high on vines: intoxicating garden climbers

jack-high-on-kiwi-vine1J ACK IS A JUNKIE; KIWI VINES ARE HIS CRACK. He knocked down that little Clematis to his left in the process of capturing and subduing his desired prey: the young kiwi vine that’s now half-hidden beneath the subdued cat (above). Yes, some species of kiwi are like catnip, and though Jack thinks that’s the reason to add more to the garden, I’m high on other vines that are coming into their season, from vivid Clematis tangutica to (not yet, but soon) Codonopsis lanceolata. Some favorites (both mine and Jack’s):

yellow-clematisThe striking thick yellow tepals (the petal-like parts) of C. tangutica remind me of lemon peels, and though it usually blooms here in late summer-into-fall, I never cut the plant back this year (it grows over an old bed headboard used as a gate, above) so it’s happening earlier. Read its profile.

hardy-male-kiwi-full-viewMuch woodier but still vining is Jack’s beloved kiwi (that’s Actinidia kolomikta, above, a male plant photgraphed in spring, loosely espaliered against the west side of the house). The leaves appear dipped in paint, first just white splashes with pink ones following. It would get to 15 feet or so if I let it.

When a package of various young vines arrived for planting a month or so ago, Jack the Demon Cat had to have it, tackling the contents to get at the one little specimen of A. kolomikta ‘Arctic Beauty’ that was inside. Weeks of rain has delayed planting of some of these babies, and I have to keep them hidden or you-know-who finds you-know-what. Go stalk some chipmunks, Jack, and leave the kiwis, planted and unplanted, alone.

duchess-of-albanyThe other Clematis here are getting going, like ‘Gravetye Beauty’ and ‘Polish Spirit’ and ‘Venosa Violacea’ and ‘Duchess of Albany’ (above). I grow them up various shrubs and trees here, as those of you who have been here awhile know.

clematis-recta-flowersJust beginning to slow down after a month of frothy bloom (above) is the so-called “non-vining” Clematis recta purpurea, but at nearly 7 feet tall this year I’d say non-vining is a relative term.

clematis-recta-lime-closeC. recta purpurea (mine is the variety ‘Lime Close’) starts out with the most extraordinary purple foliage in early spring (above), then creates a cloud of creamy-colored autumn-clematis-like flowers in June here. They spill out of an extra large peony-ring like enclosure I use to try to restrain this loose, shrubby thing, good for scrambling among perennials and shrubs.

codonopsisComing up soon: Codonopsis lanceolata (above), a real oddity I’ve had for years. Remember it from the “Name That Vine” quiz last summer?

  1. Lisa @celebrate CREATIVITY says:

    Oh, how I’m inspired to get my hands down into the dirt when I visit your site.

    It’s always a pleasure to browse your pretty pictures and imagine what I could accomplish in a small corner of my own backyard-lol.

    Cute kitty too.

    Enjoy your day.

  2. rose says:

    I’m a new convert to the kiwi vine and pine to get one of my own. How do you “loosely espalier” yours to the side of your house. It looks lovely there, and its supports (kiwi is non-clinging, right?) are invisible.

    Very funny about Jack!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Rose. Yes, it needs help or else it’s like a floppy shrub. I put eye hooks into the siding in a few key places, and gently tie each major branch in the desired shape to one. I did the same with my espaliered pear when it was younger. Another benefit is that in big winds there’s less of the sense that someone’s trying to get in by beating their way through the siding (all the whipping/banging noise of the branches if I had left them untied). :) See you soon again.

  3. I feel vindicated! I just planted several clematis varieties this weekend and pray they survive. All various shades of pink, to climb up and around the picket fence that surrounds what will become (I hope) a curate’s-style front garden.

  4. Margaret says:

    @Lisa: I am glad to have magically reconnected after so many years since our first chance interaction. Wonderful! I also love that here I have been peeking at the great cooking and crafts ideas you offer on your blog (like my very favorite of the monkey bread), not know it was “you,” and you are here doing the same with me. Thanks for the email that put all the pieces back together.

    @An Aesthete: Thy will be done! May the clematis thrive, and the garden achieve your vision. (I will be here meantime taking my cat to rehab.)

  5. Ro says:

    Kind of on topic… The majority of my family is very allergic to cats, so we can’t make one our pet. But we absolutely love them. Any suggestions for plants to incorporate into the garden/landscape that will entice the neighborhood kitties to visit our yard? I guess catnip/catmint are obvious choices…but I would never have suspected kiwi vine! Thanks for the tip! Any others?

  6. Emily says:

    Dear Margaret,
    I have enjoyed your blog for some time now, and had to write when I saw today’s post. I am a sculptor and floral designer, and am hoping someday to grow more and more of the flowers and foliage I love to use in arrangements. Unfortunately, I have minimal amounts of earth (typical of NYC), and wonder if you think any of the vines you mentioned here will grow in pots. Or any others, for that matter– I love vines and thought I was too late to plant any clematis. I am opening my new studio in DUMBO soon and desperately want some brambley things to rampage all over my stoop.
    Look forward to hearing any thoughts on this,
    Emily Thompson

  7. I love vines, and you have some beauties. My emphasis is on vines that grow food: beans, peas, squashes and pumpkins. My wife grows a few ornamentals such as clematis and morning glory… and I enjoy the displays. Actually, I find your codonopsis lanceolata very compelling. But, first in my heart are pea plants: I’m truly moved to see their delicate tendrils wrap themselves around the wires of the trellis each spring.

  8. Susan says:

    I think it might be time that Jack goes in a 12 step program. He looks so very happy.
    I will have to add Codonopsis lanceolata to my garden.

  9. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Emily. It all depends how big the pot is, as the total soil volume around the roots of the plant are the key to insulation and survival. If we are talking half whiskey-barrels or larger, many vines will do (look for ones hardy to slightly colder than your zone, like the cold end of Zone 6 or better yet 5). Not small pots, though, and not pots made of brittle or non-weatherproof material. See you soon again.

    Welcome, Cityslipper. I grow the edible ones, too, and have for much longer than these merely pretty things. Agree. Just pulling the last of the spring peas (had edible podded, shelling and snow types) and will plant another crop end of July-ish and cross all fingers. Also grow (to enjoy visually and eat) Chinese mosaic beans, ‘Scarlet Runner’ bean, various summer and winter squash, sweet potatoes. Love them all.

    @Ro: Apparently besides true catnip (Nepeta cataria), and also catmint (Nepeta mussinii), and kiwi, they like Valerian and a kind of germander called cat thyme that’s not a thyme, but Teucrium marum. Try this Vermont Extension cat garden factsheet. Jack over here, well, he likes the kiwi; we tossed the nepetas during some construction last year; and he likes kibble and sleep.

  10. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Here at Whimsey Hill House, I have twelve+ clematis plants, that have survived the digging of the moles, voles, mice, and chipmunks that live in my garden. I have some nice trellises for them to climb on. The MORE SHOWY trellises are strategically placed like garden decorations. The majority of my clematis plants climb up supports that I have made myself out of “Sturdy Sticks” and Handi Wire”. The Sturdy Sticks are aluminum stakes that are coated in a green plastic. I buy the 8 foot tall ones, and hammer them into the ground about a foot and a half. I then tie wire horizontally across them every eight or ten inches, from the bottom to the top for the clematis to grab on to. This kind of support can be as narrow or wide as you like , and is almost invisable. I went to visit a friend who had five or more clematis vines in a row, on trellises, and thought the trellises all together looked too busy.

  11. Jayne says:

    Thank you for sharing the photos and of course we all love to read about the cat’s antics! I have planted my three clematis, all purchased after reading about http://www.gardenvines.com, Brushwood Nursery. Two were in before the monsoons of the last month, and one I just planted yesterday. Brushwood is a clematis candy store! My old Duchess of ALbany was adjacent to my 8 year old New Dawn rose that the voles decapitated and was damaged but has survivved. Yours is beautiful!
    Oh, full disclosure – the web site above (Smallfield papers) is my daughter’s blog but I think she’s done a great job with it, so I wanted to share!

  12. TexasDeb says:

    Even with an inch (!!!) of rain this week, we are still in a stage 2 drought warning and must hand water whatever won’t make it on once a week sprinklering. All by way of which I am saying you are doing the planting for me this year – I am gardening vicariously via your blog until the heat and drought break for the year here in Central Texas. Thank you so much for sharing the fun.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, TexasDeb. I am so sorry for the woes of my many Texas gardening friends, and all residents in the drought-stricken areas of the country. Too much rain is nasty in other ways, but relentless drought as so much of the nation has suffered is worse. I should stop complaining (but gardeners always have some pest or kind of weather to moan about, right?). See you soon again.

      Welcome also to Barb. Sounds like I should name you my new director of marketing. :) Thanks for the pass-along referrals, and for your kind words. Yes, we are having an odd season but so is everyone in one way or another, I guess, and I also guess that lots of rain is better than none (within reason). See you soon, I hope.

  13. Barb says:

    Your garden e-newsletter is absolutely the best! It makes my day when it arrives . . excellent info and spectacular photos. (Loved the pic of Jack.) I’m a master gardener in Indiana – and have sent your link to all in my garden club and other gardening friends. Our son and daughter live in MA and NJ so I hear about your weather (all the rain this spring!)

  14. Mirth Brenan says:

    To Margaret Roach, courageous insightful woman of earth, sky, soil and fellow companions on four & two feet:

    I admired your work with MS, and A Way to Garden. Thank you for your explosion of creative meaning with new projects. I’ve read your memoir twice, enjoying every page. Your websites are enthralling, inspiring, meaningful, beauty in content and visual.

    Your tales of Jack are delightful–will you be writing something from his point of view in future? Perhaps Jack’s autobiogaphy, inspired by Peter Mayles publication of his dog’s perspective? I will be awaiting his voice in this story!

    But I was enormously GRIEVED reading your Vines slideshow with the comment of Kiwi being Jack’s “crack.” NOT OK!! We all know what that hard pscyho crack does to individuals, the crimes to others, the scourge to our society. That is HARDLY the role Jack plays in this life–indeed it is an enormous insult to him. Please replace that term “crack” with something else, eg. his “vintage Merlot” or “Organic Catnip” or “Sublime Meditation,” or other fabulous parallel expressive more appropriate to Jack’s enjoyment of the Kiwi, and his hugely important role as your muse, companion, and the spirit guide who ultimately craked open a brittle binding vine with the laser of laughter.

    Mirth Brenan
    Anthropologist, Austin, TX

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Mirth, and no hard intended toward Jack (or insensitivity to others who have fallen to that hideous drug). He is, indeed, more like a wine-drinker than a crack fiend; I stand corrected! See you soon again, I hope. I will tell Jack you are looking out for him.

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