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Vertical growers: Vines and espaliered plants

Sep 10, 2019

Many spaces in a garden may call for narrow, vertical growth. Whether you are trying to obscure a portion of fence, or mask an unsightly side of a shed, or add interest to an otherwise boring wall, a vine or espalier may be an appropriate solution.

        Vines are trailing or naturally climbing plants that grow long, running stems that rely on external support for upward growth. Vines tend to be quick growing plants and, depending on the species, will use one of many methods to affix itself to a surface for support. Some vines will grow twining petioles that wrap themselves around a support, while others, such as ivy, send tendrils that affix to surfaces and provide support to the rest of the plant. Vines seek out vertical surfaces such as walls and fences that allow them the support to grow taller.

        Alternatively, espaliers are plants that have been trained to take on a flattened form. Espaliers are trees or shrubs that have been pruned overtime, restricting them to a two-dimensional growth habit. This can be done to a number of plants, but most commonly found in nurseries are camellias, magnolias, and less commonly, apple trees.

        Either option, vine or espalier, will, over time, achieve the goal of masking a vertical surface while taking up very little bed space. When selecting a vine or espalier consider which way your surface faces. For north and east facing fences and walls, a shade tolerant option is best suited. This includes climbing hydrangeas and espaliered camellias. South and west facing surfaces are exposed to much more sun and make a good location for climbing roses, honeysuckle and clematis. Plants such as euonymuses and ivy are versatile and are known to do well in most exposures.

        When installing an espaliered plant or vine, for most gardeners it is best to purchase a plant that has already been started on a trellis and affixing that trellis to the surface of your choosing. Overtime, the trellis will become obscured with growth and the installed plant will continue to grow beyond the limits of the trellis and on to the surface you wish to plant on. When caring for vines, some pruning of stray growth may be necessary. For espaliered plants, you’ll want to periodically prune any growth that is outward, maintaining the flat form of the plant.

        Vines and espaliers are great options for narrow beds, or situations in which height, but not width, is needed. While they can require a little extra maintenance to keep their growth habits to your liking, their versatility and interest are well worth the investment.