Let Flowering Vines Spark the Passion in Your Garden

by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden

Flowering vines are among the most evocative of garden plants. Their forms and fragrances bind our memories and color our passions for the garden, recalling the untamed wildness and sensuous bounty of nature. Few plants are as romantic as a wisteria in bloom or as reminiscent of a childhood summer afternoon as a sweet tangle of honeysuckle with its enticing fragrance and hidden nectar treat.

In recent years, the number and quality of vines available to Central Texas gardeners has greatly increased. Improvements have tamed a few of our old favorites, making them a less rambunctious, and new introductions seem to appear every season. As the size of our yards and gardens tends to shrink, vines also create a valuable vertical element that adds a new dimension to the garden without taking up too much space. Vines can be grown in pots, or in the ground, and can transform nearly any space.

Tangerine beauty cross vine ( Bignonia capreolata) has got to be one of the brightest stars of the "improved" pack. A cultivar of our native cross vine, tangerine beauty is tough as nails and will quickly cover a wall or fence with its evergreen foliage and grasping tendrils. The big payoff with this plant comes with its profusion of orange trumpet-like blooms that appear in the spring and sporadically thereafter. The blossoms attract hummingbirds and will doubtless attract admiring attention from your neighbors as well. The only downside to this plant is the lack of fragrance, but we shouldn't expect everything from every plant!

Plant tangerine beauty along your fence line and in a few years, it will cover the fence without the need for any assistance on your part. Full sun situations provide the biggest displays of color. Other improved cultivars are available, but are hard to find. "Helen Fredel" is reported to have the largest blooms of the cross vine clan, and "Shalimar' is a red flowered form.

Few folks are aware that there are native forms of clematis, a favorite of vine connoisseurs. The Texas native does not have the large showy blooms that you see in gardening catalogs, but they are well behaved little vines with charming flowers. A selected cultivar of the native form is beginning to show up in area nurseries, it is called "Duchess of Albany." This plant has the same habit of the native but has a much showier bloom, a hot pink that fades to near white along the edges of the petals. There is an old saying about growing clematis- they like their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade. This simply means that they perform best when their root zones are cooled by shade or heavy mulch (even a large stone will do.) Sun is required for the blooms, which appear in June and July.

Passion vines have the most complicated and spectacular blooms of any plant that I have ever worked with. Some of the exotic forms are truly bizarre, but nearly all have an intoxicating fragrance that makes them a favorite of the perfume industry. In the past, I have grown several different forms of passion vine in containers on my front porch where I enjoyed their showy blooms and fragrance in an up close and personal way. Unfortunately, these plants were not cold hardy and did not survive even our rather wimpy winters. This year, I am trying yet another "improved" version of a Texas native, the "incence" passion vine. I planted a gallon sized plant in a pot about one month ago and it has already scampered up to a height of about ten feet. Although mine hasn't flowered yet, it is covered with buds. The blooms are supposed to be an intense purple and, as the name implies, deeply scented. Incence is said to be cold hardy if protected, I'll let you know.

You would be hard pressed to improve on the blooms of the old fashioned Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). The long lavender blossoms hang down as the very picture of luxurious springtime beauty, perfuming the air for blocks around. Despite the near perfection of their blooms, Chinese wisterias can grow to be a monsters if not kept in bounds, I have seen it smother large trees. A slightly better behaved version "Texas purple" (Wisteria floribunda) can be found in some area shops.

Everyone loves honeysuckle. As I noted earlier, we all seem to cherish childhood memories of this plant. However, in recent years many people have shunned the most common form, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), because of its invasive manner. For years, I have recommended our native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) as a substitute, but not without lamenting its lack of fragrance. This year I am trying a new alternative, "Gold Flame" honeysuckle (Lonicera heckrottii). Gold Flame is just as fragrant as Japanese honeysuckle but is, alledgedly, much less invasive. The color of the bloom, is a pale orangey-yellow.

As you can see, there is no excuse for not planting a vine in your garden. So, head down to your local nursery and see what's swinging.

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