Plant vines for that luxurious tropical look
By Norman Bezona
University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
Fences can create psychological barriers. In today’s culture, they define who owns what, but they don’t have to be harsh.
The old adage, “Good fences make good neighbors” isn’t necessarily true. In many cultures, the concept of shared space and inclusiveness is also a way to have good neighbors. On the other hand, it is helpful to have a screen between homes so there is some sense of privacy. In the old days we used rock walls or plant screens. Today, we have so many choices besides good old Hawaiian stone walls that an unattractive fence or aggressive hedge planting might create all kinds of neighbor problems.
Take the case of the two fellows who got into a feud because the chain link fence one put up made the other feel like he was in the county jail. Or the neighbor that decided a bamboo hedge would be ideal. One thing he forgot was that it is important to plant a clumping type that does not run all over the place. He planted a Phyllostachys species. These are great for controlling erosion on steep mountainsides, but planted in a small garden, without consideration for containing the aggressive underground rhizomes, they will soon take over.
Let’s focus on what we can do to cover an unsightly fence material to give privacy without a sense of exclusiveness. When you think about it, chain link, concrete block and many other fence and wall materials do look kind of harsh and unsightly. This kind of approach is used in places like Mexico where there is a great division between the “haves and the have nots.” Here in Hawaii, we try to avoid that kind of thing. We generally prefer a luxurious tropical feeling that is relaxed and, informal, so here’s where vines make ideal landscape additions to create a more pleasant ambiance.
If you have a concrete or chain link fence, these make ideal supports for the many types we have available like the red passion flower, jade vine, kuhio vine, potato vine, creeping fig and many others.
Vines serve many purposes for the gardener. There are ones that produce fruit like the many species of passion fruit vine. Then there is a vine that specializes in dishcloth production; it’s called the luffa.
Bird lovers like vines because they attract birds and are good nesting locations. Other lovers like the privacy vines give them when sitting on the lanai.
Many youngsters and young at heart like vines because they harbor geckos and chameleons. Last but not least, vines are fine because of their attractiveness both in foliage and in flowers.
Vines lend contrast and character to landscape plantings. They accentuate architectural lines, especially the closely clinging species like Ficus repens.
Many of the creepers are adept at introducing color, form and texture onto otherwise uninteresting objects, fences, shrubs or trees.
Many gardeners say that vines are the best plants yet, to give their homes an air of tropical living by using them to cover passageways or to form patio walls. Ornamental vines, as a group, are well adapted to a wide range of soils. Most of them thrive in sand, clay or rock land, provided plant food and moisture are adequate.
Soil preparation is most important in a vine planting project. Time spent improving the soil will produce vigorous plants and possibly have trouble-free care later.
To get a project under way, spread about 4 inches of compost, peat, leaf mold, or well decomposed manure over the area where the vines will be planted. As a topping, sprinkle the area with a balanced slow release fertilizer, and then mix the organic material and soil with a spade. The soil at the base of masonry construction often contains trouble-making lime and other debris, so remove the contaminated soil to a depth of 18 inches. Replace it with a good soil.
Planting season for vines is any time the notion strikes you, provided the vines are small, thrifty, container-grown plants. In planting, dig a hole which is larger than the ball of the earth about the roots. If the plant is in a container, carefully remove the plant without disturbing the roots and settle it in the hole at the same depth it was in the container. Partially fill in around the plant with soil. Water thoroughly. Finish filling the hole and water again.
When two or more vines growing side by side become hopelessly entwined, the effect can be indeed be attractive. Vines can complement one another in several different ways: An evergreen vine hides the bareness of a deciduous vine. Vines blooming at different seasons extend the flowering season. Vines blooming at the same time can display handsome color contrasts or blends.
There are dozens of tropical vines available here on the Big Island. The Bengal clock vine, with its sky blue flowers, the garlic vine, the many species of passion flower, confederate jasmine and philodendrons are just a few. Green jade and red jade vines are rare and spectacular. Vines that bear fruit are a good addition as well. Chayote or pipinola, edible beans, vining tomatoes and kiwi are just a few you might try. A last thing to consider is that some vine species can grow rampant. Don’t plant one that will grow too big or too fast for your location. Check with our local nurseries and get acquainted with what’s available. Sunset’s Western Garden book is a good source of information as well.
This information is supplied by the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
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