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Vertical Gardening

Growing up rather than out is a good way to save space in the garden. Adding a trellis or some other vertical structure to your garden also gives you a whole new dimension of visual interest.

But figuring out how to match climbing plants with the right kind of support leaves many gardeners baffled. Why won't pole beans and tomatoes climb up a lattice frame? Why won't sweet peas and clematis climb a pole? The answer is that climbing plants climb in particular ways: some wrap, some adhere, and some curl. Here's how to recognize which plants do what:


Peas are a good example of a plant that uses tendrils to climb. Tendrils are skinny, wiry structures along the plant's stem that actually reach around in the air until they come into contact with something they can grab. Once contact is made, the tendril curls, forming a coil that allows the plant to adjust the degree of tension or pull on the support.


Stem tendrils (which passionflowers and grapes have) are shoots that grow out of the stem. Leaf tendrils (which peas have) look very similar, but the tendrils are actually modified leaves that emerge from a leaf node.

Like a rock climber scaling the face of a mountain, plants that have tendrils need handholds in the form of horizontal supports. Netting works well for plants with tendrils, as long as the mesh is more than 2" square.

Branches are a popular material for supporting tendril-climbers. Horizontal strings attached to posts or bamboo poles are ideal. Just don't position the strings more than about 4 inches apart or the newest set of tendrils may not be able to reach the next level of string. Also, because most tendrils are only about an inch long, they need to wrap around something thin (like string or wire) that's no more than about 1/4 inch in diameter.


Morning glories, pole beans, honeysuckle and clematis are some of the many plants that twine. There are two important differences among twining plants: they either have twining leaves or twining stems. Plants with twining leaves, such as clematis, use their leaves like tendrils. The young leaves of these plants are able to twist around slender wires, string, twigs or other leaves. The key is to provide a thin enough support for the leaf stem to curl around. A lattice made of 1-inch wide slats won't work for leaf twiners.


Twining stems twist around whatever they touch, be it a pole, branch, wire or chair leg. The stems will wind clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the species of plant.

There are loosely twining stems such as gourds, and strongly twining stems such as thunbergia, wisteria, morning glory, jasmine and Dutchman's pipe. Some of these twining vines can grow very large and become extremely heavy. Wisteria is famous for pulling down porches and garden structures. If you are planting a perennial vine that will eventually become very large, be sure to provide strong support.


Bougainvillea and climbing or rambling roses are two of the many plants that fall into the scramblers category. These plants have long, flexible stems that may look like vines, but they are unable to climb on their own. Scramblers sometimes have thorns that help them grip neighboring stems, if you want these plants to "climb" up a trellis, arbor, or pergola, you will need to tack them into place and probably tie them with wire or sturdy string.

Adhesive Pads

Boston ivy (Parthenosissus tricuspidata) and Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia) have stem tendrils with touch-sensitive adhesive pads that allow them to stick to almost any surface.


Climbers with adhesive pads can attach themselves to the face of a building or the trunk of a tree. If not provided with a vertical support, they will just as happily crawl sideways, attaching themselves to anything in their path.

Designing with Climbers

Boston ivy (Parthenosissus tricuspidata) and Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia) have stem tendrils with touch-sensitive adhesive pads that allow them to stick to almost any surface.


In a large garden or a small one, using climbers extends your planting repertoire and season of interest immeasurably. A later or summer long flowering climber can follow early flowers.

Using climbers gives a different perspective to our gardens and reduces the 'flatness'. Climbers, because of their height, lift our eye and many tender climbers have brilliantly coloured or masses of bloom that grab attention. You can plant climbers to grow over other trees and shrubs, ensuring of course that the host plant is stout enough to support the climber. Obelisks and arches give a unique opportunity to use climbers. Trellis screens for privacy or to filter the wind are also a great support for climbers. Pergolas and arbours to provide much needed shade for resting and dining out are much enhanced by climbing plants.

Vertical Gardening does not always have to start from a garden bed

Vertical gardening implies the use of materials to add height to your outdoor area. If you are not able to have a garden in your current space you can add height to your containers to achieve the vertical aspect that you desire. Small obelisks can be used inside containers to give your climbers the height they need. As well as ornaments placed on walls, fences or hung from balconies. All of these possibilities allow every gardener the ability to have the level privacy, intimacy and/or comfort that is preferred.
Peroglas, arbors, arches and trellis are other ways that height can be added to a garden.
Vines can be planted to wine their way within these structures to provide privacy with the elegant and intimate look that traditional fences cannot provide.

Planting "living wall" privacy fences is often preferable to erecting masonry walls or wooden or vinyl fencing. Privacy fences composed of plants enjoy a number of advantages over their hardscape counterparts, including:

  • Cost
  • Their beauty in terms of color, form and texture.
  • Seasonal variation in some cases, ranging from spring flowers to autumn foliage.
  • Fruit production in some cases, which can attract birds or even be edible for humans.

Pergolas are a way to add height to a garden as well as provide overhead protection from the sun and spying neighbours:
Things to consider when choosing your pergola:

  1. Choose the style to suit your garden.
  2. Decide the width and remember to add 1 foot to the path width to allow for plant growth in the years to come.
  3. Measure the length required. Calculate how many extensions are required in addition to the base unit

Steel Obelisks and Rose Pillars:

Flowers and foliage on black steel columns add variety to your borders, singly or in groups. Place them by paths, doors and gates. Clothe them with roses, wisteria, honeysuckle, clematis, ivies and vines.


Garden Arbors & Arches:

Arches allow gardeners to place a classic architectural shape as an entry structure that invites and entices people into their own garden paradise. Garden arbors and arches provide vertical depth to any garden and are a distinctive alternative to anything found in home improvement warehouses.
Both functional and decorative, these arches can support climbing roses, vines and other plants to create an opening that draws visual attention through these arches and beyond.

Climbing Plant List

Stem Tendrils
• Passionflower (Passiflora)
• Grape (Vitis)
• Ampelopsis glandulosa

Leaf Tendrils
• Sweet peas (Lathyrus)
• Cobaea scandens

Twining Leaves
• Clematis
• Climbing nasturtium
(Tropaeolum polyphyllum)

Twining Stems
• Pole Beans
• Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
• Morning glory, Moonflower (Ipomoea)
• Jasmine (Jasminum)
• Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
• Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia)
• Wisteria

• Bougainvillea
• Climbing rose (Rosa)

Adhesive Pads
• Cissus
• Boston ivy (Parthenocissus)

Clinging Stem Roots
• Euonymus
• English ivy (Hedera)
• Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea


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