Ornamental grapevines are among the loveliest climbers you can plant. There’s something so luxurious about those sculptural leaves draping themselves elegantly over balconies or walls. The grapes themselves aren’t much to write home about: they’re edible, but quite “pippy” so a novelty rather than a delicacy. But if you choose one of the ones with spectacular autumn colour, like Brandt, you’ll be rewarded with wine-dark leaves which glow in low sunshine before tumbling to the floor to be used, pressed flat, in children’s autumn collages.
One of my clients has a (non-specific variety) grapevine trained around a double patio window at the back of her house, which is a lovely way of using them as it frames the otherwise rather harsh contours of the window quite nicely. I was out pruning it yesterday: another of the lovely things about grapevines is that they’re simplicity itself to prune (I’m talking here about ornamental pruning, where you’re not so fussed about the size of your grapes – edible grape pruning is a science in itself, and though I plan to master it some day, it won’t be today.)
This is one of the few pruning tasks which you have to complete at the right time. Leave it till much after Christmas and the sap will start rising again – meaning every cut you make will bleed profusely, weakening the plant badly and in a bad case even killing it. I try to prune ornamental grapevines in early December, though it can slip till the end of January in a cold year and you’ll be fine.
Then you just work your way along each main stem and take back sideshoots to 2-3 buds. And… er… that’s it! You can tip out the main stem too if it’s grown as big as you want it (just take it back to about 3″ before where last year’s brown wood changes to this year’s green new growth). It’s so satisfying, and the grapevine looks very sculptural after you’ve finished – if you’re feeling festive, hang some baubles or tinsel off it for an instant outdoor Christmas decoration!