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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Amazing Annual Vines

by Veronica Fowler

Jack's beanstalk isn't the only show-stopping vine. In the real world, you'll find a host of annual vines that grow almost as rapidly as Jack's climber, and cover themselves with gorgeous flowers to boot.

What other plants from a $2 packet of seeds could cover the whole side of a house? Or cloak a summer porch in cooling shade? Hide an eyesore of a garage or rusty chain-link fence? Dress up an arbor? Soften the corner of a house? Create a welcoming frame around a front door?

Today, the popularity of annual vines is on the rise. More seed catalogs list diverse offerings. Marilyn Barlow, owner of Select Seeds Antique Flowers in Union, Connecticut, says annual vines are perfect for gardeners who want to create a cottage garden look. And many annual vines ? Dutchman's pipe, morning glories, moonflower, sweet peas, nasturtiums ? grown by our grandparents hold appeal as heirlooms.

Unique Forms, Unusual Flowers

When most gardeners think of annual vines, they probably think of morning glories, but some lesser-known vines are also worth growing. Chilean glory vine, Spanish flag, purple bell vine, and others are all easy to grow, and many sport exotic-looking flowers.

Barlow says that when she grows hyacinth bean, its red-veined purple foliage and sweet pea-like purple or white flowers stop people in their tracks. The bean pod, developing large and deep purple with an alluring sheen in late summer, has made more than one person wonder aloud if it is real.

Even within a particular species of annual vine, it's easier than ever to find a range of varieties. More seed companies are offering grouped collections, such as various colors of morning glories, or sweet peas dating from Victorian times.

Unusual colors are more readily available, too, such as a white cup-and-saucer vine, a white hyacinth bean, a red morning glory, and the Mt. Fuji series of morning glories, whose sky blue, violet, deep purple and crimson flowers (depending on variety) are marked with a white pinwheel-like pattern and picotee border.

With some annual vines, the appeal is sheer novelty. And because seeds will cost you no more than a fancy cup of coffee, you can afford to experiment. Scarlet runner bean produces brilliant crimson flowers followed by edible beans. Bitter melon has climbing foliage that resembles that of its cousin, the cucumber. It produces a warty green fruit about 3 inches long that eventually turns orange and splits in thirds to reveal bright red seeds. On love-in-a-puff, 1-inch pale green balloonlike seed pods pop between your fingers.

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