Thursday, October 8, 2009

The pleasures of fast-growing vines

Today is a cold, rainy October day in Chicago, one more suited for poring over seed catalogs than actually being in the garden. It was a cold, short summer for us here, even by Chicago standards. Many of my summer annuals had delayed or stunted growth this year. The more fancy garden books I check out of the library, the more I realize that annuals are a little uncool in the high-falutin' gardening circles. It seems like a mature perennial garden is the ultimate goal of most landscape designers and garden gurus. But I love annuals! It is amazing to see something grow from seed in one short season and they add color and interest to perennial beds, especially in the shaggy days of late August. On this cold, rainy day in October, I want to salute my arsenal of annual vines in particular. Against all odds, after a very long germination and late late summer start, my little fighters are twining their way up my fence as best they can before the frost comes.

I will always have morning glories in my garden, as well as the scarlet runners I wrote about a few days ago, but my two favorite vines are the cardinal climber, Ipomea x multifada, and the black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia alata. The cardinal climber is gorgeous mostly for its deeply-cut dark green foliage. It also puts forth a burst of red trumpet flowers that bring to mind the tropical Carribean. Last summer, it created a thick wall of growth along my front fence that caused many neighbors and pedestrians to stop and admire it. Many of our Puerto Rican neighbors said it reminded them of their island. This year, the weather conspired to make it a short, anemic season for my Cardinal Climber, but even now it is putting forth its palm-like leaves. It gives me a pleasant jolt to see such a lushly tropical plant growing in this cold rainy weather. I am looking forward to a better growing season next year, and perhaps some hummingbirds, as this vine is known to be a favorite.

The black-eyed susan vine is slow to germinate, but once it gets going it twists and winds its way quickly along any nearby fence or branch. It gives sunny yellow flowers that one can't help but love, simple though they may be. This year, I hoped to mix them amongst my cardinal climbers, a sweet yellow flower winding its way along the tropical fronds of the other vine. Neither one got an early enough start, but next year, hopefully, I will achieve the desired effect.
Someday I will work on the wisteria, hops and other perennial vines that gardening books lovingly photograph. My annual vines are amusing me for now, and they add some excitement to my gardening year. Finally, in a small urban garden, vertical elements are hard to incorporate -- more than one or two trees means sacrificing almost all available sun and soil. The annual vines, trailed upwards along fences, roofs, and arbors add vertical interest without the sacrifice of precious garden space. Maybe next year I will build a wire house, just the right size for a three year-old boy, and train all my vines along it. By late summer, he'll have a quiet green retreat --something to soothe his little soul and maybe cultivate vine-love in him too.

1 comment:

  1. The black-eyed susan vine was the star of my sadly anemic gardening efforts this year. I got two of them in baskets in mid-may and hung them in half/full sun on the porch - and they did great! One was swiped in the middle of the night (darn punk kids or coveting gardener?) but the other one climbed all the way up the hanging wire and tried to get a grip on the porch joists.

    I wish it had more room to grow, because when it bumped it's head, it started thinning out. Definately will repeat for next year.

    PS - Don't eat the morning glory seeds.