This time of year provides good "thinking" time regarding gardening. It is a time to look back on what went well and what could stand some improvement.
For example, if it seems that your yard needs some more oomph or pizzazz, but you can't quite put your green thumb on what would help, try looking up and consider growing more plants vertically. It's a change of perspective that adds interest to your outdoor living space.
Climbing plants are somehow more welcoming, with their living beauty embracing you. In addition, if your yard space is limited, trellises and other support structures make the most of the space you have. Because vines grow upward, you don't have to worry about them spreading. Also, you may be able to use previously unused areas to add color and interest.
It's wise to consider the structures you will use before buying plants. Metal, wood, plastic — what fits your garden's style? What materials do you already have in fences, for example, that would harmonize with a new vine support? Supports can include arbors, trellises, tepees made of branches or bamboo, cages (tomato or bird), string, fences or a major structure such as a pergola.
While a rustic-looking trellis you make from the leftover trimmings from a tree will look charming in a casual garden, it might look out of place in a more formal garden or near a house of modern architecture. Use a design that goes well with its surroundings. Light-colored or white supports create a bold contrast to the mostly green plants that will grow on them. Brown and green structures blend more readily into their surroundings.
Vines can hide or soften fences or other things you'd like to hide. The "cyclone fence" in my backyard looks ever so much better with grapes growing on it. A smaller, softer vine like a passionflower can do wonders to make a sturdy wooden fence seem less so. If you have a dead tree that it would be difficult to remove, plant something substantial-looking, such as a climbing hydrangea, near it. Screen the view of your compost pile, perhaps, or of your neighbor's backyard.
Consider scale when choosing a support, keeping in mind the plant with which you'd like to pair it. Some vines, such as wisteria or climbing roses, get thick and heavy and need some heft in their support, but a morning glory or moonflower would look out of place on a structure made of two by fours.
Some ideas for vines you might try include morning glory, sweet peas, clematis, scarlet runner beans, sugar snap peas, hops, passionflower, climbing roses, jasmine, honeysuckle, grapes, climbing hydrangea, wisteria, trumpet vine, kiwi and moonflower. And I love my mandevilla on the arbor straddling a flagstone path, even if it takes extra care to keep it alive over the winter.
Building a structure for a vining plant might be a good winter project. Next spring, as you install it before planting, be sure to set it securely, as this is something you want to get right the first time. Set it in the ground even deeper than you might think necessary. Large, heavy structures might need concrete footings.
With some planning, a vertical garden is delightful — it may even become the focal point for your outdoor living area. With its beauty displayed right at eye level, it will be a feast for your senses.
Coming up: Interested in becoming a Master Gardener? Call Bob Reynolds. Oregon State University Home Horticulture Agent, at 541-776-7371 for information about the classes that begin Jan. 16.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.