Garden Clippings: Trellis Plants

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'Jackmanii' clematis
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Trumpet vine
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A variety of clematis growing on a trellis.
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'Nelly Moser' clematis

My dad is hooked on gardening, even if he won’t admit it. Almost yearly, I hear him say that he’s going to turn the vegetable garden back to grass after the long summer has taken its toll on the crops. Each spring, as the fescue lawn is growing at its peak, he’ll say he’s going to let some of the yard go because he’s tired of mowing it, yet if nothing else gets done in the fall, he’s sure to apply fertilizer for that early spring green-up.

Recently, Dad made a new trellis for the planting bed in the back yard. He put three small, steel wagon wheels vertically on a post, and put it in the perennial bed. His question for me was what he should plant on it.

I never really thought about it, but choosing a climbing plant can be difficult to do. I suggested a ‘Jackmanii’ clematis or a goldflame honeysuckle, which Dad quickly shot down since he already has one of each.

Mentally, I started going through the perennial vines that will grow in our area, trying to come up with the perfect plant for his trellis.

American bittersweet is an outstanding vine that does well in this area. The eye-popping orange and red clusters of fruit that are produced each fall are tremendous. But, because of the large size of the plant, it’s probably best reserved for a screen, rather than a 6-foot-tall trellis.

The trumpet vine would be welcome to the garden because of its attraction to hummingbirds, with its bright-orange, tubular flowers. But this vine gets way too big for a garden trellis. The long seedpods that appear after flowering are also very efficient in protecting the seed that volunteers to come up where it isn’t wanted.

A climbing hydrangea would be nice, as long as the trellis was situated in a shaded area. Even though this type of plant is often slow to establish, it’s worth the wait when the clusters of 8-inch-long white flowers finally appear.

English ivy would grow in the sun, but this type of ivy does better climbing on stone or brick. Besides, even if it does grow in full sun, the plant will not climb in sunny locations.

Porcelain berry might work for Dad’s trellis, but I know that the bright-blue porcelain berry that ripens in the fall will not be showy enough for the location of the trellis.

Wisteria would definitely not work on the trellis. I shouldn’t have even thought of this vine because of the vigorous growth of the plant. However, when the lavender blooms appear each spring, the plant has no equal.

As I began running out of suggestions of traditional vines for my dad’s trellis, I began thinking about fruits that vine.

Hardy kiwi would grow in the spot where the trellis is located, and the fruit would be unique. Or maybe a red seedless grape that would have foliage and nice, showy clusters of grapes would work. As much as I think these plants would work in this location, I know my dad won’t be too hip on the idea.

For all the thought I put into this selection process, I kept coming back to the first plants that I mentioned to him. Clematis and honeysuckle are the perfect trellis plants. The honeysuckle’s tubular blooms are attractive, and the hummingbirds flock to them. The blooms of the clematis are candy to the eye, and the wide selection of bloom types and colors seem endless.

Finally, after much thought, I decided that ‘Nelly Moser’ clematis would be the perfect choice for Dad’s trellis. The large, light-pink flowers with dark-pink bars in the center of the petal bloom on this plant from May until September.

I’ll have to pass a picture of this beautiful plant along to my dad to convince him of this wonderful choice.

That is, of course, if he hasn’t quit gardening yet.