Saturday, 22 February 2014

Climbers - creepers and twirlers

 Climbers – creepers and twirlers

Sunshine and Shade

Most Mediterranean gardens have charmingly shaded courtyards, pergolas covered with jasmine, flagged terraces decorated with terracotta pots filled with geraniums, and herb beds where aromatic plants provided scent and colour. They make pretty pictures. I dreamt of creating such a garden, and luckily we had a large enough plot to be able to accomplish much of this over time.  But, from the practical angle we needed shade. Planting trees was an obvious answer but pergolas, covered with vines, was another. Pergolas also offered structures for some interesting climbers and sites below them for shaded garden beds.


Putting up the main pergola

I had planned to section the garden herb beds, a wide, open courtyard for sitting in, an enclosed area for drying clothes, four useful vegetable beds in the kitchen garden. But what gives these areas added interest is that connecting these areas are shaded walkways, a pergola over the path from the main gate to the terrace, which also acts as a corridor linking most of the ‘rooms’ and merging into the pergola that surrounded the house.

Arch for Roses half way down the Shady Walk

The shady walk was coming along when the two conifers, planted to be trained into an arch died one hot summer.
So then we decided to replace them with an arch, covered with roses. The roses are yet to appear!

Some Creepers

I’ve always had difficulty trying to distinguish what the difference kinds of Virginia Creepers are. I hope I have the right names for the two I have in Lemnos.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia (five lobs).

This five lobed plant is very vigorous and will grow a stem as thick as a tree trunk. It does not cling as much as the three lobed Virginia Creeper. It has been a great cover-plant for our pergola (along with wisteria and a passion fruit). So now we can eat lunch in the summer sitting under deep shade, surrounded by the brightly lit garden all around us.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata (three lobs)

This is also called Boston ivy is self clinging and I have planted two plants to climb the house walls. This variety tends to go a deeper autumn red that the five lobed variety of Virginia Creeper.

A Naturally Shady Garden 

I’ve gardened in several gardens in Australia. There was one at a beach site, with sandy soil, hot sunshine and little water. Another is up in the hills behind Melbouren, with clay soil, and lots of trees, shade and rain. So, I’m aware of the difficulties of both sun and shade.

Nowadays, when in Australia we often spend time in the garden in the hills. Here there are forests with huge tree ferns and some of the tallest trees in the world. Here we are not seeking shade, and even in the summer months we have plenty of shade, as the large trees always throw dappled shade over the garden. Under these trees we can grow rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, all plants that love shade and the cooler weather found in these hills. There are pergolas here, but further from the house, and not to provide shade, rather they are there to grow plants I love, like wisteria and roses.


I never get to see our wisterias in flower, either the one over the pergola in Greece, and the one in our Australian garden. This is because I always miss early spring in both countries.

But I can imagine them. This is not my garden, by the way.

The Chinese cultivated the wisterias that decorate our gardens. We actually owe much to Chinese gardeners of the past who cultivated so many of the plants we rely on, a contribution to the world economy that we probably take for granted. They probably domesticated rice, oranges, mandarins, cumquates, kiwifruit, persimmons, lychees, mulberries, peaches, apricots plus all those Chinese green leafy vegetables.

Tree Ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and Australian Mountain Ash

These ferns are a common feature of forests in mountains where mist and drizzle are frequent as they are in our current Melbourne garden. The fronds are very large, divided into hundreds of thousands of small leaflets. As the ferns age they droop and dry, and hang like a brown skirt under the new green fronds above. They grow in the southern parts of Australia and grow in great abundance in the forests around our Australian home. Old plants can get to 20 ft. (7 m) tall. They require a sheltered position and do not like a dry atmosphere so would not do well in Lemnos!

It can get hot for a couple of months each summer up in these hills, though we usually get a few summer showers. But during the dry weather I water our ferns to stop them drying out. You need to water the top of a tree fern as the roots are above ground growing into their tall trunks.

(I’ve been told that they like banana skins so after breakfast when disposing of our banana skins I drop them into the center of each fern.)

Rampant Creepers

Vines are often meant to be vigorous but many are too vigorous. Anestis does not really like me planting creepers on the house as he had just painted it and the suckers of the Virginia Creepers leave marks on the painted surface. However I have seen this plant used in England on old houses, and feel that it can also help to cool the house. So we have struck a deal. Anestis will allow it to grow in two patches, and trims these back twice a year.

Twirlers and Creepers
Bindweed my Lemnian ‘terrorist’ 

This plant is the bane of my life in Lemnos. You always have at least one in each garden. This is the main weed in Lemnos.  It has white flowers and silvery leaves, and every little bit of it roots. So it is no use just pulling it up, or as Anestis does hoe the top off. It just arises again like a multi-headed hydra.  It will survive most winters and loves hot dry soils.

Glory Vine my Australian ‘terrorist’

I have a similar problem in my Melbourne garden with another kind of convolvulus, the Glory Vine, one with larger heart shaped leaves and a larger flower. It too burrows all over the garden, popping up to try to strangle any plant in its path.


This is another vine that tends to take over. I have had Honeysuckles in all my gardens. The Greek name for this plant is Ayioklima - literally the climbing saint. I have planted this in two spots in the garden in Lemnos.  One is on a trellis to screen the laundry and the other is on one help create the shady walk. In both places it would soon take over and though I love the heady scent of this saintly bush I have to do some pretty serious cutting back at least once in the year. In one location I have to free Lantana bushes and in the other keep the plant out of a nearby row of grape vines.

The Honeysuckle
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Plucked a honeysuckle where
The hedge on high is quick with thorn,
And climbing for the prize, was torn,
And fouled my feet in quag-water;
And by the thorns and by the wind
The blossom that I took was thinn’d
And yet I found it sweet and fair.

Then to a richer growth I came,
Where, nursed in mellow intercourse,
The honeysuckles sprang by scores,
Not harried like my single stem,
All virgin lamps of scent and dew.
So from my hand that first I threw,
Yet plucked not any more of them.

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