Ten Rare Vines for the Temperate Coast

The author is a partner in Western Hills Nursery, adjoining which is a remarkable display garden with many unusual plants.

When W. Arnold-Foster called his classic work on plants marginally hardy in England Shrubs for the Milder Counties it was immediately clear to his readers that he was writing of Cornwall, Devon, and the southwestern counties of England in general. The milder counties of England are roughly equivalent to our temperate coast, namely the area of ocean influence extending from San Francisco Bay (or possibly Santa Cruz) north to the milder parts of Portland and the Puget Sound area. As a rough indicator, where Clematis armandii is hardy, the five more tender vines on our list will probably grow. The other five are perfectly hardy in any but the coldest areas.

Driving up the Oregon coast many years ago, Lester Hawkins and I saw a sign in a remote place a few miles north of Langlois. “Plant Something Different!” it urged. We drove in and found the late Donald Stryker in his nursery and garden. Huge Loderi rhododendrons and Embothrium coccineum grew in front of the beautiful golden-leaved English oak, Quercus robur ‘Concordia’. Desfontainea spinosa, Crinodendron hookerianum, and Eucryphia x nymansensis were scattered on the lawn. The rare Philesia magellanica made a suckering mass beyond the porch; and Asiatic magnolias grew in the woods. It was a complete incarnation of Shrubs for the Milder Counties, which is still, though out of print, the bible for the English gardener with a taste for rare plants.

Donald Stryker’s garden exemplifies our “temperate coast,” as do Dr and Mrs Bowman’s garden in Fort Bragg and Victor Reiter’s in San Francisco. South of this area, though overlapping it in the San Francisco area, is the land of bougainvillea, thunbergia, Solanum wendlandii, and the like, gorgeous vines which require more heat and less frost to perform well. The plants of this southern area have their bible too: the excellent Color for the Landscape, significantly subtitled Flowering Plants for Subtropical Climates.

Berberidopsis corallina

The first four of our vines come from Chile, but not, as is generally assumed, from the heavy rain-forest area of the south. That long, ribbon-like country is divided, roughly, into a northern, extremely dry desert region; a central region of rich agricultural land which has quite moderate rainfall (Santiago, for example, has an average of 16.5 inches); and the southern section, beginning around latitudes thirty-nine or forty, where winds become westerly and the rainfall sharply increases (Valdivia receives 112 inches or so) to make for the excessively wet and cloudy cold areas from Chiloe Island south.

Berberidopsis coralline, which comes from a small forested area near Coronel at thirty-eight degrees latitude, is thought to be extinct in nature today. It is a handsome foliage plant, with rounded, heart-shaped somewhat toothed leathery leaves two or three inches long, dark green above and glaucous white below. Within its odd family, the flacourtaceae (of which plants in the genera Azara, ldesia, Poliothyrsis, and Xylosma are in cultivation here), it seems to be unique in having beautiful and conspicuous flowers. These are grape-like deep-red globes about half an inch in diameter, each suspended from a thin red stalk one and one-half to two inches long. A cluster of them may be more than four inches long and include as many as twenty-five to thirty flowers. The most successfully grown plant of Berberidopsis corallina I have seen was in Carl Hanscam’s hillside garden in Mill Valley, California, where it climbed an apple tree and flowered profusely. Rarely seen now, this vine deserves to be tried in any somewhat shaded position with rich woodland soil.

Lapageria rosea

We turn now to a more familiar vine, the Copihue, the national flower of Chile. It grows, not in the rain forest, but north of latitude 41 and, despite a liking for shade, it may prefer some warmth. The vine itself is not outstandingly attractive, having wiry twining stems and large stiff leathery leaves, heart-shaped narrowing to a point. The flowers, however, are quite beautiful, rose-red with lighter mottling, three inches long and two across, hanging like narrow bells from the leaf axils and stem tips.

Fortunately for those of us in the San Francisco Bay area, the University of California Botanic Garden, Berkeley, many years ago imported a number of cultivars from El Vergel Nursery in Chile. These include the large mid-pink ‘Dr Bullock’, the pink-edged white ‘Apple-blossom’, the netted ‘Mission Lace’, and, perhaps most beautiful of all, ‘White Swan’ with very large waxy white flowers.

Lapageria, which is considered a climbing lily, is sometimes placed in the small family, Philesiaceae, with two other genera, Philesia and Luzuriaga. Philesia, a non-climbing, smaller leaved plant with bell-shaped flowers similar to those of lapageria, is now rare in cultivation, though still to be found at the University Botanic Garden, Berkeley, and in Victor Reiter’s garden. It comes from further south in Chile, and is probably hardier than lapageria. An intergeneric hybrid, x Philageria veitchii, is, to my knowledge, not in cultivation in this country, even if it still survives in England. Luzuriaga is an even lesser known genus. These plants are from the cold, rainy area of Chile. We received L. erecta from Brian Mathew in England some years ago, but, unfortunately, found it to be a less showy species with small white flowers. L. radicans, with star-shaped one and one-half inch long flowers, would be preferable for the shady garden.

Lapagerias are not commonly available, and a note on their propagation will explain why. They may be grown from fresh seed if the ber­ries can be harvested, but at the Berkeley Botanic Garden they seem to be abducted by animals, birds, or would-be propagators. The seedlings, however, are slow-growing, putting forth growth, falling back, then springing forward with a stronger shoot. My suspicion is that they should be treated like asparagus, with very rich soil and a high level of feeding. In any case, we have not been able to produce flowering plants until the third or fourth year, and then only in larger containers, which makes them a rather expensive crop.

The other method of propagation is by layering. Strands of a foot or two long are pinned down into a peat and sponge-rock medium and the leaf bases covered. After some months plump buds appear in the leaf axils, looking much like the bulbils along a tiger lily stem. From the bud a white root descends and, after some establishment, the new plant can be separated and potted up. Again, it is a long process involving disproportionate space in the cutting bed and so is not commercially attractive.

Cissus striata

The hardiest of the southern hemisphere grapeivies, Cissus striata is usually said to come from Chile, though its range apparently extends east to southern Brazil and it was called by the English plant explorer, James Tweedie, the “ivy of Uruguay.” It has very fine evergreen foliage with small (one and one-half to two inch long) five-lobed palmate leaves, reminiscent of the smaller deciduous Boston ivy (a native of Japan and China), Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Lowii’. C. striata produces great masses of tiny “grapes,” perhaps three-eighths of an inch in diameter. On our plant, grown from seed sent by Dr Wygnanki in Santiago, these are shoe-button black, but the fruit is usually described as red-purple or even (by Tweedie, speaking of his Uruguayan ivy) bright red. It grows equally well in dense shade or full sun, has survived our coldest winter (14° F. in 1972) without damage, and can be recommended as a fast-growing, light-textured evergreen vine.

Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’. Photographs by Pamela Harper.

Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’. Photographs by Pamela Harper.

Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’

Those living in the warmer parts of the San Francisco Bay area are fortunate to be able to grow two splendid climbing solanums, the Costa Rican Solanum wendlandii with two and one-half inch lavender flowers, and the Mexican and Central American S. dulcamaroides, with waxy, thick-textured violet blue flowers with white centers. Just sixty miles further north we find that S. wendlandii a deciduous vine, though surviving, does not leaf out again until late summer, and S. dulcamaroides probably will not accept our frost.

The white potato vine, Solanum jasminoides ‘Album’ is a commonly grown, reliable standby for situations needing an evergreen, almost constantly flowering vine, tolerating both sun and frost. S. crispum, another vigorous evergreen, is all but unknown in California, though, since it is listed in Brian Mulligan’s Woody Plants in the University of Washington Arboretum, it may well be found elsewhere in the Puget Sound area as well. It comes from Chile and Peru and is reputed to be hardier than the white potato vine. The cultivar ‘Glasnevin’ (‘Autumnale’) now generally grown in England is considered longer-flowering and generally more vigorous.

Many years ago, we obtained S. crispum from Donald Stryker, grew and flowered it, and then pulled it up as disappointing. At the time we had very little water for the garden and probably starved the vine so flowers were not freely produced. Only recently, seeing it on the wall at Sissinghurst, we realized what we had been miss­ing. In good health and freely flowering it is a splendid sight, dotted all over with baseball-sized tight clusters of reputedly scented flowers of lavender blue. We were fortunate to be given cuttings from the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew and now again have plants to set out, probably to grow up a tree, since they may reach forty feet.

Clematis paniculata

Clematis paniculata

Clematis paniculata (C. indivisa)

Clematis paniculata is a magnificent but somewhat tender evergreen vine from New Zealand, with trifoliate leaves and large star-like flowers two to three inches wide and in panicles up to twelve inches long. W.J. Bean called it “the most beautiful of white flowered species,” and indeed it surpasses that rather leaden-leaved C. armandii in grace of foliage and flower. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, it is not now in cultivation on the Pacific coast. Some years ago I raised a plant from seed and placed it to climb up a cordyline, where it flowered but gradually diminished and died, probably from lack of water. Our plant was female and had smaller flowers than might be expected.

Brian Halliwell suggests that the scarcity of this vine in cultivation is due to the infertility of most seed, a condition common in New Zealand plants. The vine, however, can be vegetatively propagated, and Hilliers’ nursery in Winchester, England, used to offer plants which retained some juvenile traits, having larger flowers and more vigorous growth. A plant so suited to our temperate coast must be reintroduced.

Billardiera longiflora

We turn now to a much smaller vine, growing only to six feet or so and with proportionately slender twining stems and lance-shaped leaves about an inch long. Billardiera is mostly a mainland Australian genus of vines, many of them invaluable for hot, dry places. B. Iongiflora, from Tasmania, is usually found in coastal areas, and requires water and feeding to be at its best. In the Pittosporum Family, it has rather unusual tubular flowers, off-yellow, about three­-quarters of an inch long. Its glory, however, is in its fruits. Like miniature sweet peppers in shape and structure, they are about three-quarters of an inch long and in color an inky metallic blue much like the fruits of Dianella tasmanica.

Some years ago we corresponded with a remarkable plantsman, Alan Cruickshank, of Redbanks, Tasmania. Then in his eighties, he flew by helicopter to the deserted rocky littoral of Tasmania to collect seeds of a dwarf red-fruited form of Billardiera longiflora which grew within the reach of ocean spray. This we still grow in his memory. Even more valuable was his gift of seeds from a fine white-berried selection. Bean, in his Wall Shrubs and Hardy Climbers, speaks of the white-berried form as inferior to the blue, but ours were vigorous plants with large snow-white berries, certainly a match for the blue-berried form and a nice contrast to it. Though the original seeds consistently produced white-berried seedlings, our second generation ran the gamut of color, from which we selected a rose-red one to grow on.

Hedera nepalensis

Gardening, like architecture, is a fragile art, dependent upon care and maintenance, and therefore upon socio-economic conditions — or more crassly, upon money. From this standpoint some gardens, like some buildings, are less astonishing for what they are than for the fact that somebody paid for them. Both gardens and buildings often outlive their creators, and it is for us to keep fresh the memory of gardeners like Donald Stryker and Alan Cruickshank.

Hedera nepalensis we associate with the late Harry Roberts, a most impractical and inspired man who put his considerable energies into a native plant nursery before popular interest in his wares developed. His nursery in Guerneville on the Russian River was on a steep north slope, shaded by lath. On the concrete retaining wall, in quite deep shade, grew a most beautiful ivy, with long pointed and toothed leaves shingled over one another. This was the Himalayan ivy, H. nepalensis. Planted in front of our house, facing east, it does not have quite the shingling effect it has in more shade, but it does produce its distinctive orange berries. For shaded areas it offers a handsome alternative to English ivy. Though somewhat less hardy, it should grow without trouble throughout the temperate coast.

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’

Like the Chilean grape ivy, Cissus striata, this is another grape relative. From a broad area in the Far East, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata is grown mainly for its beautiful turquoise or amethyst-blue currant-sized fruit. This deciduous vine grows satisfactorily throughout the Pacific coast. It is splendid on the fence of Dr Samuel Ayres’ nursery in La Canada, and it thrives in the University of Washington Arboretum. The variegated A. brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’, is perhaps even finer, combining pink and white leaves with the beautiful fruit. Both are vines for full sun and are best displayed on a fence or wall. Easily grown from cuttings, this vine ought to be readily available, but unfortunately, it seems not to be.

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’

The October, 1973, issue of the California Horticultural Journal was devoted to vines for the Pacific region. Baki Kasapligil and Margaret Dexter, who produced a comprehensive compilation of vines grown in the Bay Area, describe the English woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum, as a “popular species in our area.” A decade or so later, it has certainly disappeared from nurseries and from the gardens that I know. This is unfortunate, since the woodbine is perhaps the most desirable of climbing honeysuckles. It does not have the gross dimensions of the Burmese L. hildebrandiana, which in any case is tender over much of our area, but it combines the beauty of the commonly grown L. x heckrottii (a plant susceptible to mildew) with a marvelous and distinctive scent.

Two cultivars are usually offered, ‘Belgica’ (early Dutch honeysuckle) and ‘Serotina’ (late Dutch honeysuckle), but Hilliers’ indispensable Manual of Trees and Shrubs suggests that there is really no difference between them. Our plant, obtained from Holland, combines fine leaves, glaucous underneath, with a long period of delightfully perfumed pink and cream flowers. In milder areas it will prove quite evergreen.

Schizophragma integrifolium

This is certainly the rarest and perhaps most beautiful of the plants on my list. As grown on a wall at Kew Gardens, it is the most elegant deciduous vine I have ever seen. We were fortunate enough to be given a few cuttings, one of which has rooted, so Schizophragma integrifolium is now tenuously in cultivation here.

Schizophragma is one of four genera linked together as “climbing hydrangeas.” A full account of these is given by Elizabeth McClintock in the October 1973 issue of the California Horticultural Journal mentioned above. The schizophragmas are distinguished by conspicuous sterile flowers each having a single enlarged sepal and these surround the central cluster of small fertile, cream-white flowers. S. hydrangeoides, grown to some extent in the Seattle area and available from Dutch nurseries, is a native of Japan, growing with Hydrangea anomala petiolaris in wooded areas. S. integrifolium, collected by E.H. Wilson in China, has much larger flowers. The charm of the vine lies in the enlarged white spoon-shaped sepals of the sterile flowers, each at the end of a long slender stalk, which dance on the circumference of the mass of fertile flowers. This magnificent vine should be hardy not only in coastal areas, but throughout the Pacific region.

By calling these ten vines rare, I have given away the fact that they are not generally available. A few may be found in the periodic sales of botanic gardens, or some enterprising nurseryman may be encouraged to grow and offer some of them. Unfortunately, in the past twenty years, we in central California have seen the disappearance of the California Nursery, the W.B. Clarke Nursery, Frank Serpa’s Edenvale Nursery, Nelson’s Nursery, and, recently, the Monte Bello Nursery. All these were sources of unusual woody plants, sources which have not yet been replaced.