Wherever there is a window or doorway to be framed, a large expanse of wall to be embellished, or a building to be anchored into its setting; where there are harsh architectural lines to be softened, architectural features to be linked, eyesores to be concealed – on buildings of contemporary or any other design – there is a place for a vine to perform a decorative function, and there is a right vine for the job.
On the practical side, vines will grow where there is no room for trees or shrubs, and often where shade and other cultural disadvantages make it difficult for other plants. Vines usually fill out an area and come into flower faster than trees and shrubs. And questionably hardy vines can be planted in the protection of a wall or building, and become hardy.
Select vines to suit the type of architecture and the desired effect. Use varieties with large, coarse foliage on large areas; those with richer, finer texture for smaller areas. Consider texture contrast too – shiny-leaved vines against rough brick, pebbly leaves against smooth surfaces. Use climbers of moderate size and some delicacy on low buildings, more vigorous types with heavier foliage and thicker stems on high walls. For a rigid, formal type of decoration – generally considered more suitable for large, gracious old houses than contemporary types – consider treillage.
For the welfare of your house, select vines also according to their method of climbing. Tendril climbers present no great problem, because they climb on their own separate support. But although some people hold that close-clinging vines help keep walls drier by keeping out rain, and even insulate against summer heat and winter cold, others contend that the tight matting of leaves and sterns holds dampness and invites rot.
Vines that cling by root-like holdfasts can also damage clapboard, shingle, and similar wood walls by the very strength with which they force their roots into the tiniest crevices, often loosening boards and shingles. In addition, it is practically impossible to remove them safely for painting or repairing the wall.
Wall-covering vines should not be planted and left to grow at will. They don’t know the difference between a window and a wall, and gleefully grow upward over both. The effect is not only messy, but also dangerous to the life of the window and its frame. Careful pruning will keep them looking neat and within bounds.
In contemporary architecture large areas of bare wall provide backgrounds for interesting patterns, forms, color contrasts, and textures. On long, low houses, train a vine in a vertical line. To integrate house with garage, let a vine grow horizontally between the two, perhaps over a breezeway. Or lower older, higher houses by a vine trained horizontally under the second-floor windows, or several feet below the eaves. Soften roof lines with vines cascading down and onto the walls below. You can also combine the vines to a howea forsteriana kentia palm.
To disguise a rainspout or soften a sharp corner line, select varieties that can be cut back severely if repairs are needed, and which will quickly grow up to cover again. Train and prune to keep tendrils from latching onto and loosening shingles.
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