Story and photos by Barb Gorges
Once the leaves are gone for the winter, we have five or more months to admire the structure of deciduous tree trunks and branches.
So how about adding more vertical interest to your garden or the side of your house with a trellis?
The purpose of a trellis is to get vining plants off the ground, which is handy in the vegetable garden. The simplest methods involve stakes, string and wire cages. But these are temporary.
Instead, let’s look at more permanent trellis ideas used with ornamental vines.
Some trellises are attached to walls, some are free-standing, and some are formed into arbors, meant to be walked under. Some can even be sculptural parts of dead trees or scrap metal. Or perhaps one of the porch posts will do.
Sometimes, the desire for a trellis comes first, rather than the desire to grow a vining plant. Is there a plain wall or fence that needs something to dress it up? Is there a view you would like to block? Is there a view you would like to frame with an arbor? Are you looking for some shade? Need a little height to give your garden some pizazz?
Trellises with engineered straight lines and perfect curves can offer contrast to natural vine shapes. Trellises with a less formal structure can blend in with nature.
As you drive around town this winter, look for trellises. Some are obviously the kind you buy, the simple fan shapes, lattice panels or ladder shapes. But there is some original artwork out there.
Wood is the easiest for most of us to build with, but if you are thinking long-term, be sure to use wood that will endure, like cedar. You don’t want to get trapped into having to paint your trellis, especially if you are contemplating a perennial vine that adds growth from year to year. But if the vine gets cut back annually, re-painting might be possible.
Metal is the best. Wrought iron looks good for a long time and it is sturdy enough for heavier vines.
Or how about pipe? Copper looks really nice and might not be so hard to work with, although you don’t want it to be publicly visible or someone will steal it for its cash value.
But perhaps you aren’t a welder. Then it is time to think creatively about repurposing. My friends Mary and Jeff Weinstein had an old box spring they needed to dispose of. After removing the cloth and wood, the springs are attached to their wood fence and covered by their grape vine.
An arbor or pergola is roof-like. It can include sides that are trellises or just the support posts. The roof can be flat or arched. Short arbors form a doorway from one area of the garden to another. Martha Mullikin, a Laramie County master gardener, makes sure her arbors frame views, even a focal point as simple as a container of bright annuals. Despite her several arbors being made of different materials, she chose them all to be flat-topped, echoing the same form.
More elaborate is the “Victorian Rose Temple” in Bruce and Carla Keating’s garden that Bruce welded, offering support for climbing roses on all sides. Plus it is a shady place to sit.
As artful as a trellis may be, it needs a vine. I asked Susan Carlson, also a Laramie County master gardener, for her list of recommendations for our area, and I also checked the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website’s handout, “Vines for the High Plains Landscape,” available at www.botanic.org, under “Gardening Tips.”
Susan said perennial vines are not going to cover the new trellis at once.
“Annual sweet peas and morning glories can act as filler for a few years where slower growing vines are planted. It takes a few years for the roots to become established.”
And she had some advice on where to plant vines.
“Some protection from wind would be beneficial, she said. “I have vines on all sides of the house, except the west.”
As I researched each of the recommended vines, I noted they prefer sunny to partly sunny locations. All vines flower, some more noticeably than others. Except for grapes and hops, any fruit produced is appropriate for birds, not people. All vines mentioned are perennial, except morning glory and annual sweet pea.
Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. It can be an aggressive grower. Flowers on new wood, so it can be pruned in early spring without affecting blooming.
Clematis species (Clematis spp.)
Needs to keep its roots cool, either shaded by low growing perennials, mulch, or a rock. Many species and varieties are available with different growth habits. Recommended for Cheyenne:
–Jackmanii—purple flowers, spring & early summer blooming, can be pruned in early spring.
–Henryi—white flowers, blooms in June on last year’s wood, blooms again later on new wood.
–Nelly Moser—pink flowers, late spring and summer. Prune no more than top third.
–Sweet Autumn—white flowers bloom on new wood so prune after blooming. Native and very hardy.
Hops (Humulus lupus)
Odd, but interesting green flowers. It dies back after frost and grows new shoots from the roots in spring. Hops are an ingredient in many beers.
Morning Glory (annual) (Ipomea purpurea)
Blue-flowered varieties are most popular. Blooms most prolifically beginning in late summer. Needs lots of sun and water. Can be seeded directly when soil temperature is 60 degrees, but speed things up by starting inside three weeks early. Prefers poor soil. Supposedly grows 8 feet long but mine went 18 feet this summer. Grow multiple vines in each location.
Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)
Purplish-pink flowers fade to white and are not fragrant. Blooms mid-season. A low water and low maintenance plant. Seeds are poisonous.
Sweet Pea (annual) (Lathyrus odoratus)
Fragrant blue, pink, purple and white flowers. Prefers cool, but sunny locations and lots of water. Plant seeds up to 3 weeks before last spring frost.
Kintzley’s Ghost Honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulate)
Yellow flowers in late spring, but large, silvery leaves are its hallmark. First propagated and grown by the Kintzley family in Iowa in the 1880s and rediscovered in Fort Collins and propagated by Scott Skogerboe.
Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Red trumpet-shaped flowers bloom much of the summer. Blooms on previous year’s wood, so prune after flowering. Japanese honeysuckle is less hardy here, but is considered an invasive problem in 29 eastern states.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Flowers are not noticeable, but the birds love the berries and drop seeds that sprout all over my yard. Leaves turn red in fall. Little disks allow vines to adhere to walls, a problem when removing them.
Silver Lace Vine (Polygonum aubertii)
White flowers bloom in late summer, early fall, and well into October this year, Martha Mullikin told me. It is considered a relatively fast and hardy grower.
Climbing Roses (Rosa spp.)
Technically, climbing roses don’t twine around or attach themselves to trellises, but they can use the support.
American Grape (Vitus labrusca)
Table grape varieties that do well in our area, according to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ tip sheet, include Concord, Valiant, Reliance, Himrod and Swenson Red.