Summer vines

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Passiflora Amethyst

For some years in early January - probably because I was liberated from looking after children for a few days - I made a concerted effort to visit nurseries and gardens to see what flowers were in bloom in midsummer. I was at the point of moving from a spring-oriented garden to one that had a longer season of bloom: from summer through to autumn. Through my research, I was gradually able to introduce a number of summer-blooming specimens into my garden - see my new website feature on the homepage that lists 'What's out' in January, which I hope to continue through the year.

One of the delights of the summer garden is the number of interesting climbing plants that are in bloom. As my garden has become more semitropical in nature, the vines I grow are generally from such warm places in the world as South America, South Africa and Mexico. They often have a flamboyant form, heady perfume or brilliant colouration of their petals. They offer options for decoratively clothing a pergola, a pillar, a fence or a wall, or failing that, simply being allowed to ramble through other plants, as some of my lighter-weight ones do.

Pandorea jasminoides Lady Di

The Australian native Pandorea jasminoides(ht 4.5 m) is an excellent twining climber for a pergola or trellis, and blooms over a long period, from late spring until autumn. It belongs to the Bignoniaceae family of plants, which contains a couple of desirable vines for our Sydney climate, including Clytostoma callistegioides, as well as a few monsters that ideally should probably never be deliberately planted, such as Tecomaria capensis, Podranea ricasoliana and Campsis species, as they can truly go berserk! My Pandorea has never become too rampageous. Its glossy green leaves and bold trumpet flowers are right at home hovering above my borders of Salvia, Dahlia and Canna. It is sometimes known colloquially as the bower vine. The basic species has pale pink flowers with a deep purplish throat; I also grow the white cultivar 'Lady Di'.

A slightly similar-looking climber - Mandevilla sanderi (syn. Dipladenia sanderi) - which comes from South America and is sometimes known as Brazilian jasmine, actually belongs to a different plant family (Apocynaceae). It has pretty, funnel-shaped flowers in colours of pink, white or red from late spring till autumn. I have never grown this plant but I have admired it in several gardens - it seems to do best growing in a large pot, kept well watered in summer. It is said to grow to 4.5 m in height but I have never seen one of that dimension: in our climate, where they are at the lower end of their comfort zone, they are quite compact and can even be grown as a sort of pendulous shrub.

Lophospermum erubescens

Another warmth-loving creeper is Lophospermum erubescens (ht 3 m), sometimes known as the climbing gloxinia, which hails from Mexico. Its pink flowers are rather like foxgloves, held amidst downy, heart-shaped leaves. It may become deciduous in suburbs with cold winters. It is related to Maurandya barclayana, which has dainty pink, purple or white tubular blooms. I have just planted a Maurandya in a garden bed with the aim of allowing it to ramble through other plants.

Manettia luteorubra

I have used this same approach with another lightweight twiner, the Brazilian firecracker (Manettia luteorubra, ht 2-4 m). It has small but electrifyingly coloured tubular flowers, which are brilliant red with yellow tips. It winds through my hot-coloured border, creating vivid highlights amongst the other flowers.

Gloriosa superba

In the same border, the glory lily (Gloriosa superba, ht 1.5-2.5 m) from tropical Africa and India rambles in a similar way, and has just started opening its amazingly exotic blooms, which resemble some sort of unearthly insect. Gloriosa grows from a tuber (which is toxic if ingested and can cause skin irritations) and clambers by using tendrils at the end of its leaves. It dies down during the cooler months.

Other warm-climate vines in bloom at the moment include the beautiful ornamental passionflower Passiflora 'Amethyst' (pictured at the start of this blog), with its stunning blue and purple flowers; the waxy, pristine white, fragrant trumpets of Stephanotis floribunda (ht 3 m); and the sculptural posies of Hoya carnosa, suitable for twining along shaded fences. There are also huge clouds of Bougainvillea - but they need plenty of space!