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Plant Profiles

Parseley-leaved Grape

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These leaves are lacy enough to do a Japanese maple proud—and yet they are those of a grape.  'Chasselas Ciotat' is the rare vineyard vine that also belongs in the garden.  Yes, you'll be able to harvest the grapes, too, not just admire the foliage.

 

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Like all grapes, Vitis vinifera 'Chasselas Ciotat' has muscular and lengthy tendrils and, without your guidance, will use them to clamber through anything it encounters.

 

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Train young growth where you want it by cutting through the tendrils—whose grip is impossible to loosen—and tying the stems in place with twine.

 

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I'm training my vine up a tall tripod of rebar, but long horizontal structures are more typical.  See "How to handle it," below, for suggestions on growing this unique grape in a variety of dramatic contexts.  

 

 

Here's how to grow this marvelous cut-leaf grape:


Latin Name

Vitis vinifera 'Chasselas Ciotat'.  (Synonyms:  'Ciotat', 'Sweet Lace'.  One of the few vendors I'm aware of in North America, www.DancingOaks.com, lists the vine, erroneously, as 'Chasselas Clotat'.)

Common Name

Parsley-leaved grape

Family

Vitaceae, the Grape family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous woody vine.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9.  'Chasselas Ciotat' is, apparently, less hardy than is usual for grapes that can be grown for fruit; they are, typically, hardy to Zone 5.

Habit

Multi-stemmed and opportunistically scrambling, thanks to long multi-fingered tendrils. 

Rate of Growth

Fast when happy.

Size in ten years

Fifteen to twenty feet in any direction, but it's rare for any garden to have such an enormous stretch of otherwise-unoccupied space that any grape vine would be allowed to grow free-range.  More compact as well as productive performance is the result of confident pruning.  See 'How to handle it', below 

Texture

Lacy.

Grown for

its foliage: Unique in grapes, the lobes of the palmate leaves of 'Chasselas Ciotat' are incised almost to the very base, and recall the foliage of cut-leaf Japanese maples.  In particular, the similarity in texture and size to the foliage of Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' is uncanny.

 

its fruit: Chasselas grapes are widely cultivated in Alpine Europe—Switzerland and Germany—and the white wine made from them is considered the perfect partner to fondue.  'Chasselas Ciotat' can be grown for its grapes as well.  I'm not aware if they are different, in terms of winemaking potential or as a table grape, than those of regular Chasselas vines. 

Flowering season

Early-Summer: Grape flowers are not showy; you may not even be aware that flowering had occurred until you begin to notice young clusters of fruit.  

Color combinations

With mid-green leaves and pale-green fruit, 'Chasselas Ciotat' goes with anything.  Darker colors would accentuate the vine's shades of green, either the dark green of conifers or the burgundy of some deciduous plants.

Plant partners

Plants are partnered with 'Chasselas Ciotat' to enhance its display of foliage; unless you're growing for fruit in particular, it's a secondary consideration.  Grapes are sun-lovers by definition, so partner plants with any height are best sited to the east or north.  As with plants to accompany Japanese maples, of which 'Chasselas Ciotat' seems nothing other than a vining cousin, flowers seem beside the point.  Instead, pair with plants that can synergize via foliage texture and color.  

 

Can the vine's structure be sited to the south and west of a large and wide-spreading yew?  You can't buy such a creature, nor are they fast growing enough to train; your property simply has to have had one at the time you moved in.  A quicker fantasy is to plant a yew hedge to the north, erecting the vine's structure parallel to it.  Leave plenty of room between the young hedge and the structure, so you can work on the vine as well as the hedge while standing between them.

 

Quicker and less traditional would be to plant a line of purple smoke-bushes to the north of the vine's structure.  Allow at least six feet between the line of the bushes and the line of the vine structure; you'll need to work on the vine, as well as prune the smoke-bushes down to two-foot stumps each Spring.  The contrast of the vine's filigree of green with the round-leaved burgundy foliage of the smoke-bushes would be gratifyingly intense.

 

Another strategy entirely is to allow the vine to climb at will through a large and tolerant evergreen.  Growth will quickly become too high to control or to harvest grapes from, so this pairing assumes that you're going for foliage contrast alone.  The evergreen host plant will need to be so large (twenty feet at least; thirty is even better) that 'Chasselas Ciotat' would never overwhelm it. 

 

An enormous old Japanese yew would be ideal, what with its peerlessly dark foliage.  Or a Chinese plum yew, with similar coloring but noticeably longer needles.  Broadleaved-evergreen trees with similarly dark foliage, that also grow large enough to host a vine that, itself, could grow to twenty feet, include Southern Magnolia and English-type holly, such as 'Nellie R. Stevens'.

Where to use it in your garden

The unique foliage of 'Chasselas Ciotat' demands a detailed viewing, so plant the vine where you have access right up to it.  If growing the vine on a supporting structure, you'll need such access already, to make the necessary training practical.  The supporting structure could be tall enough and wide enough to function as a major divider, although, because pruned grape vines are remarkably sparse all Winter, not as a visual screen in the cool months.  Although the laciniated foliage is successful even from a distance—as would be the case if the vine were growing free-range up through a large host—be sure, nonetheless, to provide at least a small area for close viewing at the base of the vine, so the graceful tracery of the foliage can be given the intimate study it deserves. 

Culture

Full sun and almost any normally-draining soil.  Grapes tolerate heat as well as drought—which is one reason they not only succeed, but are often at their very best (at least in terms of their fruit), in soils that are deep but lean, and that are full of stones but, seemingly, very short on organic matter.  These soils are known as "mineral," and when growing in them, the roots of grape vines can roam deeply as well as widely, bringing water as well as the ineffable elements of taste and terroire to the above-ground growth. 

How to handle it

In Zone 6, plant in Spring, watering to ensure establishment.  Grapes are self-reliant when established.  Young stems grow very quickly, anchoring themselves by wrapping their long tendrils around anything they encounter.  The tendrils operate independently of your wishes.  Until they've selected their anchor, they are flexible but yet impossible to encourage to twine.  Immediately after anchoring, they are rigid and incapable of being unwrapped for re-use in anchoring that stem more felicitously.  Instead, sever any tendrils that are holding any stem where you don't want it, and tie the stem to the preferred orientation with twine.

 

These new stems will become quite woody, and will be the scaffolding—the trunks—from which all subsequent growth will originate for years to come.  So it's worth it to have directed them to just where you want them—most likely, to this or that spot on this or that member of the vine's permanent supporting structure.  Grapes are substantial vines as well as very long-lived ones, so the supporting structure needs to be up to the task, both in terms of load-bearing capacity and long-term durability.  Metal support is preferred, either a simple frame of galvanized pipe with some cross-wires of galvanized wire, or a grid of rebar sections.  Or, if you're blessed with a south-facing masonry wall, have horizontal rungs of galvanized wire anchored to it every eighteen inches.  If your resources are deep and your vision is high, you could commission a metal structure that's made of welded flat stock, and would look like a giant but glass-less window.

 

Plan on a structure that's a minimum of five feet high, and as wide as you need.  Six or even eight feet high would be better, even though, especially at the latter height, you'll need to work on the vines from a step-stool, step-ladder, or pruning platform.  Allow access to both the front and back of the structure.  You will need to prune and fuss with the vines regularly through the season, and it quickly becomes tedious if you need to worry about mauling intervening plants.

 

Let young stems grow upward on their own—yes, clinging by their tendrils—until they are five or six feet long.  Grape vines can grow very fast; even the first season of planting, new growth could be that long and longer.  Then cut through their tendrils to release them, and lower them to the bottom rung of your support; tie them in place with twine.  They may continue to grow outward, but will definitely begin to sprout side shoots, which will grow vertically up the grid.  (These side shoots might not begin serious growth until the next season.)  If you have the interest, do the same sever-and-retie with these secondary stems, too, this time angling them outward diagonally. 

 

Normally, the bottom-rung stems and their side-shoots will ensure full coverage of your support.  But you could train the upper portion of any side shoot down to the next higher horizontal support, to form a second rung of stems and a second crop of side-shoot verticals.

 

Grapes flower and bear fruit on new growth, so your pruning is as much to control overall size as it is to encourage that new growth.  The side shoots from the bottom rung may flower and fruit their first year.  If so, cut them off to their lowest leaf buds in the late Winter or early Spring, which will encourage the coming season's new generation of side shoots.  A pruned grape-vine is a surprisingly modest scaffolding; if you're not horrified by how much growth you've cut, you haven't cut enough.   

How to handle it: Another option—or two!

Grapes are a classic canopy-plant for pergolas—but sometimes traditions persist more by myth than fact.  The vines do create extensive shade, but the seductive image of the pendulous clusters of grapes is better marketing than reality.  Working on grape vines—and they do take a fair amount of work—is much less convenient when those vines are overhead.  (Try keeping your hands higher than your head for any length of time, while also working with hand tools.)  If you do decide to grow grapes on a pergola, keep the canopy of growth thinned, by maintaining only a few woody scaffold stems to which you prune back yearly growth.  Then there's more hope that the sun, so important to ripening the grapes, can penetrate to the actual clusters, which, because of their weight, will hang below the canopy of foliage and, therefore, in its shade.

 

If growing grapes primarily for fruit, train them on a vertical support, not a horizontal one.  (Think of vineyards!)  If at all possible, have the support run north-south, so both morning and afternoon sun can kiss the grapes and ripen them to the fullest.   You'll have two or, at most, three horizontal rungs of permanent woody growth, to which you prune back the softer annual growth to mere stubs anytime the vines are leafless in the cooler months. 

 

As in "Partner plants," above, if by some miracle your property already has an immense, and therefore decades-old, dark-needled conifer or dark-foliage broadleaf, you could grow 'Chasselas Ciotat' up through it for foliage contrast.  (The vine will also bear fruit, but the grapes will be far too high off the ground to be accessible.)  Be cautious, and not in a hurry:  Unless and until the host is twenty feet tall or more, there's danger that the fast-growing vine will overwhelm it.  If you ever needed to prune the vine to control size, you'd be doing it towards the middle or top—but that would be at a height beyond the reach with any normal ladder.  Better to be certain that the peak of the host is, forever, safely out of reach of the vine. 

 

Plant the vine to the southeast of the host, if possible, so the west and full-south sun will encourage the grape stems to twine through and across the south and west side of the host's canopy, anchoring all along the way.  If you plant the vine at the full south, or to the west, it will be at odds with itself.  On the one hand, it will be trying to grow still farther to the south or to the west—but, therefore, away from what's supposed to be supporting it.  And on the other, it will be anchoring only sporadically—by directional error, as it were—to the host's branches at its back.  Plant well beyond the farthest extent of the host's canopy, so the vine's roots aren't competing with those of the host.

Downsides

Grape vines almost always need a fair amount of pruning.  If you don't harvest the fruit from structures that overhang a walkway or terrace, you'll have the mess of squishy grapes underfoot or on the seat of your chair, or splotching your table. 

Variants

There are hundreds of kinds of grapes, and nearly all of them are grown for their fruit, not their ornamental character.  Only the very few ornamental forms are under consideration here. 

 

The leaves of Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' emerge a distinctive lead color, then deepen over the Summer to purple.  The vine is notably less vigorous than is usual for Vitis vinifera; growth of even ten feet would be impressive.  The leaves of V. vinifera 'Variegata' emerge with some pink in them, and mature to a soft white and yellow variegation; this form will scorch in strong sun or when drought-stressed.  The large leaves of Vitis coignetiae turn a blazing red in the Fall; this is a rambunctious vine, only suitable for large structures and, even then, where the gardener is dedicated to its control.

Availability

On-line.  In addition to www.DancingOaks.com, try www.OneGreenWorld.com.

Propagation

By cuttings, layering, and grafting.

Native habitat

Vitis vinifera is broadly native to the entire Mediterranean region, from Portugal to Germany to Iran.  'Chasselas' is a variety of white grape widely grown in Europe, and is though to be native to Switzerland.  La Ciotat is a town on the Mediterranean coast of France, near Marseilles.  'Chasselas Ciotat' is well over a century old, and is on the list of plants grown at Camden Park, an estate in Australia, by its first owner, Sir William McArthur, between 1820 and 1861.  

 
 
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