Landscaping can perform many functions, whether it’s for home or commercial properties. Plantings of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals can help “soften” the hard edges of buildings and connect them to the surrounding land. Well-designed landscapes can also direct the eye or indicate traffic patterns in a pleasant fashion.

A number of studies have shown that attractive combinations of plants in landscapes can also create soothing and healthful environments, even increase productivity in workers and well-being in residents. Carefully-selected landscaping can also provide habitat and food for wildlife, and when fruit and nut trees are included the resulting landscapes can provide food to the human residents as well.

When designed with environmental conditions in mind, landscaping can provide energy savings to help cool or warm buildings with intentionally-positioned shade or sun access for seasonal conditions. Good landscapes provide these things year-round, not just for one season.

All it takes to understand these principles is to look at an un-landscaped building which often appears to have simply been plopped down where it stands. Such structures provide little warmth or comfort to those using or living in them. On the other hand, one look at a well-maintained and attractively-landscaped property instantly conveys a multitude of information. It immediately tells the viewer that who lives or works there cares about their environment and the people who use it or live there as well. It welcomes the visitor and delights those within.

Volumes have been written about the guiding principles of landscaping, how to plan and plant landscapes, what plants to select and so on. In a nutshell it often boils down to a series of multiples of three, that is combos of three elements such as high, low and medium plantings; three varieties of growth forms like mounding, cascading and spiked; three distinct textures: and/or three color variations for variety and interest.

The great thing about those principles is that there are plants that meet all those requirements and more. The really difficult thing about landscaping is that it is not static. It is that evolving nature of landscapes that often stymies many a gardener, stops them in their tracks.

The mere term “landscaping” can elicit the deer-in-the-headlights reaction. Where to?! How?! What?! But there’s hope, and there are plants!

Designing a home landscape need not be something to fear. Take it slow and easy, and you’ll get there eventually. Don’t be afraid to move things around when the growth patterns, textures or colors don’t work to your satisfaction. Consult books on the subject. Drive around neighborhoods and take photos of examples you think would work for you.

Some folks think that all they have to do is to stick a flat of pansies or impatiens in the ground and their job is done. But there is a bit more than that to achieving a balanced landscape. They may indeed have injected a flash of color into their yard, but what they are forgetting are the other two elements of “medium” and “high.” Trees usually fill in for part of that holy trinity, but there’s also the “middle” element to consider.

When it comes to that mid-level of interest, one plant that can go a long way to help connect various elements of a landscape is the vine. Vines are probably one of the most over-looked, yet useful of plants to include. They excel at “softening” the edges of structures, even hiding unpleasant views or elements such as chain link fences. But most important is that they can provide that mid, sometimes even the upper-level element that rounds out a planting scheme, occupying and utilizing vertical space.

In three words: They grow UP!

Vines include both perennial and annual varieties, many of which produce flowers. While annual vines such as morning glory, moon flower, hyacinth bean vine and various gourds for example, grow incredibly fast, be aware of the fact that these types of vines can create a weedy problem in no time flat. But if you really need to cover something quickly, annual vines are your ticket. On the other hand perennial vines usually grow more slowly — though indeed there are some that can grow rampantly like some varieties of ivy or honeysuckle for instance — perennial vines are usually the best choices for long-lived vines that do not smother everything in their paths.

Here are some perennial vine choices for area gardens:

• Akebia quinata and others

• Clematis (many varieties available)

• Climbing roses (many varieties available)

• Climbing hydrangea (H. petiolaris and others)

• False hydrangea vine (Schizophragma ‘Roseum’ and ‘Windmills’)

• Grape (Vitis aestivalis and others)

• Humulus (‘Summer Shandy’ hops)

• Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta and others)

• Silver lace vine (Fallopia abertii ‘Lemon Lace’)

• Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia and others, try ‘Red Wall’)

• Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)

Because most vines require special structures for support, (allowing perennial vines to attach to and climb up buildings is not the best idea as they restrict routine maintenance and can sometimes create maintenance problems) a wall, an arbor, trellis, fence or teuter can add yet another element on its own to landscapes. Indeed attractive structures can be purchased or constructed to coordinate with existing architectural elements for distinctive garden designs.

Vines like few other plants, can bring color, flowers and often fragrance up to eye-level where they can be seen and enjoyed. Often overlooked, but never surpassed, vines are an important component of any landscape. Plant some today and — grow up!

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement for 2012, the National Garden Bureau's Exemplary Journalism Award and the Florida Magazine Association's Silver Award of Writing Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: or “friend her” on Facebook.