I spend so much of my time assisting clients and the curious with their landscape plants and fine vines, I frequently neglect my own. Like a fine chef in an up-scale restaurant who orders Domino’s pizza on her days off, I have little enthusiasm left after work to baby and nurture high maintenance plants. Regular irrigation, dead heading, shape pruning, and time specific PH adjustments are not happening in my home landscape (though I advise clients all the time how to accomplish these things). The result? The trials of life. Survival of the fittest. All my landscape plants are tough as nails, naturalized, and they like it that way.
Below are three vines which meet the conditions of a) thriving on neglect, b) showing off in the fall-when my workload has slowed some, and c) providing lush vigorous growth so that my wife’s friends don’t pull a face when she boasts of my green thumb. To my mind, all busy people should have at least one of these in their landscape. Let’s call them ‘Fine Vines’.
Not all clematis are created equal. Some of the newer hybrid introductions, with their giant cotton-candy vivid colors, can be remarkably high maintenance. Not so with Sweet Autumn. Vigorous in full sun to part shade, this species easily climbs 15′ along a fence or up a trellis with minimum fuss. The clean foliage is glossy green and not bothered by common pests. Sometimes, juvenile rabbits will snip the green shoots near ground level in the spring, but Sweet Autumn quickly rebounds. In late August flowering begins. Clouds of delicate star-shaped white flowers, heavily jasmine scented, cover the top third. In late September when flowering ceases, feathery seed heads emerge and provide another month of decorative interest. Sweet Autumn remains herbaceous so is easy to clean up in March (leave the spent vines up through the cold part of winter). Spring growth, where blooms appear, leap up from the crown. Like all her botanical sisters, this clematis needs cool, evenly moist soil in her root zone. A large rock at her base does the trick.
This Wisconsin native is woody and tough. Found on rich, well drained woodland soils in the wild, American Bittersweet can be over an inch in diameter at the base and get over 30′ high. It twines and climbs other vegetation without support and can kill saplings in the woods by restricting their growth. Sound tough enough yet? Don’t be intimidated. In the landscape, American Bittersweet is actually well behaved as long as he has a structure to climb and average moisture. The flowers are insignificant looking but subtly and sweetly fragrant. A mid-June garden surprise. The dark green foliage is full and lush. In the fall, clusters of orange fruit capsules (filled with red seeds) form in bunches at the growing tips. The fruits are poisonous to us-American Bittersweet was used by Native Americans to induce vomiting-but are highly desirable to birds. Florists love them too as the fruit capsules are showy and long lasting indoors. American Bittersweet is dioecious so you need to have both male and female plants nearby to get the great fruit. A cultivar we offer C. scandens ‘Bailumn’ or American Revolution Bittersweet has male and female parts present in most of its flowers. It will set fruit on its own. If space is limited, go with American Revolution.
If ever you have sat beside or strolled beneath a Wisteria in full bloom, I need write nothing else to recommend this plant. Stunning is the most common adjective to describe it. Deservedly so. Summer Cascade is a selection developed in Minnesota-read: reliably cold hardy-and is draped in fragrant chains of lavender and powder blue flowers in June. In late fall, interesting seed pods appear. If left on the vines to dry through the winter, the pods will pop open the following spring forcefully shooting pea-sized seeds a remarkable distance away. Not many Wisteria will reliably flower in Northern regions. Summer Cascade is one of the best.
OK. My first priority for these Fine Vines was that they be able to thrive on neglect. Wisteria can be neglected once established but does require planning and foresight before adding it to your landscape. Wisteria is not a vine to just ‘pop’ in somewhere. It is an 800 pound garden gorilla. Wisteria demands full sun and a very sturdy structure to climb. Do not put it near enough to grab hold of your house. I have heard stories of mangled, removed siding and porches torn from fascia. Awe inspiring power and vigor! With some planning, though, traffic-stopping stunning too. That’s a fair trade off for me.