Vertical Gardening


Winter is a time to dream and scheme on the topic of what to do in the garden before Mother Nature turns the page and gives us spring. My thoughts today are on what perennials might be added to contribute to height, not including trees which is another topic altogether. What thrives in Calgary gardens and is tall?

Clematis grow really well here, being tolerant of our shocking weather that often gives heat and frost in the same week. They need good sturdy support, like a trellis up against the warm wall of a house, garage or fence. Obelisks also work. Some varieties prefer full sun, while others tolerate part shade, but they all need at least a few hours of sunshine. The 4 types are A, B(1), B(2), C.

Type A flowers on last year’s growth, blooming early in May-June. Any pruning should be done immediately after blooming finishes. All the “Alpinas” are in this group; coming in red, pink, blue and purple. Type B(1) flowers on last year’s wood, blooming in May-June and sometimes again in September. Type B(2) flowers simultaneously on last year’s and this year’s growth, from June right through to Sept. There are not many B varieties listed for Zone 3, so hardiness may be an issue. When shopping, check the supplier’s tag carefully. Type C bloom only on new growth and can be pruned back to the ground or nearly. These thrive in our Zone 3 climate and include the fabulous deep purple “Jackmanii”, blue Ingetrifolia Blue Boy, pink Hagley and Arabella, and yellow Tangutica (Beware of this one, it is so aggressive, some consider it invasive. But if you have a long fence line you want covered, this is your gal.) Prairie Traveler’s Joy gives masses of small delicate fragrant white blooms and is Zone 1 hardy.

We often see a fireplace or even entire wall covered with Virginia Creeper, a vigorous climber that is green all summer changing to dramatic red in the fall. You will need a tall ladder and pruners if you want to keep an upper hand. Hops likewise grow aggressively up to 15 feet or more and are best planted in a large area where they can either grow up supports in a hedge-like fashion or trail off retaining walls. There are many varieties of Honeysuckle, and the right one for your garden will attract hummingbirds and butterflies all summer long. These vines are very attractive growing over arbours but must be tied to the supports to encourage the desired shape. Nightshade is one of the very few vines that is happy to be planted in full shade, as long as it can reach the sun as it grows. I planted one of these in the shadiest corner of my back yard, and it quickly found its way through the fence to the sunny alley side. It has insignificant flowers, dark leaves and pretty bright red berries, poisonous to humans, so beware. Grapevines are becoming more popular in our chinook belt as new hardy varieties are developed. They can be very appealing espaliered on a stucco garage wall in full sun. Furthermore, you get grapes.

Delphinium and Monkshood are long-lived perennials that grow up to 6-7 feet in height, sending up dramatic blue, purple, pink or white racemes of multiple flowers. The very tall ones must be staked, or our winds and thunderstorms will wreak havoc. I have found Monkshood to be more resistant to those nasty green worms that like to chomp the succulent young Delphinium tips, needing to be either poisoned or picked off (not my favourite early summer task).

Rudbeckia laciniata Herbstosonne and Goldquelle are the giants of this species, sending their brilliant gold blooms as high as 6 feet. Give them space in full sun to have impact, and stake against the wind. They frequently bloom late into Indian Summer when other perennials have long since finished.