Fragrance, hardiness are among charms of evergreen climbers

Q: I am interested in evergreen climbers, for both sun and shade. Would you suggest some?

A: When dealing with a question about evergreen climbers, after a mention of evergreen clematis, one is often stumped. (Let's not even talk about ivy; do we need to mention anything other than, "Could that rustle in the leaves be a rat?")

Well, hang on, the evergreen climbers are lining up for your consideration.

First let's get evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii) out of the way.

It can be a rangy beast, but nothing else is close to the fragrance of its white flowers in March. You can grow it only if you promise to prune it vigorously in spring to keep out the dead thatch of tangled vines.

I am fortunate to have neighbors who grow it so I don't have to manage it myself. The last time I saw mine, it was headed across the street on a telephone wire. Another evergreen clematis, 'Avalanche' (Clematis x cartmanii 'Blaaval') has recently appeared in nurseries.

This one has a very finely divided leaf, giving it a distinctive texture. Although the cascade of white flowers does not have the fragrance of Clematis armandii, it is worth a try.

How about an evergreen climbing hydrangea? Seemanii hydrangea (Hydrangea seemanii) has glossy, rounded green leaves. Grow it up a Douglas fir or a wall, and it will produce flattened white flowers in midsummer. It will reach 15 feet, likes part shade and is hardy to 0 to 10 degrees F.

A hydrangea relative with evergreen leaves, Pileostegia viburnoides, is suitable for a shady north wall. The flowers, appearing in September and October, are in white clusters.

Henry's honeysuckle (Lonicera henryi) is one of the few evergreen members of this well-known species. The flowers are purplish-red and appear in June, followed by black fruit. Grow in sun to part shade. It will reach to 10 to 20 feet. I planted it on a client's garden, and it happily scrambled up and over an arbor. Holboellia fargesii has small, palmately compound leaves made up of narrow dark-green leaflets.

Because it looks so delicate, I have not released mine into the wilds of my garden yet. Now that it has gained strength after putting it into a larger pot and nursing it along, I will look for an unclaimed bit of trellis.

It bloomed in March with small, pale lavender flowers. The plant will do well in sun or shade.

Place Stauntonia hexaphylla on a warm south or west wall and be rewarded with fragrant white flowers tinged violet in late spring. Dark green, leathery leaves are carried on woody stems that will reach 30 to 40 feet. Cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) is an evergreen or semi-evergreen trumpet vine relative that will take sun or part shade, although it flowers best in full sun. The flowers are reddish-brown to orange, borne on vines that reach 60 feet and can cling to most surfaces. The leaves turn purple in winter. The cultivar 'Tangerine Beauty' has orange flowers with yellow throats.

Winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei radicans) can be a sprawling shrub or be encouraged to climb a wall reaching to 10 to 20 feet. Not self-clinging, you will need to tie branches to a nail or two on a fence or wall. The dark green leaves are 1 inch long, and the flowers are inconspicuous. Variegated forms are also available. Give it sun or shade.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is an evergreen vine that I have not grown. Self-clinging, it can reach to 20 feet. With fragrant tubular yellow flowers appearing in late winter to early spring, it sounds promising. Except that, related to strychnine and curare, it is highly poisonous.

That is quite an assemblage of plants. Evergreen climbers can be very useful for bringing texture to a blank wall or fence. Use them on open trellis that will allow some light and air while still creating a privacy screen.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Call 206-464-8533 or e-mail with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.