Covering the fence

Lady Banks in bloom draping gracefully over the fence; clematis attempting to cover the fence. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

Ever since I erected the wooden fence that wends its way around my property, I have had an urge to cover it – and my efforts have been only partially successful. The aim is to have lush vines lounging lazily along the fence with only occasional glimpses of the wooden structure available.

Having a neurotic fear that I might plant a kudzu-type of vine by mistake, I have tried to research what vines would be appropriate, devouring Allan Armitage’s Armitage’s Vines and Climbers in the process. If you need vine advice, this is the best place to start.

For the past three years, the results of my plantings have been rather ludicrous in that meager sprigs represented the lush vines of my dreams. I first started out with Lablab, an annual vine that Armitage says is a “no brainer.” Hyacinth Bean Vine is indeed a no-brainer as all you have to do is to throw down some seeds and watch it grow. The flowers are cool, the vine covers fences, and the mature purple seeds hold over to be tossed again for the following year.

I wanted variety so covering long lengths of fence with Lablab didn’t match the picture I carried in my imagination. Consequently, I ordered several clematises and Jasminum officinale ‘Fiona Sunrise’ from Brushwood Nursery. Jasmine is a bit iffy here because of our winters so the one to choose for our zone 7a is the common jasmine, Jasminum officinale and I chose the cultivar ‘Fiona Sunrise’ because Armitage assured me that if he could only buy one jasmine, this would be the one. Clearly, I was playing follow the leader.

He warned that it was “slow growing” but assured me it was “eye catching with golden foliage.” Now, I am a bit of a sucker for “eye-catching” vines but failed to note that it was slow growing. Two years later, it is now making its formal debut. All this is very exciting except according to my nose there is little fragrance. Isn’t one of the points of jasmine that it has an enticing aroma?

Of course, I should be glad that it’s still alive as the fence is far away from my hoses so plants that get planted along it have to survive on their own through our summers.

Sadly, when I went back to reread Armitage’s description of the various jasmines, I saw that the one he also loves is the pink-flowered Jasminum x stephanense that is also hardy in zone 7a. I haven’t a clue as to why I didn’t order that one and having a compulsive nature, I put it on my list of plants to purchase in 2024.

On part of the fence, I have a Lady Banks rose that is filling out nicely. Lady Banks has a lovely drape to it, so it’s easy for her to look as though she comes from a nice family. The clematis I planted along part of the fence, however, is another story. Clematis is an awkward vine in that it doesn’t have a climbing mechanism so it has to be laboriously trained, a yearly job as it’s cut back at the end of the growing season. Clematis, at least for me, doesn’t cover much, including fences.

The clematises I chose all belonged to the “small flower” category for the simple reason this group is less prone to succumb to the dreaded clematis wilt. I’m in no mood to pander to a vine for several years only to have it decide to wilt away.

The two climbing roses along the fence, the Earth-kind ‘Rêve d’Or’ and ‘Old Blush’, one of the original China roses, have done their part to decorate the fence. Both are lovely, healthy roses that require a minimum of attention.

‘Rêve d’or’ covering the fence; Jasminum officinale ‘Fiona Sunrise’ finally appearing. Photo by Kit Flynn.

And this is where patience forces its way into my garden. All these vines take time – there is no other way around it. Reluctant to put out much top growth before they develop a good root system, many clematises seemingly just sit there. To this I can only tell myself, “Relax.” Look at other aspects of your garden for a couple of years and maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What has surprised me is how covering a simple wooden fence, located in the sun, has not been an easy process. A spindly vine is rather sad and as a gardener you have to determine whether it’s taking its time to get established or if it’s naturally a gangling vine. Just as our adolescent children can go through a gawky stage, so it is with vines.

My only advice is this: Acquire a dog, name it Patience and remind yourself to check in three years later before deciding the fate of the vine. As for the dog, of course you’ll keep her.

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