The Beauty of Vines
Growing vines can be addictive. They’re instantly satisfying to an inpatient gardener, as some of them can grow to monstrous sizes in just months. I’ve been reticent to grow vines until I’m sure I won’t be spending my days getting rid of their seedlings (see my woes on the trumpet vine below), but I have so many fences, bare walls, and things just in need of green and lushness. I just love how quickly vines grow and cover a wall, a trellis, a fence… instant green, instant color (and sometimes, as in the case of sweet peas, loads of flowers to pick and bring inside!).
My love of vines means that I have to constantly come up with places for them to grow, and I’ve become an avid collector of bamboo poles, free-standing trellises and willow structures. Some of these structures become garden art on their own, and it’s fun figuring how how best to show off certain vines and create sculptural pieces with them.
Up to this point, many of the vines I’ve tried are annual or borderline perennial (either tropical or from a warmer climate than ours). My tropical Mandevilla vine, for instance, needs to be protected in the winter, or else it will die back, but is one of the few things blooming in the dead of August. Many passionflower vines are also tender here, and usually die back but come back with a vengeance in the summer–particularly the Passiflora incarnata, an elaborately-flowered Texas native.
The main monster vine that I am currently battling in my garden is called Trumpet Vine here, also known as Campsis radicans. Although it’s a native Texan, fast-growing, and hummingbirds and butterflies love it, its root system is so deep and its tendency to spread everywhere you don’t want it so annoying, that it’s the only plant I resorted to poisoning (although I feel a little bit guilty about it), since all my cutting, chopping and attempts to digging out came to nothing. Many unsuspecting Texan gardeners plant this only to join the crowd of people trying to find a way to rid their gardens of it a few years later. Unfortunately, I inherited mine with my property, and some of them now have stalks the size of tree trunks.
Since I wanted something else other than my ubiquitous trumpet vine, which is growing up through my pecan trees, over every fence, over my barn. I introduced a a nearby passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, popularly known as Maypop) to compete with it. And, yes, although this passionflower, native to Texas, is also known to reproduce and self-sow prolifically, it’s flowers are ridiculously beautiful and complex, and it’s covered with butterflies from April to October.
There are a number of other popular passionflowers you can grow here–I’ve tried the fruit-growing Passiflora edulis, which is pretty although its flowers are a little smaller and less glamorous and it kept getting eaten to death by the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. And many can be grown for their fruit, but so far Passiflora incarnata is my favorite.
Passionflowers are sometimes grown as annuals, but usually they make it through the winter here so I consider it a perennial.
I’m fairly new to growing these annual summer vines. According to some of my research they are considered invasive in some parts of the U.S. but our hotter climate keeps them from spreading as much. They are usually sown from seed in April, directly outdoors where you want them. Like many other summer vines, the seeds can rot if they are planted in too cool of a soil.
Morning glories are a romantic old-fashioned climber, have been grown in Texas since the frontier days, and are usually the vine one thinks of climbing over fences in cottage gardens. The large flowers open in the morning. Species of Morning Glories are Ipomoea purpurea, which includes Grandpa Ott’s, probably the most famous historic Morning Glory, and Ipomoea tricolor, which includes Pearly Gates and Heavenly Blue, also heirloom varieties. I have seen these covering entire fences in Austin.
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
A relative of Morning Glory, moonflowers open in the evening and are deliciously fragrant. I’m planting these alongside the Morning Glories to have both morning and evening flowers. With both Morning Glories and Moonflowers, chip or soak the seeds overnight to hasten their germination.
Update November 1, 2008: while the Morning Glories struggled in our summer, the Moonflower held on and this week finally rewarded me with blooms. They are enormous, nearly 8 inches across, and waft a powdery sweet scent more noticeable at night. I have these planted on an obelisk near white Abyssinian gladiolus, which smells very similar and blooms in late October.
Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) – another relative of Morning Glory, these annual vines have lacy bright green foliage that looks gorgeous against more stout looking plants. I first got the idea for planting these after seeing them intertwined with a Maypop passionflower on a neighbor’s fence. They self-sow like crazy and the bane of some gardeners so it’s worth weeding out the baby vines you don’t want. (Often they will all germinate after a rain so I went out and just plucked out all the seedlings int tjhe area.)
Sweet Peas (Lathyrus) – These are mostly winter and spring vines, and I just adore sweet peas. I’ve written a whole article about them, but they are best sown in fall for bloom in spring and winter. I’ve tried many types of Lathyrus odoratus as well as its relatives Lathyrus sativus, a small climber with bright blue flowers that’s best in containers or trailing over short edges and walls, and the perennial sweet pea Lathyrus latifolius. Some varieties of sweet peas get as tall as 6 feet, but they play out their season by May so usually we don’t get to have enormous vines like gardeners do with cooler summers.
Hyacinth Bean Vine (Dolichos lablab) – This plant is perennial in anything warmer than zone 9, so is considered an annual here. I see this vine everywhere in Austin. It’s just gorgeous in midsummer when many plants are struggling. This plant is quite drought tolerant and gets to enormous lengths and heights by the end of the summer. Everything about this vine is beautiful. Its deep green foliage never looks ratty or bothered by pests as other vines can be. Both its flowers (beautiful bright purple pea-like flowers) and seed pods are lovely. Last year I watched as a neighbor’s vine completely went to seed, and the maroon-purple pods lingered on the vine for nearly 2 months. You can see them from a block away.
Cup and Saucer Vine (Cobaea scandens) – this vine is another tender perennial that is usually grown as a summer annual here. It grows very quickly from seed, and is best planted either outdoors after frost is over, or indoors a few weeks before last frost. I’m learning the hard way not to grow too many seedlings together, as their tendrils quickly get intertwined. I first saw it growing at the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas. It was October, and this vine was covering a beautiful arbor (with a bed surrounded by phlox, dianthus and roses). Maybe it was the romantic atmosphere, but I loved how formal and shapely its flowers were, and how its full leafiness completely covered the arbor. To grow this from seed, most people recommend placing the seed on its side (whereas when it’s flat, the seed often rots) in the soil, and covering it about 1/2 inch. It germinates in about a week.
Mandevilla (Mandevilla x amabilis) – this tropical perennial vine is tender for Austin, so many grow it in pots and bring it indoors during the short winter (just as they do with bougainvillea). It’s my husband’s favorite. It grows more slowly than other vines and the base of the vine gets very woody looking. I have it growing in a beautiful cerulean blue pot which complements the large candy pink flowers. I’ve tried it in both shade and sun and it seems to like a combination of both, whereas most of the other vines above appreciate full sun. At any rate, it’s neither as leafy as other vines but worth it for the flowers which seem to open one day and disappear the next (so much like hibiscus!). These are best gotten as already potted plants, which are common in most local nurseries in the spring.
Other vines I see frequently here are Scarlet Runner Beans and Carolina Jessamine, which is beautiful in spring with its daffodil-yellow flowers and sometimes grown as a groundcover the way ivy is in some places and as an alternative to ivy (be warned, most ivy is not friendly to gardeners here!). I’ve yet to try either of these vines, though.
Article from Texas Gardening on Annual Vines