Vertical gardening with small vines

When gardeners are faced with tight spots, they can grow vertically, with vines. A garden designer recommends several good small vines.

Courtesy of Genevieve Schmidt
In warm climates, Chilean bellflower, Lapageria rosea, produces large coral-red blooms over a long period of time.
Courtesy of Genevieve Schmidt
Chilean bellflower, Lapageria rosea, is a vine that grows to about 10 feet high, but can easily be kept smaller.
Courtesy of Genevieve Schmidt
Tasmanian blueberry vine (Billardiera longiflora), also known as appleberry, has chartreuse, bell-shaped flowers followed by edible purple fruit.

While recent books such as "Garden Up!" have highlighted the trend toward vertical gardening, finding plants that suit tight spaces can be a challenge. Most garden plants grow as wide as they do tall, and need pruning and training to grow up rather than out.

Small vines can be an excellent solution to this problem, as they can easily climb a trellis or structure without outgrowing their space.

Top picks for petite vines

Tasmanian blueberry vine, Billardiera longiflora, [see photo at left] is a tough, hardy vine that grows no more than 10 feet tall. It has chartreuse bell-shaped flowers that mature to deep-purple berries shaped like squat bell peppers.

In its native Tasmania, it's referred to as appleberry, because the edible fruit has a spicy kick with a mild apple flavor.

With once-a-year pruning, you can keep Tasmanian blueberry vine to 4 feet tall, making it a perfect choice for small patios or containers. It is as happy in sun as it is in shade.(Zone 7b and warmer)

Chilean bellflower, Lapageria rosea, [see two photos above] blooms almost nonstop with gorgeous, tropical-looking hanging bell-shaped flowers that average a whopping four inches in length! The vivid coral-red color shines in the landscape, and its deep green, leathery leaves make a nice backdrop to the blossoms.

It prefers light shade and regular watering, and can grow to 10 feet or be kept smaller on a structure or overhang.

In my experience, this is a lanky, thin grower, which is great in certain situations, like if you'd like to train it up a rain gutter or grow it intertwined with another plant. Avoid giving Chilean bellflower phosphorus-containing fertilizers, and stick with a yearly application of compost or mulch instead. (Zone 8 or 9)

White evergreen clematis, Clematis x cartmanii, comes in two common sizes: tiny and medium.(Zone 8 and warmer)

  • Joe evergreen clematis, C. x cartmanii 'Joe' is the smaller of the two, with glossy green leaves and a knock-your-socks-off February bloom in my part of the country. It reaches only 4 feet feet tall, making it a great candidate for containers or to trail up a petite obelisk or pillar trellis.
  • Avalanche evergreen clematis, C. x cartmanii 'Blaaval' is a more vigorous grower with the same white blooms with yellow centers. With good sunshine and regular watering, it can reach 12 to 15 feet tall, though I've successfully kept it pruned much smaller.

These three vines are lovely enough for viewing up-close on a patio or by your front door, and have enough year-round interest to hold their own in any garden setting.

More about vertical gardening

Learn more about vertical gardening in this Diggin' It article about living walls and this review of the book Garden Up! by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet.


Genevieve Schmidt is a landscape designer and garden writer in the redwoods of northern California. She shares her professional tips for gardening in the Pacific Northwest at North Coast Gardening and on Twitter. To read more by Genevieve here at Diggin' It, click here.

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