Thursday, June 21, 2007

Morning Glories, Good and Evil

If anyone from the West Coast of the US is reading this blog, they are probably already spitting, holding up their crosses and instinctivly reaching for their herbicide bottle at the mere mention of morning glories. Those from the midwest who have fond memories of morning glories climbing up and over the garden gate, might wonder, "why the commotion?" Morning glories and bindweeds are in the same family, the distinction is really a bit academic. Small bindweed (right) is a pest in temperate zones the world over and my garden is no expception.

The "nice" morning glories in the seed packets are mostly Ipomoea tricolor, which is a tropical plant that grows like wildfire through the hot, humid summers of the central and east US, then conveniently dies back at first frost. Many of them are stunningly beautiful, and the perfect plant to quickly cover a fence, where it produces a new crop of beautiful flowers each morning. But imagine if it were perennial and spread by runners...

It's the perennial, spreading ones that give the group a bad name, and in particular, Calystegia sepium, or hedge bindweed. Originally brought as an ornamental, it is such an aggressive self-seeder and spreader that it has been listed as a noxious weed in many areas. Even the mention of the word "morning glory" to a Seattlite is sure to start a rant, and trying to convince them of their merits is like trying to convince a southerner of the delicate beauty of kudzu. If hedge bindweed gets in your garden (and it will), you must eradicate it at first sight, or be resigned to battling it for eternity. It covers entire hillsides, where it engages in a botanical "Battle of the Titans" with the viciously thorned Himalayan blackberry. Add to this the fact that most of the good ones (Like "Heavenly Blue") need more heat to do well that your average Seattle garden has, so they don't perform well at all. Thus they never get the opportunity to experience their good side. Strangely, though I run across hedge bindweed occasionally in Istanbul, it doesn't seem to be a monster here at all. Perhaps it only survives but perfers a cooler climate to really take off.

Though I used to regularly curse the person who introduced Calystegia sepium to the US as I dug the fat, brittle runners that seemed to descend to the pit of hell (or perhaps they originated there), I can't really blame him. Morning glories are beautiful and beguiling. This is why, when I saw a stunning, deep blue morning glory engulfing a balcony and wall on the Greek island of Samos, I threw caution to the wind and grabbed a runner. It died without rooting. God was giving me a second chance. I didn't listen, and when I found a plant eagerly smothering a mulberry tree in my friend Souzana's garden in Naxos, I was thrilled to find actively rooting pieces. I had the perfect place for it - an already-dead mulberry tree in the middle of my patio, completely surround for several meters in every direction by cement pavement.

The plant I'd fallen in love with was Ipomoea indica, or "Blue Dawn Flower." With a name like that, who can resist? Though it almost never produces seeds, I. indica is by all counts, a monster. It's also common on the west coast of the U.S., where it charmingly envelops fences, houses and, if given a chance, neighborhoods. A tiny piece planted where its happy will shoot up to 25 feet in a season, branching out and covering whatever its growing on. As soon as its happy, it then starts sending down "drop runners" which creep along the round, rooting as they go, to send up new vines (not much) later. But it's such a beautiful monster; I don't know any other morning glory, my old favorite "Heavenly Blue" included, that produces such a rich, astoundingly blue flower. It's very difficult to do it justice in a photograph. Mine is a year old, and produces several hundred new flowers each morning. The header of this blog is that very vine. Unfortunately or fortunately, God may yet give me a second chance, as Istanbul winters can be quite unpredictable. Last winter was so mild that even an avocado survived, but a really hard freeze will kill I. indica, or at least cut it to the ground. Until then, I'll let myself be astounded anew every morning at the amazing deep blue universe above me, and be forgiving as I regularly pull away the two-meter long runners that it manages to shoot out over the surface of the patio each week or two. As long as I don't let it reach the soil, I think God — and the landlords — will forgive me.


isehakanud lillekasvataja said...

Hello! I think you have a very interesting blog! I'm allready read your blog second day.

Ziggywigs said...

I always enjoy catching up on your blog. Your pictures are fantastic and your garden equally so.

I'd like to invite you to particpate in a meme....for more information see Random things about me meme.

Colin & Carol said...

We had similar reactions to our own growing of morning glories, some posted on other peoples sites. Every plant has its uses and for a quick dependable climber it does a job. So what if we will spend the rest of our lives weeding them out!