space-saving tip: vines up a shrub

clematis-and-corylopsisMAYBE YOU ALREADY DO THIS, BUT JUST IN CASE: Buy extra vines of airy texture and short to medium stature (like 6 to 10 feet tall, not the 30-footers), and train them up some shrubs. Small-flowered clematis are great for this, like the one just starting to open (above) in my Corylopsis or winter-hazel.

So is Codonopsis (seen about to ascend a barberry in my front yard, below), or even some annuals of your choosing. Avoid heavy, woody vines like wisteria or trumpet vine, or those with so much foliage (like a large morning glory) that they’ll smother the underlying host plant.

codonopsis-up-barberrySimply plant the vine in the general proximity of said shrub, and give the vine an indication of what’s expected of it (a bit of bamboo heading in the right general direction…look closely and you’ll see it in the picture above).

The clematis in the bottom photo had a cane to help it up into the golden Chamaecyparis it’s about to dot with color when those flower buds pop. I have similar “doubleheaders” being played in some twig dogwoods out front, and in my bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Voila: another season of interest from the same shrub, which dons the costume of the vine as if it’s made for it.


  1. margaret says:

    Welcome, Sheila. Amazing what we can make scramble up and over each other to color up the boring bits. Hope to see you soon again.

  2. Sheila says:

    I do this too! I have a number of boring shrubs in my new garden and removing them is just not an option yet, so I planted vines to “cover” them and make them less annoying to me.

  3. margaret says:

    Welcome, Kathy. ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ would be perfect–good idea. Not too aggressive, but plenty colorful. Hope to see you again soon.

  4. Kathy Cornell says:


    I have found that this works with Scarlet O’Hara morning glories. They climb a barberry that I have here in Rhode Island. So far, I’ve not seen them overtake the shrub.
    The clematis on your property looks like magic to me, because of the way the flowers sort of float against the backdrop of the winter-hazel.

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome, H.W. Heins. Sounds like a lovely intermingling of colors, with those crimson flowers. Thanks for the suggested pairing, and hope to see you soon again.

  6. H.W.Heins says:

    Long ago we planted a Carolina hemlock and a Hiawatha rose about ten feet apart. Now the hemlock is a tall tree whose tiny cones are purple right now,and the rose’s long canes have been flowering among the needles for three weeks now.

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Susan. Yes, the more ambitious, taller clematis like it that get to 20 or even 30 feet would be too much for most spaces, and definitely too much for over a shrub. The more diminutive ones are the better choice. I hope to see you again soon!

  8. Susan says:

    Some years ago I planted sweet autumn clematis and I am paying the price now. It is climbing over everything and it seems the more I pull it out the more it comes back! It would probably be lovely covering a barn but in the backyard of a NYC brownstone is problematic.

  9. margaret says:

    @Kenn: You had better get posting on those Forums…you first Forum poster ever you. They are heating up, and we gotta keep ’em happy. Really, though, maybe you have some pot photos (no, not POT, but POT as in flower POT) to share?

  10. GardenGuyKenn says:

    What an excellent suggestion. It’s sort of like putting holiday lights on a shrub.. only better.

    On another note – I just wanted to extend my congratulations on the huge success of the blog.. and to think, I ‘knew you when’ there were just a few of us here. And of course, I do lay claim to having the first UGQ :) My offer of some months ago still stands.. should the need ever arise. Thank you for allowing me to walk barefoot through the grass, sit by the pond and watch the frogs, take in the beauty of it all and along the way learn something. “A Way to Garden” certainly has all the comforts of home.

  11. margaret says:

    I used to start with small clematis, often little slips in those plastic bags and cardboard sleeves from the garden-center displays, or tiny mail-order babies. I killed a lot them, too, especially if I inadvertently tucked them a little too deep into the ground. In recent years I have bought ones that were a teeny bit more established, so I wasn’t so likely to ask the poor young thing to get all uprooted yet again when I planted it.
    Too-deep planting is always death, and so is soil that doesn’t drain well, I think–how’s yours?

  12. Eric says:

    How, oh how, do you get vining plants to grow? I’ve killed so many of them; clematis, morning glories, etc., and I mean killed as if I’d planted them then immediately sprayed them with weed killer then stamped on them then cut them at the root and then dug them back up again, killed them! I just don’t get how to make anything vining grow let alone festoon something else with them… I’m in the process of killing a Sweet Autumn that’s never gotten beyond a sad little twig with a dozen leaves. Is there anything I can do to try to reverse it’s decline?

  13. Eric says:

    The drainage is fine, I’m pretty sure, and I try to be cautious of the planting depth with clematis. It’s among some WELL established vinca, perhaps it’s too crowded. Thank you for your response.

  14. Karen Anne says:

    I had a mandevilla alice du pont climbing in a huge spanish fir out in California. It took two tries to get one started, from one gallon pots.

    It was especially nice because it was a kind of a surprise each year, like walking thru the forest and seeing a wildflower. It grew mostly straight up (70 or 80 feet), but not widely, so when it bloomed, you have to be in just the right place to notice the flowers.

    Alas, the mandevilla is not hardy where I’ve moved, RI, and I can’t find anyone selling plain spanish firs, just variants with odd coloring.

  15. Karyn says:

    Thanks so much for this great idea, Margaret. I have been wanting to incorporate some flowering vines into my garden but wasn’t sure where they could go. I’m enjoying your blog very much, what a great resource it has become already.

  16. Cathy Haynes says:

    I grow a white clematis up into a white lilac, and have a white Oriental lily planted in front of the shrub. The lilac, once it’s done blooming, is not an especially exciting shrub, but the clematis and lily add the excitement (and fragrance, for the lily)back.
    I also grow roses (red Knockout and a yellow shrub rose)under a large arbor planted with grapes (Venus). Towards the end of summer the roses start peeking through a curtain of grape leaves. It’s always delightful and surprising, even for me, though I’ve seen it before.

  17. margaret says:

    Welcome, Cathy. Love the part about how it’s exciting even though you’ve seen it before…isn’t gardening amazing that way? Also, those ‘Knockout’ roses are really good, aren’t they? Thanks for visiting.

  18. Hi Margaret,

    Your double-header idea is a good one – bet the clematis in the Chamaecyparis is especially pleasing with the foliage contrast.

    In the 1990’s clematis twined through my shrubs and trees in Illinois, too. I loved the way the 3-4 foot tall, multi-stemmed, non-vining herbaceous Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’ looked when planted behind an established peony – the stems fanned out around the peony with small white flowers at the same time the peony opened, giving the effect of a huge bouquet.

    Down here in Texas my only success in this area has been a white (maybe Miss Bateman) clematis climbing through the vigorous Lady Banks rose.

    Your earlier articles were fun to read! A friend gave me ‘Polish Spirit’ right after it was available around 1985 or so, saying she chose it because it was named in honor of the Polish Pope John XXIII. It was very hard to leave a dozen thriving clematis behind when we headed for Austin.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  19. Gail Garvey says:

    I have a blue clematis, Gen. Sikorsky, climbing up in the middle of a large pink William Baffin rose and when the stars align they are both blooming at the same time in June. This year, maybe because our summer has not been very warm in MN, the clematis is having another flush of bloom in August.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Gail. Yes, various things here (clematis, a climbing rose, etc.) are reblooming here, too, at least partially this year. We have had a lot of rain and very little scorching heat, and I attributed it to the extra moisture and coolness. Don’t be a stranger; see you soon.

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