Vines just need something to lean on. There are clinging vines like ivy, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus species), and creeping fig (Ficus pumila) that do pretty well on their own by employing tiny structures that act like suction cups, but most of the others need help. Many vines such as grapes, morning glory, cucumbers and edible or ornamental beans, climb by twining either their growing tip or specialized tendrils around (and around, and around) whatever they can. To grow these, erect a system of wires, plastic or metal mesh, or narrow poles or stakes to support them.
Still others, like climbing roses, trumpet vines, wisteria, etc., have no means of support and are best kept in line by actually tying them to a trellis or other fence-like structure. For all vines, the best rule is to know how high the vine is likely to climb and either be prepared to prune it to keep it in check or provide a support tall enough from the start. Remember, too, that 15 or 20 feet of climbing rose can weigh quite a bit; sturdier is better. Besides, the vine itself will hide most of what it is growing on.
Grapes are wonderful on arbors with the added bonus of delicious fruit. As with most woody vines, they will need some tying and at least a yearly or biannual pruning session. Others in this class include Akebia quinata, which has lovely foliage; each leaf actually five rounded leaflets, and dark purple flowers that dangle in clusters. Climbing roses are a delight. Fragrance is a plus and some old time favorites include the Lady Banks’ roses (Rosa banksiae) either in pale yellow or white and ‘Cecile Brunner’. There many others so consult a good gardening book or rose catalog for choices.
If fragrance is the goal, there are several climbing jasmines in the genus Jasminum and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which is commonly used as a shrubby groundcover, but can be trained up a support or sheared into almost any shape.
A little-used favorite is queen’s wreath (Petrea volubilis). It is covered with little starry, blue flowers and forms an airy canopy when trained on an arbor. Then there are the tough trumpet vines, purple or zingy red flowers attract hummingbirds and can cover many an eyesore. Wisteria is a classic winner, but does need careful pruning to only shorten the leaders that support next year’s bloom.
Passion vines come in an amazing variety and do well without much care. Perhaps the most common is the blue crown passion flower (Passiflora caerulea). Other ornamentals are P. vitifolia with its scarlet flowers and the lovely hybrid, P. ‘Coral Sea’. The edible passion flower vine (P. edulis) will also grow here in warmer spots.
A couple of large-flowered beauties are the Easter lily vine (Beaumontia grandiflora), and the cup-of-gold vine (Solandra maxima). Beaumontia has large, glossy green leaves and white trumpet-shaped flowers (just like Easter lilies). Solandra produces large ochre-yellow flowers whose five fused petals form a cup with recurved lips
Most vines like at least a half-sunny spot. They have evolved the ability to clamber for the purpose of getting above the crowd so will find their own perfect space eventually. In their native habitats, they use whatever is handy, usually another sturdier plant, to reach for the sky, so it is possible to let them pull themselves upward on existing trees and shrubs for unexpected and interesting combinations.