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Best Flowering Vines and How to Use Them

Pros and Cons of Common Climbers, Groundcovers

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Trumpet vines (image), like many flowering vines, attract hummingbirds.

Trumpet creepers attract hummingbirds but are too aggressive to plant.

David Beaulieu

I think it's high time to trumpet the virtue of the best flowering vines and other attractive climbers and creepers, while also admitting the drawbacks of some of the more questionable selections from the vine world. I cite trumpet creepers as an example of the latter: while they certainly do sound a clarion call to any landscaper interested in plants for attracting hummingbirds, they can spread very aggressively, so beware!

Flowering vines are employed in landscape design with both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes in mind. The versatility of flowering vines is truly impressive, yet these Rodney Dangerfields of the landscaping world get no respect.

Jack the Giant-Killer had the specimen plant to outshine all specimen plants growing on his property, only to hack down the famous beanstalk at the end of the fairy tale. "Clinging vine" has a bad connotation, deriving from the observation that a tree soars to the heights on its own merits, while a vine, even if it climbs to the very crown of the tallest tree, reaches such heights only through the tree's support (Jack's beanstalk didn't need a support; but, then again, his plant was magical). People even become the victims of a ravenous flowering vine in the musical, "Little Shop of Horrors."

There's a good reason for this lack of respect: some of the entries included below are mentioned to draw attention to the fact that they are aggressive or invasive plants. But perhaps no other category of plants has the versatility of flowering vines. A lot of that versatility has to do with the fact that they can either stay close to the ground (i.e., function as groundcovers) or climb.

The vertical dimension is always an important consideration in landscape design. Flat expanses that afford the eye little relief from the horizontal dimension are tiresome. Vertical relief can be supplied by elements such as arbors. But an arbor is just "bones" if left standing on its own. It needs to be "clothed". And what will clothe it? Climbing plants, of course. Flowering vines not only dress up an arbor, but also provide it with a living roof that will furnish welcome shade to its summer tenants.

One builds an arbor in order to support beautiful vine plants; that is, we can categorize this as a planned use of vines for aesthetic purposes. In other cases, however, hardscape elements in need of "vine clothing" are placed on a landscape for their own sake -- their primary function is not to serve as vine-supports. Yet they profit from their vine apparel every bit as much as do arbors.

Chain-link fences, for instance, hardly appealing on their own, stand in need of vine plants to disguise them. As an added bonus, the union of vine and fence in such cases can form privacy screens, sheltering your backyard activities from unwelcome outside attention. In addition, some vine plants can serve a utilitarian function -- as ground covers for erosion control.

Flowering Vines, Ground Covers, Berries, Foliage

In fact, below is an abbreviated list of 10 landscape design needs that can be filled by flowering vines (and others), accompanied by examples of specific flowering vines commonly used to fill each need (in cases where the plant in question is aggressive or invasive, as with trumpet creeper, I make note of the fact in the following pages, so that you may resist the temptation to plant it):

  1. For a ground cover -- Periwinkle Vinca Vine

  2. For fall crafts -- Bittersweet Vine

  3. For hanging baskets -- Sweet Potato Vine

  4. For disguising unattractive fences -- Honeysuckle or Morning Glories

  5. For edible landscaping -- Grapevines

  6. For fall color -- Virginia Creeper

  7. For adorning mailboxes and lampposts -- Clematis Vine

  8. For rambling over stone walls -- Sweet Autumn Clematis or Sweet Pea (in lieu of Trumpet Vine)

  9. For erosion control -- Winter Creeper

  10. For "roofing" a shade-giving arbor -- Wisteria Vine, Dutchman's pipe

On Page 2 we'll look at some special considerations for using these ten plants, beginning with wisteria and trumpet vines. The idea is to help you sort out the best flowering vines from some of the questionable choices....

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