The Vines that Twine

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
The Vines that Twine

Often hanging by the most delicate of tendrils, vines are a beautiful and inexpensive way to enhance a barren space, or cover an eyesore. In recent years, the mighty Clematis reigned supreme as they peeked from magazine and book pages, but there are plenty of other vines, which should get more press.

For years, I’ve fought one native vine tooth and nail in my garden, Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper), but I’ve finally decided to make my peace with it only because of its beautiful fall color and berries which birds love. With my increased appreciation of natives, I decided Virginia creeper can stay. Of course, I don’t feel the same way about poison ivy and never will.

For blooming vines, depending on your climate, the list is nearly endless. When I asked friends which vines they grow, they cited old favorites including some which perform better in the southern or northern states. It’s a big country. Several people mentioned Mascagnia macroptera (Butterfly Vine), which is one I’ve never grown, but after looking at photos, I think I need to try it this summer.


I love the fancy annual vines even if some like the ipomoeas produce a lot of seeds. From decorative sweet potato vines to morning glories, ipomoeas are fun. I grow several morning glories, including I. purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ and ‘Heavenly Blue.’ Both are so prolific I am always pulling up seedlings. This spring, my youngest daughter saw a packet of seed she couldn’t live without, so now I’ll be adding tie-dyed ‘Pink Star’ to our morning glory cast.


If you want a glowing night garden, plant I. alba (moonflower vine). I. quamoclit (cypress, cardinal climber, or star flower vine) is another prolific member of this group. According to the USDA plant list database, cypress vine, and morning glories are considered noxious weeds in some states, so check with yours before planting. As with most ipomeas, score or soak the seed before sowing, and you’ll have better success.


American honeysuckles have gotten a bad rap due to their invasive Japanese cousin, Lonicera japonica. American natives like L. sempervirens (trumpet or coral honeysuckle) and cultivars may be nearly devoid of scent, but they won’t take over your property and everyone else’s either. Plus, they attract hummingbirds. As for wisteria, unless you have a desire to pull down the strongest trellis, try one of our native ones.


I grow Wisteria frutescens where Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ succumbed to rose rosette disease. American wisteria is fragrant although not as scented as Asian varieties, but it also blooms later and isn’t stopped by late frosts.


Many vines are butterfly magnets, and Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides (Mexican flame vine) is no exception. In my garden, it took most of the summer to get going, so unless you live further south, buy plants from a local nursery instead of seeds. Another gorgeous vine I will always grow is tropical Solanum wendlandii (paradise flower or giant potato creeper). The purple blooms give way to red fruit, and it is easy to grow. However, it is an annual in much of the U.S.

We shouldn’t forget sturdy Dolichos lablab (hyacinth bean) which winds itself all over mailboxes throughout my state. Heart-shaped leaves sport purple blooms which later become decorative four inch dark purple pods.

If you like the look of Campsis radicans (trumpet vine), try native, Bignonia capreolata, (crossvine) instead because trumpet vine is invasive in much of the U.S.

In cooler climates, both Phaseolus coccineus (scarlet runner bean) and Thunbergia alata (black-eyed Susan vine) are very popular with gardeners. However, further south, heat seems to stop them in their tracks. P. coccineus ‘Painted Lady’ is an heirloom with bi-colored coral and white flowers.

Don’t forget Lathyrus odoratus (sweet peas) those delicate spring beauties which I’m told smell lovely. Living in the central south, I’ve yet to smell a sweet pea. It always gets too hot here before they flower, and the vines simply wither away.

In heirloom catalogs you’ll discover our forebears grew many of these vines, and specialty catalogs such as Renee’s Garden Seeds still carry several.
Viva la vines! They deserve a place in the modern garden too.