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Mickey Rathbun: Rediscovering the joy of the trellis

  • SAO PAULO, SP, BRAZIL - JANUARY 17, 2016 - Morning glory or oceanblue morning glory, Ipomoea indica, flower that spread around the world and in many places and considered undesirable invading Ricardo de Paula Ferreira—Getty Images/iStockphoto


Friday, July 13, 2018

One year for my birthday my husband gave me a lovely arched copper trellis. Propped against the front porch, it was happily taken over by a sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata) that covered it with clouds of fragrant white flowers every summer. The flowers gave way to silvery seedheads in the fall.

When we moved several years ago, the trellis came with us, but the clematis had grown so big I dared not move it. I stuck a rectangle of wooden lattice where the trellis had been, and the clematis seemed perfectly content to grab hold and grow.

I hadn’t figured out the right place for the trellis, so it sat forlornly collecting dust in the garage. Periodically my husband suggested that I might devote a gardening column to the subject of trellises. I think this was his subtle way of suggesting that I give the trellis a purpose other than to collect cobwebs.

Last week, I took up the challenge; I planted a couple of half-priced black-eyed Susan vines (Thunbergia alata) in a pot by the front door and placed the trellis behind them. I carefully teased out the tangle of vines and placed them on the trellis, gently weaving them upward. Within minutes, it seemed, they began to take hold.

Of course, we know that plants are living, growing things. But to see the vines’ delicate tendrils reach up toward the next rung of the trellis, fasten themselves to a skinny piece of metal and continue climbing, is uniquely satisfying. The vines seem to be animate objects rather than plants. I confess that I check on them several times a day, making sure that their tendrils are optimally placed for upward growth. I talk to the vines, cheering them on as they grow almost visibly.

You can spend a fortune on store-bought trellises, including elaborate metal structures and wooden lattice arbors fit for old-fashioned climbing roses and tea parties. But there are any number of clever ways to build trellises, using bamboo and twine, woven sticks, old garden tools, old screen doors, anything that has a structure that a vine can climb. You can add pieces of string or strips of wood to help the vines along.

And there are so many interesting climbing plants out there to choose from. I am partial to cobalt-blue morning glories, lavender sweet peas and pink honeysuckle. Clematis can be fickle, but they’re so beautiful they’re worth the gamble.

Now that I’ve rekindled my interest, I’m keeping my eye out for trellis-building materials. I have several bundles of long-stemmed spring pussy willows, for example, that would lend themselves to a simple woven pattern. The possibilities are endless. But my time, alas, is not!

UMass Green School offered

Every two years, UMass Extension offers its Green School, a 12-day certificate short course for Green Industry professionals taught by UMass Extension Specialists and University of Massachusetts faculty.

This year it runs from Oct. 29 to Dec. 13, twice weekly, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Doubletree Hotel, 11 Beaver St, Milford.

It is designed for landscapers, lawn care specialists, nursery operators, sports field managers, public and private grounds managers, arborists and others in the green industry.Students learn about sensible and sustainable methods of plant and land care as well as responsible nutrient and pest management.The curriculum is based on current research and focuses on environmental stewardship, Best Management Practices (BMPs) and integrated pest management (IPM).

Instruction is done via classroom style lecture and interactive activities, and is supplemented through online resources via an online learning management system.

Pre-registration is required at ag.umass.edu.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at mickey.rathbun@gmail.com.