Luscious Flowers that Blossom and Climb

I like to grow edible plants. The rest of my family prefers flowers. One of my sisters is a peony farmer. And the other one lived in Jordan for years and was particularly fond of flowering vines. She wanted to know which ones grow here so that got me thinking: Which climbing flowers do thrive in Fairbanks?

I’m not talking about gushing flowers like bakopa, lobelia or creeping Jenny that flood baskets hung all over town. I’m talking about flowers that clamber from the ground up clutching on fences, trellises, tepees and pergolas.

Fast and easy to grow, the Black Eyed Susan vine comes in a rainbow of colors although orange and yellow are the most common. It can even be grown in a hanging basket.

Easiest and most trustworthy are canary bird and black-eyed Susan vines, sweet peas, scarlet runner beans, climbing nasturtiums and morning glories. Fairbanks researchers described Milky Way morning glory as a “vigorous, thick vine covered with blooms” that proffered a “very attractive display all summer” and “grew rapidly (covering) the trellis by midsummer.” Don’t bother with Cypress Vine, which did not flower at all in trials.

Mike Salzman, a Fairbanks rose enthusiast and experimenter, found Polarstern (Hybrid Tea variety) climbed and was hardy with minimal winter protection. There are likely others. 

If you’re patient and up for a finicky, flowering vine, try Rhodochiton. It’s made showy appearances at the Alaska State Fair. Or try cathedral bells, but you’ll need to start it indoors eight to 10 weeks before planting outside.

a bushy Clematis Tangutica vine on a fence
Curtis Thorgaard has grown this beautiful Clematis Tangutica in Fairbanks for 30 years.  Photo by Curtis Thorgaard.

Then there is clematis. With 300 distinct species and thousands of varieties, clematis warrants its own article if not 10. But I will try to impart the basics here. Flowers belonging to the Clematis genus boast a diversity of flower types and habits and while they generally climb, that’s not always true. Solitary (C. integrifolia) and Purpurea (C. recta) clematis are generally hardy in Fairbanks (at least in a sunny, warmer location) and are examples of non-climbing clematis. But I digress — I’m writing about vines, not shrubs!

Yellow clematis (C. tangutica) is both a climber and hardy in Fairbanks. Curtis Thorgaard has a rambling and thriving 30-year-old yellow clematis on the south side of his house. Keep in mind that yellow clematis needs very good drainage. Siberian (C. macropetala), which includes the cultivars Blue Bird and Markham’s Pink, is another good choice for Fairbanks. Jackman clematis is a perennial in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska.

Cindy Tibbetts, owner of Hummingbird Farm Greenhouse that sells, “Clematis … for the Frozen North,”  recommends trying clematis cultivars belonging to the Kivistik (large flowered hybrids developed in Estonia) and Alpina group (C. alpina) for as cold as zone 3, the warmest Fairbanks zone indicated on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Map. The coldest is zone 1. I just bought a Huvi clematis, which belongs to the Kivistik group, with big, gorgeous blue flowers. I planted it close to the house and hope it will survive the winter. These won’t survive the winter outside, but if you’re looking for some beautiful houseplants, you might try fragrant jasmine, bizarre looking passion flower or proliferous bougainvillea. 

For more information on which flowering vines and other flowers grow and survive in Fairbanks, see:

Flower trials conducted in Fairbanks
Alaska’s Sustainable Gardening Handbook (available from UAF Cooperative Extension Service)
Landscape Plants for Alaska

Now that you’re enticed to grow these flowering vines, you have to find the plants. Some of them can be started from seed, but it’s easier and faster to start with a plant. If available, purchase them from a local greenhouse. Less common and more experimental varieties will probably need to be ordered from an Outside greenhouse.

Have you successfully grown a flowering vine in Fairbanks not listed here? Or one listed here unsuccessfully? Let me know!

This article was previously published in the Fairbanks Daily-Newsminer July 5, 2016.

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