Q. I would like a vine that will adhere to walls, stand sun and stay green all year. Ideas?
-Fred Merrill, Beverly Glen
A.There are vines that meet your requirements except that they are deciduous and do not stay green all year. The best candidate is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris). This remarkable vine clings to walls with aerial roots and becomes heavy with flowers, in the manner of shrub hydrangeas, during the summer. It produces 5-inch diameter, bright white lace cap inflorescences and delicately toothed, heart-shaped foliage. Although leaves do drop off in the fall, beautiful cinnamon-colored, exfoliating bark is revealed in their place.
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is a deciduous vine, suitable for sun or shade, that is a relative of the grape. It is known for its inedible berries that change from lilac to turquoise to purple to porcelain blue. At times, berries of each color are found simultaneously in single clusters on the vine.
Especially noteworthy is the ‘Elegans’ porcelain berry variety. It has white-and-pink variegated leaves that have the shape of a dramatic, more deeply lobed version of those found on a fig or mulberry tree.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus triscuspidata), like the porcelain berry, are not as popular as they might otherwise be in Southern California due to their deciduous growth habit. The famous ivy-covered walls of Eastern colleges are clambered upon by Boston ivy, whose leaves are similar in shape to the familiar ground cover ivy (Hedera helix) that is planted everywhere.
Virginia creeper has leaves that are divided into five 6-inch leaflets and it produces a more relaxed and casual look than Boston ivy. Both grow well in the Valley and display a kaleidoscope of fiery reds and oranges each autumn. Both may be seen scaling local buildings and freeway overpasses as well. Both vines are cold hardy.
Kangaroo treebine (Cissus antarctica) is a sun-loving evergreen vine that, while it does not adhere to smooth surfaces, possesses tendrils that wrap around trellises and chain-link fences with the greatest of ease. It has serrated diamond-shaped foliage and is cold hardy into the Santa Clarita Valley. When grown as ground cover, kangaroo treebine is drought tolerant as well.
Keep in mind that a sun-loving and evergreen plant that sends out long and wandering shoots, such as bougainvillea or star jasmine, will cover a wall without actually adhering to it as long as it is properly trained. Whenever new, perpendicular growth emerges out and away from the wall, cut it back so that all new growth is directed into vertically growing shoots.
At Descanso Gardens, I spotted a sun-loving vine not typically seen in our area. It’s known as common hop (Humulus lupulus) and its papery conelike female flowers are used in brewing beer. At Descanso, it is draped over an enormous pergola. Common hop is a tough plant that grows from rhizomes, can handle both sun and some shade, grows in most soil types and is suitable for Valley gardens.
Q: I have been gardening since I was a little boy helping my grandfather in his garden in Montana. He always had a hotbed (soil consisting of decomposing organic matter, heated by microbial activity) to start his pepper and tomato seeds.
I want to take advantage of a hotbed to germinate seeds from the many varieties of peppers and tomatoes that come in all colors and shapes. I have the plans to build a hotbed, and would like to know when would be the proper time to start the seeds. And with an average winter, when would be the earliest time to transplant from the hotbed to the garden?
-Gary Taylor, Sylmar
A: A hotbed is a coldframe, or mini-greenhouse, whose decomposing soil provides an extra measure of heat. Coldframes allow growers to get an early start on spring planting by nurturing seedlings during the winter under glass or plastic.
You can create a makeshift coldframe by stretching clear plastic over a wood frame, elevating and resting the frame on cinder blocks on all four sides and placing seeds in pots or trays, or in the ground, underneath. The plastic will lock the day’s heat in place at night.
A hotbed utilizes decaying organic matter or a compost pile, as opposed to conventional soil, as a germinating medium to produce heat in excess of that produced by a coldframe alone.
You can plant in a hotbed virtually any time because of our mild winters. Occasionally, we have a few freezing nights but I think your hotbed would provide enough heat to germinate seeds and keep seedlings alive in any weather. In the Valley, you can plant seedlings out in the garden at virtually any time of the year as long as you take precautions in the event of a frosty night.
Toward evening, cover your garden transplants, which should have at least three sets of true leaves, with Styrofoam cups, milk cartons or plastic nursery containers. This will help them survive a mild freeze. Make sure coverings are removed the next morning. I have transplanted tomato seedlings from coldframe to garden on Jan. 1 and, keeping them covered at night, saw them mature into robust plants by early spring.
Sages in bloom
Several flowering ornamental sages (Salvia species) I have been watching for the past year reached the peak of their bloom this month. You will notice those purple Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) are blooming heavily now. October is also a climactic month for ‘Iceberg’ roses, flowering in waves of either white or frosty pink, which happen to be fitting companions to the wooly purple flower wands of Mexican sage.
I have lately been marveling at an autumn sage cultivar (Salvia greggi ‘Big Red’) with cherry red flowers, black stems and highly pungent, minty foliage. Growing up through it is a lantana whose flowers are coincidentally as red as those of the salvia with a few yellow florets added for good measure.
It seems that sages and lantanas share similar cultural requirements, as I also noticed a Mexican sage and a lemon yellow lantana growing together in perfect harmony in a Descanso Gardens parking lot planter.
Tip of the week
Although rockroses (Cistus species) are familiar to gardeners for their clean, crepe-textured flowers that bloom in the spring in white, pink, purple, salmon and yellow, there is less familiarity with the related sunroses (Helianthemum nummularium), that bloom in summer and fall in an even wider selection of colors. I recently encountered a sunrose up close and was instantly seduced by its charm. Sunroses are evergreen perennials that really just want to be left alone but, probably because of their delicate look, are fawned over until they die an early death. In truth, they need a bit more water than rockroses but adjust well when water is withheld. They form mats of solid color whose flowers, although in bloom for a single day, keep developing over several months. Shearing back spent flowers will encourage more to develop.