Some vine advice

Allan M. Armitage’s newest book, “Armitage’s Vines and Climbers” (Timber Press, $29.95), was released Tuesday. Is it his 13th published book? Or is it No. 14? When pressed, he admits he’s not sure.

Perhaps that’s because, along with running the research gardens at the University of Georgia, he’s busy speaking and visiting research centers around the globe. Through the years he’s tested lots of vines and climbers, which he says don’t get enough use in American gardens.

It seems we don’t think about adding vines to our gardens unless we want to hide something. But vines don’t have to hide things. They work beautifully winding up through shrubs and trees, adding their flowers, foliage and fruit to the foundation plantings of your garden.

Winding through trees? That’s the other reason we don’t use these plants in our gardens. Scrambling through trees is what those invasive ivies, wisteria and kudzu do, suffocating their supporting plants in the process.

“Not all vines are thugs,” Armitage said.

Many of these vines and climbers, especially the annual ones, are hard to find in garden centers because they don’t bloom until late summer and fall. But that late blooming makes them a real asset in the garden during a season when the spring and summer bloomers are exhausted and fall flowers have not yet hit their stride.

In “Armitage’s Vines and Climbers,” Allan M. Armitage helps gardeners figure out how to rope in some of the wilder varieties and suggests many that don’t have an invasive gene in their DNA. There are 115 plants featured, and he’s tried them all. When asked to recommend a few, he offered five for those he calls the “not-as-serious-as-we-are” gardeners, such as his daughters with their busy lives and young children.

Clematis armandii: This evergreen member of the clematis family is beautifully used to frame a doorway or climb a fence. An early spring bloomer, it has 1-inch flowers that begin budding out as early as February and will be in full bloom a few weeks later.

American wisteria: Not the Chinese variety that can take over your town, this vine is native from Virginia to Florida. 'Amethyst Falls' is the most common cultivar readily available that sometimes has a second flush of bloom.

Black-eyed Susan vine, Thunbergia alata: This vigorous annual vine has yellow-orange flowers with dark black throats, hence its common name. It grows easily, either climbing up through shrubs or weeping over the sides of a hanging basket.

Climbing roses: There are climbing roses and rambling roses, with ramblers maybe easier to train over a pergola or other structure, but climbers have larger flowers and a tendency to bloom again during the season. For those intimidated by the rules of keeping roses within bounds, Armitage quotes his friend Suzy Bales: "Just cut them back whenever and wherever, you can — there are no rules."

Rex begonia vine, Cissus discolor: Armitage calls this one of the most handsome, eye-catching vines he knows. An annual vine with leaves painted in pink, silver, gray-green and white, it will grow to 12 feet in one season.

For the expert gardener, Armitage recommends the rex begonia vine along with coral vine, Antigonon leptopus; Dutchman’s pipe, Aristolochia macrophylla; glorybower, Clerondendrum splendens; butterfly vine, Mascagnia; and bitter melon, Momordica.

Open house

To see the vines and climbers that Allan M. Armitage has in trials, attend the public open house at the university’s trial gardens July 10 in Athens.

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