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Gardening with Gael - Approach climbing plants with cautions


Virginia creeper-352On my way to The Block this morning I am sure I could hear the distant sound of clapping. It wasn’t all the children in the world announcing that they believe in fairies, it was all the gardeners, plant stall operators and, I suspect, nurserymen delighted with the rain. There appears to be a promise of more.

I continue to be surprised at limp leaves that I fear will never recover plump and back to life. In the car are a few replacement plants waiting – as soon as there is some ground moisture – to find a home in the ground. Today was the day. The ground is warm, the evenings are cooler, there is more rain on the horizon. Perfect planting weather.

On my way to The Block I stopped at Bennett’s for a coffee. I was a little undecided about the topic of this article until I looked out the back at the magnificent Virginia creeper climbing up the back wall of the courtyard. The leaves are changing to the myriad of flame colours announcing the approach of autumn. Previously I have written about the success of our native tecomanthe speciosa which Harry has so successfully trained up the poles in the inner courtyard. Climbers are an interesting addition to a plain wall or fence. In the past I have battled with rampant wisteria, treacherous bougainvillea, and the total horror of out-of-control-jasmine. I approach climbing plants with caution.

Virginia creeper or parthenocissus quinquefolia belongs to the grape family. The quinquefolia means five leaved, which refers to the palmate shape of the leaves. Native to eastern and central North America, Virginia creeper grows in a wide range of soils in full sun or part shade. In part shade the leaf colour is more intense.

The vine adheres to a fence or wall by small disks rather than penetrating roots, which do not harm the wood or concrete of the wall. During the summer the leaves provide a cool green changing in autumn to a spectacular riot of red and burgundy.

From what I can discover there seems to be no problem at the moment with it becoming invasive. I would hesitate to plant wisteria ever again. I have cut it down completely from our house near the beach. At one stage it threatened to engulf the entire property. Now it pops up completely randomly often metres from the original source. I understand that the white variety is not so rampant. Box has grown it up at The Block and I wait, eyes narrowed, to see what it does. I have disclaimed any responsibility for it.

For a colourful creeper without the dire consequences of some of the others try a Mandevilla or dipladenia. I have just bought a red one to grow on a fence. The large red trumpet shaped flowers will continue with regular feeding. I once grew a Mandevilla splendens ‘Alice du Pont’ growing from a container up a verandah pole for years. The pink trumpet flowers glowed all summer.

Mandevilla prefer a well drained soil in a frost free location and because they only grow to two or three metres can be accommodated in any garden, or if the ground tends to be boggy, try a large container but remember to water regularly.

The flame-coloured Virginia creeper at Bennett’s signals the approach of autumn.

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