Versatile annual vines

Beckie Fox

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It’s easy to see why the vine is called Spanish flag. (Garden Making photo)

If you’re looking for near-instant gratification from a flowering plant, you won’t go wrong with an annual vine. Most are easy to grow from seed, they grow and flower quickly, and they relish the heat — something we seem to have a lot of most summers.

Best of all, annual vines are incredibly versatile. They make flamboyant container plants when support is provided. Or let them trail over the edge of a large pot or window box for more drama. They don’t always have to climb or trail, either. Plant several and watch them quickly fan out to cover bare soil. Picture a broad swath of bright nasturtiums tumbling across a gentle slope.

This year, I started love-in-a-puff vines (Cardiospermum halicacabum)*, trailing nasturtiums and ‘Mt. Fuji Lavender Blue’ morning glories from seed under grow lights in late winter. These could have been sown directly in the garden a few weeks later, after the soil had warmed and there was no risk of frost, but I wanted to give them an early start. Some are now planted around the base of a tall bamboo teepee in the centre of an herb and vegetable bed, and the remainder are beginning to cover a metal obelisk in an empty section of a perennial border.

I also impulsively picked up a pot of traditional ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories interplanted with white moonflowers on sale at a local garden centre a couple of weeks ago. The morning glories bloom during the day and then fade away just as the large white moonflowers unfurl at dusk. What a clever combination. (For more about morning glories and moonflowers, read “Dark morning glories from seed” and “Moonflowers in bloom.”)

It’s easy to see why the vine is called Spanish flag. (Garden Making photo)
It’s easy to see why this annual vine is called Spanish flag.

One year, I planted a large terra cotta pot with Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata) and the hummingbirds were thrilled. (More about Spanish flag at “Salute to annual Spanish flag.”) There were also a few summers when I used the relatively short black-eyed Susan vines (Thunbergia alata) in mixed containers. Their soft cream, peach, pink or white flowers blend well with other annuals.

* The common name love-in-a-puff describes the large, lime-green puffy seedpods that each hold one round black seed with a white heart-shaped scar. The vine is considered invasive in parts of the southern U.S.

Preserving herbs

Herbs are bulking up as the season progresses. It’s satisfying to step  outdoors to snip a few sprigs for garnishes or salads, but sometimes you need to prune off more than you can use at the moment in order to keep plants productive. “How to preserve herbs” describes how to store your homegrown herbs available from now through winter and includes a handy chart.

Learning more about rain gardens

We live in a small town where new housing developments spread like goutweed. More houses bring more roofs, driveways, roads and other solid surfaces that lead to rapid runoff during rainstorms, preventing water from gradually soaking into the surrounding soil. Instead, the water runs off these impermeable surfaces and gushes out of downspouts into nearby creeks, ponds and other waterways, carrying pollutants with it. There’s also an increased risk of flooded basements and eroding soil when rainwater isn’t able to gradually percolate into the ground. 

To prevent polluted waterways and flooding, gardeners can play a big part in educating the public and leading by example. A landscape project that’s gaining traction is installing a rain garden, an attractive as well as environmentally efficient way to deal with runoff and episodes of heavy rain.

To learn the basics of building a rain garden, check out the You Tube video about a recent project in Ontario with St. Alban’s Anglican Church, Credit Valley Conservation and eco-landscaping expert Sean James of Sean James Consulting & Design. Sean has been helping homeowners and community organizations build rain gardens, big and small, for years. “I think you can fix all the problems in the world with landscaping,” he says in the video. I may have this printed on a tee shirt.

An article by Margaret Roach in the New York Times also discusses a do-it-yourself rain garden.

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