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My Favorite Perennial Flowering Vines

By Larry Rettig (LarryRSeptember 1, 2011

Growing vines in the garden is an excellent way to take advantage of vertical space and increase appeal at the same time.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 30, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)  


This is especially true in those areas of the garden or landscape that could use some perking up, but where there is little space on the ground to do so.  Patio areas or narrow spaces along exterior walls of buildings can take on new appeal with the addition of vines.

Vines are suited to nearly any garden style.  They require supports such as fences, trellises, arbors, and pergolas. You can even grow them in containers wherever space is at a premium, but you must provide them with support.  They will add height and definition to any area where you choose to locate the pots.


Perennial vines are often classified by how they cling to a support:  twining stems or petioles, tendrils, and aerial roots with adhesive disks.  The latter two can sometimes damage the surface to which they adhere, so it's always a good idea to talk to your friendly nursery staff, master gardener, or extension agent before you purchase one of these vines.

Image Image
  Twining Petioles     Twining Stem         Tendril    Adhesive Disks

There is yet another category of vines, but they don't fit the classifications above, since they don't twine and don't have special structures that allow them to cling.  Among these are several of my favorites:  Clove Currant Vine, Poppy Mallow Vine, and Vining Asparagus Fern.

Clove Currant Vine

Clove Currant Vine (Ribes odorata) is more well-known in Europe than it is in the U.S.  It really deserves a place in American gardens as well.  The beauty and clove fragrance of the spring blossoms alone are reason to grow this vine, but it also bears black currants that add interest when the flowers are gone.  In late summer you can harvest the currants for great-tasting pie or jam.  You can espalier this vine or simply let it scamper over a trellis at will.  Since it has no structures of its own to bind it to its support, a little help from the gardener may be in order now and then.  Clove Currant Vine can reach heights of 10-12 feet and is hardy from Zone 4a through Zone 8b.

Poppy Mallow Vine

Poppy Mallow Vine (Callirhoe involucrata) is a native vine here in the Midwest and ranges all the way from Texas to North Dakota.  This is one vine that doesn't necessarily need artificial support.  I let it scamper through perennials and up into shrubs.  It never overpowers them and provides lovely purple-colored poppy flowers when other perennials have spent their blooms.  Hardy in Zones 3a through 9b, the basal part of the plant sends out several vines in random directions, with each vine up to six or seven feet in length.

Vining Asparagus Fern

An Asparagus Fern that's truly hardy in the Midwest?  Absolutely!  Asparagus verticillatus is a beautiful, delicate, airy vine that looks stunning as it weaves its way up and over an arbor.  Because of its airiness, it's a challenge to capture its beauty in a photograph, as is certainly the case with the photo in the column to the right above.  Its hardiness has been underrated in the past and is now thought to extend all the way from Zone 3 to 8a.  Small, fragrant white flowers grace the vine in late spring, followed by bright red berries in late summer.  It can reach heights up to 15 feet.

                    Other Favorites


Gardeners may argue over the pronunciation of the name for this vine, but there is no argument about the fact that it is one of the most beautiful and popular vines in American gardens.  There are over 200 known species, with more cultivars being produced every year.  The photo at the top of this article is of the cultivar 'Sprinkles' (registered in 2001) climbing up a picket fence and into a small apple tree in our gardens.

While clematis cultivars come in many beautiful colors, with both single and double flowers, two of my favorite varieties are Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis ternifolia) and Clematis 'Summer Snow' (aka 'Paul Farges').  They are both small-flowered and white.  What they lack in flower size is more than made up by their other distinguishing characteristics.

Sweet Autumn Clematis, as its name implies, blooms in late summer or early fall and has sweet, vanilla-scented blossoms.  Its huge masses of flowers often hide the leaves almost entirely.  One plant climbing into a tree (see Blue Spruce at right above) can send up vines as high as 30 feet.  While impressive during the day, it's spectacular at dusk, when blossoms literally glow against the darker needles of the spruce.

Summer Snow shares some of Sweet Autumn's characteristics.  Its blossoms are also white, though considerably larger, and it can climb just as high.  What distinguishes this clematis from others--and what first attracted me to it--is the fact that it blooms continually from early summer until early fall.

Clematis is generally hardy in Zones 4a to 9b, but some varieties are only hardy in states south of our Iowa gardens.

Perennial Sweet Pea

Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius) can climb up to 12 feet in height using its tendrils to grasp any support within reach.  Flowers are white, pink and mauve.  Unlike annual sweet peas, it is not fragrant. Hardy from Zone 3 through Zone 9b, it will tolerate dry conditions once established.  I particularly value the white form which, like Sweet Autumn Clematis, glows at dusk.  In our gardens it grows on a dark brown picket fence which offers a nice contrast to the white flowers.  It blooms from late spring until frost, a welcome characteristic in any perennial. 

If it likes its growing conditions, Perennial Sweet Pea may become a bit of a thug.  It's wise to keep a close eye on it if it starts scrambling up into a shrub, as it may completely overwhelm the shrub to the point of killing it.  It also reportedly self sows to the point of weediness, although that has never been a problem in our gardens.

English Ivy 

Speaking of thuggishness, English Ivy can certainly run rampant if given the right conditions.  Luckily, in our Zone 5b garden there is enough winterkill to render it rather docile.  It has been relegated to a ground cover, as any of its vines that venture up a wall, a tree, or a trellis are killed by our cold winters.  It climbs via aerial roots with sticky disks that can damage exterior walls.  And it doesn't flower in our zone.

So why do I count it among my favorites?  Sometimes a rather ordinary and somewhat bothersome plant can have deep sentimental value to the gardener who plants it.  You see, I started this ivy from a sprig in my wife's wedding bouquet 47 years ago.

English Ivy is hardy from Zone 5a through Zone 9b. 

End Notes

Vines also look good in more naturalized settings, as opposed to the structured setting of an arbor, a trellis, a wall or a pergola.  The Virginia Creeper (left) in the photo below looks right at home climbing up a tree trunk in our Vase Garden:


Sometimes vines can be part of a striking garden vignette even when they're not blooming.  The vines in the background of the photo below are no longer in flower, but become a perfect foil for the exuberant Variegated Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegated').  Included among the vines are Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Vine, Arctic Beauty Vine, Sweet Autumn Clematis, and Clematis Summer Snow.

Clove Currant Vine

Poppy Mallow Vine

Vining Asparagus Fern

           Dense flowering habit of
           Sweet Autumn Clematis

Sweet Autumn Clematis climbing
 up into one of our Blue Spruces

Clematis 'Summer Snow'

Perennial Sweet Pea
Wedding bouquet ivy
Ivy winterkill
Arctic Beauty Vine
 Trumpet Vine

Once Old Man Winter comes calling, the show is over...or is it?  Even in winter a trellis with the now-defunct vines of Sweet Autumn Clematis (background below) continues to lend definition and height to a snowy patio.


Other Garden-worthy Perennial Vines for Temperate Zone Gardeners

(Click name for more information)

Questions? Comments?  Please scroll down to the form below.  I enjoy hearing from my readers!

Arctic Beauty Vine photo is courtesy of DG member equilibrium.
Trumpet Vine photo is courtesy of DG member frostweed.

Sources for the plants in this article include your local nursery/garden center or "big box" store.  You can also find online sources by entering a plant name into the DG PlantScout search engine.

Click here for a text-only version of this article.

© Larry Rettig 2009

  About Larry Rettig  
Larry RettigAn enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.

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