A CAMELLIA has fortunately died - it was one of those California sasanquas - on my north wall, and I can now think of planting something else.
The west wall, just around the corner, has a trumpet vine, 'Mme. Galen,' which I do not think is ever going to amount to anything for me. On an east wall and then a west wall, it has not flowered in the eight years it has been with me in Washington. Up here I think it requires total sun, probably, although farther south it grows and flowers well with half-day sun.
So it is not likely to want any of the north wall. I am very fond of Photinia serrulata, such as you see in the triangle at Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road NW - very old plants the size of small trees. This is one of the finest broadleaf evergreens, and it is incredible that for some years it was almost never planted here, despite the existence of superb old specimens here and there.
Since the section of wall in question is only 4 feet, there is no room for that noble bush, but I am wavering all the same.
The obvious choice for the spot is the winter jasmine (J. nudiflorum ) and I may settle for it. It is interesting that some gardeners enjoy confusing the jasmines, insisting in their minds that there is no difference between this one, which flowers in late winter, and the yellow ones that flower in summer. The winter-flowering one, which is a sprawling shrub easily treated as a vine, is also not the same as the summer-flowering white one or the April flowering Carolina jasmine that is a vine (and is not a true jasmine, but a Gelsemuim). It is also not the same as the primrose jasmine, which is quite tender and not to he thought of except by gardeners who like risky things.
Another candidate for the spot is the big birthwort, Aristolochia durior, which needs firm support as it is quite a heavy vine. It has large heart-shaped leaves that the hang down in shingle effect. It was a favorite on summer porches a couple of generations ago, but is handsomest when set off by masonry.
It is curious that the federal government, so clever in doing almost everything wrong in a garden, has never cared much for vines, except when they can be used to poor effect. Thus the endless sterile federal buildings are without vines, and the Rayburn Building is especially naked and brazen, but the superb stone retaining wall there was planted solid with vines. The building itself is notoriously ugly and cries out for almost anything that would be cover some of it up.
But the retaining wall below it, since it is so beautiful, should be largely bare, with only an occasional vine, hence, it will be entirely covered.
The courtyard back of Blair House was also planted for too heavily with Boston ivy. No wall benefits from a total shroud, even if it is an ugly wall - the vine deserves something to set it off - and the brick masonry that you see from Blair House is quite handsome and should never have been covered, though a festoon or two would have been admirable.
The government, with its usual taste, appears to specialize in an all or nothing scheme, and even then usually covers no wall unless it is beautiful. Any year now I expect some federal idiot to plant vines up to the Washington Monument or over the Capitol dome.
Another thing I have never understood is why a government thinks it has to spray all the street trees of the town. If anyboby wants to see bureaucratic judgement in its full glory, he has only to examine the maples on my own street, Davenport, which are excessively ugly and excessively unsuitable, even for maples. And yet the people who dream up these wretched schemes fancy themselves proficient, competent and wise. I can only marvel at a pliant and meek citizenry that pays any amount of taxes demanded never questioning such things as treespraying programs. I offer at least my personal condemnation of the choice of trees for my block, and the folly of replacing them (they are all either dead or dying and you might have thought something would be learned from that.
Another admirable vine for the wall, to get back to that, would be Clematis 'Henryi' with its 8 inch saucer-stars of white. It is one of those clematis that do quite well on north walls.
Somewhat tender, especially when young is the Kadsura (K japonica), which is related to the magnolia. It is a vine with oblong-oval evergreen leaves, the new growth of which is reddish, and in the fall it has fleshy soft bright-red fruits that make a modest but attractive show. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find it at nurseries now.
Ivies are better, I have always thought, on old trees than on brick walls. A good bit of stuff accumulates in old ivy vines, including sparrow nests, and I am not sure those hold-fast roots do the mortar any good. Still, when restrained, ivy is handsome, and on a north wall some of the colored sorts would add brightness. It is a matter of several years before young ivy plants make much growth on walls, and then they race ahead with more vigor than seems necessary.
Lonicera X heckrottii, with lavender-pink little trumpets and yellow insides and glaucous foliage, would be a suitable vine.
A good shrub for a wall facing north is the old alba rose 'Celestial' which can be growth as sort of small tree, only with several stems, bare except for a great 3 of 4 foot globe of leaves and flowers at the top. It would reach 7 feet or so. Where there is a good bit of light - no rose will grow in heavy shade - as at the corner of the west and north walls, the thornless rose 'Zephyrine Drouhin' will do.
If it is clipped bare along its trunk, the guelder rose is handsome in such a spot, either the European snowball, Viburnum opulus sterile, or the Japanese snowball (which has handsomer pleated foliage, though possibly not so graceful, though a first-class shrub) V. plicatum tomentosum.
An upright yew would serve, and while such an osmanthus an 'Gulf Tide' would do well, I would think twice about its spiny leaves, and the same is true of most hollies. Only a narrow upright form would be useful, in any case.