I have a 10-year-old kiwi vine at the front of my house that has strangled my downspout. This vine, known for producing the most delicious sweet, green fruit about the size of a large grape, is quite aggressive. But I love it.
It surprises many people that a kiwi will grow in Canada but I enthusiastically encourage the idea of planting them (a male AND a female as the flowers are “imperfect”) where quick, reliable cover is required over a fence, around a porch or whatever. The idea is to cool down your vertical space and provide shelter for you and nesting birds. Hardy kiwi is hardy to zone 5. It makes a fast-growing annual in colder zones.
In addition to hardy kiwi (actinidia arguta), I recommend the following vines for use where you would not likely grow anything else: walls, dividers, fences, porch pillars etc.
1. Honeysuckle (lonicera). Not the once popular flowering shrub but the twining vine. Honeysuckle vine blooms for several weeks, though at its very best for about 10 days in late June and it is not as aggressive as my kiwi. The dense clusters of long, trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds and smell sweet. A honeysuckle vine will enhance the appearance of any wall when grown on a trellis. It prefers the sun but will tolerate some shade, though mildew can become a problem in some shady circumstances. Hardy to zone 4.
2. Hydrangea (hydrangea anomala). Again, not to be confused with the flowering shrub by the same name. Climbing hydrangea is one of my favourite permanent vines: it is slow to establish itself but after a couple of years in a well-prepared hole it will take off and produce an abundance of the most gorgeous broad shaped umbels of creamy white flowers. This is a vine that prefers the north or east side of the house, out of the blazing sun. It will mature to about the height of a two-storey building in seven to nine years. A keeper. It is self-clinging so no trellis or support is needed, just a sturdy wall. Hardy to zone 5.
3. Wisteria (wisteria sinensis). Chinese wisteria is the most common plant found at garden retailers as it is propagated from seed, which is fast and easy. Japanese wisteria is propagated from cuttings and is a little bit tricky to start. This is not your problem, I know, but it explains why the Chinese type is much less expensive and more widely available. Wisteria is a good option for a fast growing twining vine where late spring colour is desired. You have seen pictures of wisteria covering a pergola or arbour and virtually dripping with masses of flowers featuring long panicles of multi petalled purple bloom. Chances are these pictures are from California. I still like wisteria for the gardener who doesn’t mind pruning aggressively each year after it is established. Pruning encourages flowering. Prefers sun. Hardy to zone 5.
4. Virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia). Someone reading this will want to yell at me for recommending this vine as it is considered a weed by many farmers who are forever pulling it out of hedgerows. However, it IS native, fast growing, reliably insect and disease free and if you prune it aggressively you can train it to do most anything that you want. I have a one-metre length of a maple branch in my shop that is twisted like a snake squeezed the life out of it. I quiz visitors to guess how this happened. The answer: a Virginia creeper strangled it while it was growing. Two tough plants battling it out in the garden. Hardy to zone 4.
5. Clematis and climbing roses. I clump these together under the same heading as I think that they belong together in the garden. Plant a Jackmanni purple clematis with a Blaze climbing rose (or another favourite variety of yours) and they will bloom together for a stunning effect. Both love the sun as much as they love each other. I think that they were siblings in another life. Both require a minimum of six hours of sunshine to perform at their best and both need support. A trellis or pergola work well.
6. Bigleaf winter creeper (euonymus fortunei). I had to add an evergreen vine to my list. You read right. This perennial beauty holds its leaves over the winter, providing some off-season interest where most other vines retreat for up to 6 months. I really enjoy the red/creamy white fruit that hangs on this self clinging vine in the fall through early spring when some hungry migratory birds make a meal of them. The only problem that you may have with it is euonymus scale, which can be controlled nicely using dormant oil during the summer months. It is a natural product that smothers the scale insects without harming the vine. The flowers are not worth writing about but the many virtues of bigleaf winter creeper far outweigh its lack of colour. Hardy to zone 4.
Plant some vines around your property and enjoy the increased shade, privacy, less road noise and habitat for community birds.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, “The New Canadian Garden,” published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.