A home without vines is like a home without children—it lacks the very thing that ought to be there to make it most delightful and home-like.
A good vine and we have many such soon becomes “like one of the family.” Year after year it continues to develop, covering unsightly places with its beauty of leaf and bloom, and hiding defects that can be hidden satisfactorily in no other way. All of us have seen houses that were positively ugly in appearance before vines were planted about them, that became pleasant and attractive as soon as the vines had a chance to show what they could do in the way of covering up ugliness.
There are few among our really good vines that will not continue to give satisfaction for an indefinite period if given a small amount of attention each season. I can think of none that are not better when ten or twelve years old than they are two and three years after planting—healthier, stronger, like a person who has “got his growth” and arrived at that period when all the elements of manhood are fully developed. Young vines may be as pleasing as old ones, as far as they go, but—the objection is that they do not go far enough. The value of a vine depends largely on size, and size depends largely on age. During the early stage of a vine’s existence it is making promise of future grace and beauty, and we must give it plenty of time in which to make that promise good. We must also give such care as will make it not only possible but easy to fulfill this promise to the fullest extent.
While many vines will live on indefinitely under neglect, they cannot do themselves justice under such conditions, as any one will find who plants one and leaves it to look out for itself. But be kind to it, show it that you care for it and have its welfare at heart, and it will surprise and delight you with its rapidity of growth, and the beauty it is capable of imparting to everything with which it comes in contact.For it seems impossible for a vine to grow anywhere without making everything it touches beautiful. It is possessor of the magic which transforms plain things into loveliness.
If I were obliged to choose between vines and shrubs—and I am very glad that I do not have to do so I am quite sure I would choose the former. I can hardly explain how it is, but we seem to get on more intimate terms with a vine than we do with a shrub. Probably it is because it grows so close to the dwelling, as a general thing, that we come to think of it as a part of the home.
Vines planted close to the house walls often fail to do well, because they do not have a good soil to spread their roots in. The soil thrown out from the cellar, or in making an excavation for the foundation walls, is almost always hard, and deficient in nutriment. In order to make it fit for use a liberal amount of sand and loam ought to be added to it, and mixed with it so thoroughly that it becomes a practically new soil. At the same time manure should be given in generous quantity. If this is done, a poor soil can be made over into one that will give most excellent results. One application of manure, however, will not be sufficient. In one season, a strong, healthy vine will use up all the elements of plant-growth, and more should be supplied to meet the demands of the following year. In other words, vines should be manured each season if they are expected to keep in good health and continue to develop. If barnyard manure cannot be obtained, use bonemeal of which I so often speak in this book. I consider it the best substitute for barnyard fertilizer that I have ever used, for all kinds of plants.
The best, all-round vine for general use, allowing me to be judge, is Ampelopsis, better known throughout the country as American Ivy, or Virginia Creeper. It is of exceedingly rapid growth, often sending out branches twenty feet in length in a season, after it has become well established. It clings to stone, wood, or brick, with equal facility, and does not often require any support except such as it secures for itself. There are two varieties. One has flat, sucker-like discs, which hold themselves tightly against whatever surface they come in contact with, on the principle of suction. The other has tendrils which clasp themselves about anything they can grasp, or force themselves into cracks and crevices in such a manner as to furnish all the support the vine needs. So far as foliage and general habit goes, there is not much difference between these two varieties, but the variety with disc-supports colors up most beautifully in fall. The foliage of both is very luxuriant. When the green of summer gives way to the scarlet and maroon of autumn, the entire plant seems to have changed its leaves for flowers, so brilliant is its coloring. There is but one objection to be urged against this plant, and that is—its tendency to rampant growth. Let it have its way and it will cover windows as well as walls, and fling its festoons across doorway and porch. This will have to be prevented by clipping away all branches that show an inclination to run riot, and take possession of places where no vines are needed. When you discover a branch starting out in the wrong direction, cut it off at once. A little attention of this kind during the growing period will save the trouble of a general pruning later on.
Vines, like children, should be trained while growing if you would have them afford satisfaction when grown.
The Ampelopsis will climb to the roof of a two-story house in a short time, and throw out its branches freely as it makes its upward growth, and this without any training or pruning. Because of its ability to take care of itself in these respects, as well as because of its great beauty, I do not hesitate to call it the best of all vines for general use. It will grow in all soils except clear sand, it is as hardy as it is possible for a vine to be, and so far as my experience with it goes—and I have grown it for the last twenty years—it has no diseases.
For verandas and porches the Honeysuckles will probably afford better satisfaction because of their less rampant habit. Also because of the beauty and the fragrance of their flowers. Many varieties are all-summer bloomers. The best of these are Scarlet Trumpet and Halleana. The vines can be trained over trellises, or large-meshed wire netting, or tacked to posts, as suits the taste of the owner. In whatever manner you train them they lend grace and beauty to a porch without shutting off the outlook wholly, as their foliage is less plentiful than that of most vines. This vine is of rapid development, and so hardy that it requires very little attention in the way of protection in winter. The variety called Scarlet Trumpet has scarlet and orange flowers. Halleana has almost evergreen foliage and cream-white flowers of most delightful fragrance. Both can be trained up together with very pleasing effect. There are other good sorts, but I consider that these two combine all the best features of the entire list, therefore I would advise the amateur gardener to concentrate his attention on them instead of spreading it out over inferior kinds.
Every lover of flowers who sees the hybrid varieties of Clematis in bloom is sure to want to grow them. They are very beautiful, it is true, and few plants are more satisfactory when well grown. But there’s the rub to grow them well.
The variety known as Jackmani, with dark purple-blue flowers, is most likely to succeed under amateur culture, but of late years it has been quite unsatisfactory. Plants of it grow well during the early part of the season, but all at once blight strikes them, and they wither in a day, as if something had attacked the root, and in a short time they are dead. This has discouraged the would-be growers of the large-flowered varieties—for all of them seem to be subject to the same disease. What this disease is no one seems able to say, and, so far, no remedy for it has been advanced.
But in Clematis paniculata, we have a variety that I consider superior in every respect to the large-flowered kinds, and to date no one has reported any trouble with it. It is of strong and healthy growth, and rampant in its habit, thus making it useful where the large-flowered kinds have proved defective, as none of them are of what may be called free growth. They grow to a height of seven or eight feet sometimes ten, but have few branches, and sparse foliage. Paniculata, on the contrary, makes a very vigorous growth often twenty feet in a season and its foliage, unlike that of the other varieties, is attractive enough in itself to make the plant well worth growing. It is a rich, glossy green, and so freely produced that it furnishes a dense shade. Late in the season, after most other plants are in “the sere and yellow leaf” it is literally covered with great panicles of starry white flowers which have a delightful fragrance. While this variety lacks the rich color of such varieties as Jackmani and others of the hybrid class, it is really far more beautiful. Indeed, I know of no flowering vine that can equal it in this respect. Its late-flowering habit adds greatly to its value. It is not only healthy, but hardy—a quality no one can afford to overlook when planting vines about the house. Like Clematis flammula, a summer-blooming relative of great value both for its beauty and because it is a native, it is likely to die pretty nearly to the ground in winter, but, because of rapid growth, this is not much of an objection. By the time the flowers of either variety are likely to come in for a fair share of appreciation, the vines will have grown to good size.
For the middle and southern sections of the northern states the Wistaria is a most desirable vine, but at the north it cannot be depended on to survive the winter in a condition that will enable it to give a satisfactory crop of flowers. Its roots will live, but most of its branches will be killed each season.
Ampelopsis Veitchii, more commonly known as Boston or Japan Ivy, is a charming vine to train over brick and stone walls in localities where it is hardy, because of its dense habit of growth. Its foliage is smaller than that of the native Ampelopsis, and it is far less rampant in growth, though a free grower. It will completely cover the walls of a building with its dark green foliage, every shoot clinging so closely that a person seeing the plant for the first time would get the idea that it had been shorn of all its branches except those adhering to the wall. All its branches attach themselves to the wall-surface, thus giving an even, uniform effect quite unlike that of other vines which throw out branches in all directions, regardless of wall or trellis. In autumn this variety takes on a rich coloring that must be seen to be fully appreciated.
Our native Celastrus, popularly known as Bittersweet, is a very desirable vine if it can be given something to twine itself about. It has neither tendril nor disc, and
supports itself by twisting its new growth about trees over which it clambers, branches—anything that it can wind about. If no other support is to be found it will twist about itself in such a manner as to form a great rope of branches. It has attractive foliage, but the chief beauty of the vine is its clusters of pendant fruit, which hang to the plant well into winter. This fruit is a berry of bright crimson, enclosed in an orange shell which cracks open, in three pieces, and becomes reflexed, thus disclosing the berry within. As these berries grow in clusters of good size, and are very freely produced, the effect of a large plant can be imagined. In fall the foliage turns to a pure gold, and forms a most pleasing background for the scarlet and orange clusters to display themselves against. The plant is of extremely rapid growth. It has a habit of spreading rapidly, and widely, by sending out underground shoots which come to the surface many feet away from the parent plant. These must be kept mowed down or they will become a nuisance.
Flower-loving people are often impatient of results, and I am often asked what annual I would advise one to make use of, for immediate effect, or while the hardy vines are getting a start. I know of nothing better, all things considered, than the Morning Glory, of which mention will be found elsewhere.
The Flowering Bean is a pretty vine for training up about verandas, but does not grow to a sufficient height to make it of much value elsewhere. It is fine for covering low trellises or a fence.
The “climbing” Nasturtiums are not really climbers. Rather plants with such long and slender branches that they must be given some support to keep them from straggling all over the ground. They are very pleasing when used to cover fences, low screens, and trellises, or when trained along the railing of the veranda.
The Kudzu Vine is of wonderful rapidity of growth, and will be found a good substitute for a hardy vine about piazzas and porches.
Aristolochia, or Dutchman’s Pipe, is a hardy vine of more than ordinary merit. It has large, overlapping leaves that furnish a dense shade, and very peculiar flowers—more peculiar, in fact, than beautiful.
Bignonia will give satisfaction south of Chicago, in most localities. Where it stands the winter it is a favorite on account of its great profusion of orange-scarlet flowers and its pretty, finely-cut foliage. Farther north it will live on indefinitely, like the Wistaria, but its branches will nearly always be badly killed in winter.
It is a mistake to make use of strips of cloth in fastening vines to walls, as so many are in the habit of doing, because the cloth will soon rot, and when a strong wind comes along, or after a heavy rain, the vines will be torn from their places, and generally it will be found impossible to replace them satisfactorily. Cloth and twine may answer well enough for annual vines, with the exception of the Morning Glory, but vines of heavy growth should be fastened with strips of leather passed about the main stalks and nailed to the wall securely. Do not use a small tack, as the weight of the vines will often tear it loose from the wood. Do not make the leather so tight that it will interfere with the circulation of sap in the plant. Allow space for future growth. Some persons use iron staples, but I would not advise them as they are sure to chafe the branches they are used to support.
The question is often asked if vines are not harmful to the walls over which they are trained. I have never found them so. On the contrary, I have found walls that had been covered with vines for years in a better state of preservation than walls on which no vines had ever been trained. The explanation is a simple one: The leaves of the vines act in the capacity of shingles, and shed rain, thus keeping it from getting to the walls of the building.
But I would not advise training vines over the roof, unless it is constructed of slate or some material not injured by dampness, because the moisture will get below the foliage, where the sun cannot get at it, and long-continued dampness will soon bring on decay.
On account of the difficulty of getting at them, vines are never pruned to any great extent, but it would be for the betterment of them if they were gone over every year, and all the oldest branches cut away, or thinned out enough to admit of a free circulation of air. If this were done, the vine would be constantly renewing itself, and most kinds would be good for a lifetime. It really is not such a difficult undertaking as most people imagine, for by the use of an ordinary ladder one can get at most parts of a building, and reach such portions of the vines as need attention most.