My chain link fence is ugly! I need some vines

>> Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Our backyard is completely fenced in. On two sides is chain link fence. Let me emphatically state right up front that I hate chain link fence. It was here when we moved in and I cannot afford to replace it. In order to help me live with this unnatural abomination, and maintain my usual sunny, positive disposition, I have decided to accept the only positive aspect of it and that is that it provides a wonderful opportunity for climbing vines with which to cover it up.

Most of the eighty feet along the back has these hideous vinyl slats stuck vertically to form a lame attempt at relief from having to look into that neighbors weed-filled yard. Weeds that, as you might imagine, mount a never-ending assault on my yard. I can feel some of you shudder at the very thought. These ‘privacy-slats’ are what I would charitably call ‘earth-tone’ tan. The section of fence that does not have these slats is covered at one end by a 9’ x 12’ shed (mercifully the longest side is against the fence) and at the other end by what used to be a 10’ x 10’ dog pen complete with a concrete pad. Why anyone would subject their dog to a concrete pad is beyond me, but, there it is. I currently use the ex-dog pen area for a compost pile and to store rocks I dig up out of the garden plots and tree trimmings I might find useful in building trellises, etc.

Part of this back fence is also blocked from view by a Plum tree that may or may not be replaced by some other ‘huge’ shrub to cover up as much fence as possible. It’s a wild plum tree native to Utah and produces wonderfully sweet fruit. We and the birds love these plums but the tree is getting old and is dying.

With these sections of fence already covered up, the total remaining section amounts to roughly fifty feet of empty space that needs to be ‘decorated’. In front of this fifty feet is a raised bed that reaches out two feet. Two feet is not much space to grow anything that has anything width to it, so I have planted bulbs, hollyhocks perennial alyssum and violas. With the exception of the hollyhocks, very little fence is being covered. Vines to the rescue.

Vines always bring to mind voracious, space-grabbing plants that seem to outrun the most dedicated attempts at pruning. I am not one to invite that kind of workload into my garden. And some vines make you wonder how the poor fence they are growing on is able to withstand the weight.

The vines I want will have to do more than satisfy my sense of aesthetics, they will also need to provide something for beneficial insects and the many birds that I have been able to attract to my yard without turning my garden into a jungle able to support lions, tigers and bears, oh my. Of course coaxing a jungle out of my backyard would require talents that I am pretty sure I don’t possess, so not too much to worry about there.

Another limiting factor for choosing vines are those that will survive our zone 5 winters.

With these goals in mind, my research has happily uncovered some beautiful possibilities.

Foliage type vines
Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, the vine you see growing up the sides of buildings, has maple shaped deep green leaves and also provides blue-black berries favored by birds. Very attractive, its growth rate is slow and its tendrils will creep along the fence without my help. I personally would never allow this vine to attach to my house or shed because its tendrils drill through brick mortar and will eventually cause the bricks to crumble. Aluminum siding would be ripped from its supports.

Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine, Ipomoea batatas, eye-poe-MEE-ah bah-TAH-tass. This plant is a perennial in the warmest USDA zones and needs to be considered an annual in my neck of the woods. Its light-green foliage is a beautiful contrast to almost any other plant. It is considered to be low-maintenance but doesn’t provide any berries for birds and I don’t know if it attracts beneficial insects. The cost of replacing it every year could be a major drawback.

Flowering Vines
Clematis vine. This has always been one of my favorite flowers. I have had limited success growing clematis in the past, they have all succumbed to our summer heat, except for one, Jackmanii. It is written that this is the easiest clematis to grow and since it is the only one to survive my attempts, I tend to agree. Ours is beginning its third year of life in our garden so I emboldened to try again. I haven’t noticed any birds or beneficial insects hanging around them but they are just to beautiful not to have them.

Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera Sempervirens, is an evergreen offering a showy bloom that provides nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. Bright red berries appear in the fall after bloom ceases. It’s dense evergreen habitat, often reaching lengths of 20 feet per tendril, also provides cover throughout the seasons.

Two pictures come to mind when I think of honeysuckle, actually three. 1) they are invasive; 2) older honeysuckle have unsightly bare trunks; 3) you can pluck a flower, grasp the lower end and pull the stamen out and be rewarded with a dollop of honey on the end, very sweet. Let’s address the invasiveness character. Japanese honeysuckle is the offending vine. There are many other species of honeysuckles that are non invasive, such as Gold flame and Brown’s. Each of these is suited for zones 3-9.

Black-eyed Susan vine, Thunbergia alata, This vine grows quickly and easily, as most annual do, duh, it can easily reach 10 to 12 feet. The flowers on this thing are amazing. Petite but colorful with dark brown ‘eyes’, just like their namesake, but no relation to rudbeckia. They need additional support on walls but they might be okay alone on a chain link fence. The one drawback I see here in Utah is that they don’t like very hot, dry conditions. I think I’m going to try them anyway just so I know for sure. There are two varieties Sunny Orange Wonder and Sunny Lemon Star I will probably try.

Winter jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum, is more of a viny shrub which reach four feet in height and about seven feet wide. This should cover my fence pretty well, except I fear it being too wide as to cover the pathway near the fence. The blooms appear in late winter/early spring prior to leaves but are not fragrant. The big drawback is that the stems put out roots wherever they touch the soil, but if trained as vines this should not be a problem.

Edible Vines
Melons and squash. I’m going to place a couple trellises against the fence in a lean-to fashion and train squash and melons to grow up. The fruit can hang down in their own little hammocks made of nylon stockings, or silk scarves or any old rags. I probably wont use silk, but it is a pleasing image.

Grapes. My wife wants a grape arbor in our yard. So, with this simple request we are going to embark on a new quest. My grandmother had one in her backyard, my wife’s mother has one in her backyard. Neither of us helped much in maintaining these vines, but we both have enjoyed their fruit. Granted this isn’t something you would normally find on a chain link fence but I’m thinking one end of the arbor might go up against the fence to help hide part of it.

I am planning a separate post series to follow the progress of this quest so stay tuned. All I can say right now is: it is going to be interesting to see how this turns out.

Beans and Peas. I figure why not use the fence as a trellis.

Espalier fruit trees. This is something I have always found interesting. Training a fruit tree to grow into a form it is not meant to do sounds like something I want to try. The minimal space requirements coupled with the productivity is well worth the effort. There are three techniques of espaliering (is-`pal-yer-ing) so determining which is the easiest for a beginner is the first step.

What ever vines we decide on using, I hope the added dimension of height will greatly add to the overall look of the garden.

Oh, and about the other two sides of my yard, one side has eighty feet of chain link with an unobstructed view of my other neighbors ugly junk pile. How charming. The third side is a wooden fence with three fruit trees, raspberries and the 9’ side of that shed I mentioned earlier to break up its monotony. Perhaps I can hang some planters or bird houses on it to ‘spruce’ it up. Maybe later.


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