Here's a great solution for a blank wall: espalier, the art of growing a plant along a flat surface. It may look costly and complicated, but it isn't. This project is something you can do in a weekend. Perhaps you haven't tried growing vines because they seem unpredictable. This method helps you control that. Choose the right one, and you'll get a lot of coverage for the money.
Decide on a Style
First, select a pattern. The technique of espalier was originally used to produce a lot of fruit in a small space. Though you may not be growing fruit, you can still borrow from the method. Choose from one of the classic designs below, or create your own.
Select a vine that climbs by twining or by tendrils and has small to medium leaves. The scale of the vine should work with the pattern you select. Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), with its neat, dark green leaves and fragrant flowers, is perfect for the diamond pattern. Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) work for large-scale projects and open patterns such as the fan or candelabra.
Ivy is a tempting choice because of its beautiful foliage and fast growth (once established). However, it climbs by aerial roots that can attach to walls and turn into a maintenance nightmare if left unattended. If you do use ivy, choose one of the variegated selections, which tend to be slower growing.
Do It Like the Pros
Landscape architect David Samuelson of McDugald Steele in Houston shares these steps for training a vine on a frame made of cables. When choosing a pattern, allow for a mature, maintained vine width of at least 6 inches.
Step 1: Decide on a pattern, and determine how many eye screws you will need. Measure the distance between proposed connection points to see how much coated cable or wire to buy. David used a vinyl-coated cable.
Step 2: Center the pattern on the wall. Mark connection points with a grease pencil, and drill points with the appropriate bit. Insert 3/4- to 1-inch eye screws directly into brick, stone, or wood. Apply clear silicone caulk made for outdoor use around the eye screws to keep moisture out.
Step 3: Starting at the bottom, thread and secure cable through the first eye screw, and then thread it through the second eye screw. Pull tight, and loop it through again. Move to next eye screw, and repeat, finishing the pattern and tying off the cable.
Step 4: Plant one vine below the center of the pattern for candelabra and fan designs. For diamond patterns, plant a vine at the base of each bottom point. Twine the vines around the cable, and secure with twist ties.
Maintaining the Look
Continue training the vines to grow around the coated cable until the pattern is complete--usually in one to two growing seasons. Once the vines have covered the cable, clip as needed to maintain the form.
This article is from the August 2005 issue of Southern Living.