ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
Virginia creeper used here to camouflage a concrete retaining wall.
I am a fan of using vines in the garden; I think they add a certain charm to a landscape that no other plants can contribute.
A Virginia creeper-covered trellis is a standout in any landscape. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Several Virginia creeper plants add interest to this otherwise unspectacular wooden fence. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Virginia creeper leaves have wonderful fall colour; the vine also produces insignificant purple berries, which birds will eat late in the fall. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Various annual vines will add colour to trellises, containers and fences during the summer, but perennial vines become permanent features in the landscape, contributing beauty to the garden year after year.
One of my favourite perennial vines — particularly at this time of year — is Virginia creeper. In late September and early October, Virginia creeper puts on an unrivalled display of fall colour and becomes a focal point of the fall landscape before many of the other trees and shrubs have fully donned their autumn garb.
This year was a particularly good one for Virginia creeper because we had no early fall frosts. The one disadvantage of this vine is that it is quite susceptible to frost and if frost comes in the fall before it has turned colour, the green leaves will simply freeze and fall off and there will be no autumn foliage display.
Virginia creeper will spread by underground roots making it easy to propogate — all you need to do is dig up a piece of root from an established plant, and put it in the ground and it will grow. This vine is very useful for covering slopes because just a few plants will soon spread to cover a wide area.
It is a great vine to use on fences to make them more attractive. Many people prefer chain link fencing because it is durable, low maintenance, and effective at keeping intruders — both human and animal — out of the yard.
There is nothing very attractive about chain link, however, and so covering it with Virginia creeper is a good way to make it more attractive. The vine will soon completely cover the fence and make the vine-covered fence actually look like a hedge along the property line.
Perennial vines, including Virginia creeper, are useful for covering other things besides fences. We have a concrete retaining wall along our driveway; in my opinion, there is no redeeming feature about concrete except that it does the structural job it is intended to do very well. Aesthetically it adds nothing to the landscape and actually detracts from it.
To solve this problem and to hide the retaining wall and "soften" its appearance, I planted Virginia creeper along the top of the wall. The vine cascades down to cover most of the wall and create a nice soft appearance to the side of the hardscape driveway.
Virginia creeper can be grown against a wall on an arbour but it will also cling to a wall on its own accord requiring no support. It has tough little tendrils, which fasten themselves to any support and hold the vine securely in place.
I have often written about the allure of trellises in gardens when they are used as entranceways to sections of the garden or as features in mixed borders. A Virginia creeper-covered trellis is attractive and doubly so during the period of time it is covered with its colourful autumn foliage.
Many gardeners use Virginia creeper to hide an unsightly view in the garden. An old shed, a utility pole, a decrepit old fence — all of these can be made more pleasing to the eye by covering them with Virginia creeper.
While the shiny dark green leaves of Virginia creeper — each leaf is made up of five leaflets — are attractive during the summer, when the leaves take on their autumn colours they are a remarkable sight. Tones of orange, red, burgundy and gold are all evident in their fall garb.
The vines stand out in the landscape because many of the surrounding trees and shrubs will still be wearing their summer greens and their leaves will not yet have taken on autumn colour. While relatively short-lived, the grand display of autumn colour provided by Virginia creeper is quite spectacular.
If you have a spot where you could grow some Virginia creeper, whether it be on a fence or trellis or along a retaining wall, you might like to get a plant and put it in this fall. Next year you will be able to enjoy its wonderful autumn display.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 17, 2013