery, trees or anything they can climb on for support. As they reach the tops of their supports, they extend their foliar canopies above. Vines have no reservations about overwhelming and maybe killing their own supporters. 

Vines climb with clinging roots, twining stems, tendrils, twining leaves, or even thorns or spines. Some vines are annuals or perennials. The most aggressive or destructive sorts are woody plants. Some creep along the ground while young, and then climb when they find support. Some mature to support their own weight as they lose their original support. 

English ivy and Algerian ivy, in their juvenile forms, can be practical ground cover plants. However, when they encounter shrubbery, trees or buildings, they become clinging vines that can overwhelm their supports, and ruin infrastructure. As they mature, clinging vines evolve into shrubbier and obtrusively bulky adult growth that blooms and produces seed. 

Boston ivy, which incidentally is not actually ivy, is more practical as a clinging vine than the other ivies. It does not grow as ground cover anyway. Nor does it develop bulky adult growth. However, it also has limitations. Because it attaches to its supports with clinging tendrils, it is only practical for surfaces that it can not wreck, such as reinforced concrete.

Bougainvillea is a delightful and shrubby vine. It neither clings to surfaces nor grips onto support by twining. It simply generates long and vigorous canes that eventually lie down onto its surroundings. Long thorns help to anchor these canes in place. Canes should be satisfied with trellises, but sometimes mingle with shrubbery or trees, or spill over fences. 

Carolina jessamine, lilac vine and mandevilla climb with twining stems, but are relatively docile. Star jasmine, which performs well both as a ground cover plant and as a climbing vine, can crush flimsy lattice with its twining vines. Wisteria might crush substantial trellis beams. Passion flower climbs with wiry tendrils, but can be overwhelmingly voluminous. 

Pink Jasmine

These pale, inch-wide, star shaped flowers of pink jasmine may not be much to look at, but are remarkably fragrant.

As winter turns to spring, pink jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum, blooms with abundant, loose trusses of small but very fragrant star shaped flowers. The flower buds that are initially deep pink open to soft pink, and then fade almost to white. Light shade inhibits bloom and limits foliar density, but does not prevent the wiry vines from climbing to twenty feet or so. The dark green leaves are compound with five or seven leaflets. Pink jasmine is one of the few vines that can climb lattice and light trellises without tearing them apart like wisteria and so many other popular vines eventually do. Even if it escapes confinement and gets into trees or onto roofs, it does not get too far to be pruned back within bounds.

Boston Ivy

Boston ivy gets colorful before autumn.

It is the ‘ivy’ of ivy league schools. Nonetheless, Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, is neither an ivy, nor indigenous to Boston. It is from eastern Asia, and is related to grape vines. It is related to Virginia creeper too, which is actually native to Boston, Virginia and the eastern half of North America. It has become popular locally for freeway sound walls. 

Boston ivy is an aggressive clinging vine that can climb to the top of a ten story building. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with that. It ruins wooden or painted surfaces, so can only climb concrete or masonry. It climbs over windows if it gets the chance. Thicket growth is difficult to remove if it is too high to reach. On rare occasion, mice can nest in it. 

Otherwise, Boston ivy works well on freeways. Although deciduous, its vines discourage graffiti. Even while bare, its texture helps to muffle sound. Its exquisite autumn foliar color might begin to develop as early as late summer, and lingers until frost. Boston ivy is quite resilient to neglect. Shabby plants generate fresh new growth after major winter pruning.

English Ivy

Rampant English ivy can overwhelm trees.

Compared to Algerian ivy, English ivy, Hedera helix, may seem to be more complaisant. As ground cover, it mostly stays a bit lower, with smaller leaves, and a more refined foliar texture. It is generally easier to maintain and to mow if it does not get too deep. However, where it naturalizes, English ivy is more aggressive and more invasive than Algerian ivy. 

If contained, English ivy is a splendidly dense and evergreen ground cover that excludes most weeds. Containment is very important! English ivy must not climb into shrubbery or trees. It otherwise overwhelms its support and disperses seed. Although reasonably safe on bare concrete walls, it ruins wooden, painted and stucco surfaces. Growth is very fast! 

‘Hahn’s’ is likely the most popular cultivar of English ivy. It branches well, to fill out fast as ground cover. Cultivars that are variegated with white or yellow grow significantly slower, but provide elegant foliage for big pots or planters of mixed annuals or perennials. Foliar lobes are variable. For example, lobes of ‘Needlepoint’ are distinctly narrow and pointed.