Phuket Gardening: More vinous virtuosos

PHUKET: Asked what “vinous” means, most people would opt for something to do with grape vines or wine. But in fact the epithet can be applied to any kind of vine or climbing plant, of which there are literally hundreds, ranging from creeping figs and ivies to towering tropical lianas. For the gardener, the important distinction is between tendrilous or self-supporting vines, and the kind – scandent is one relevant technical word – that need to be trained or tied to stop them from ending up as a tangled mass of hanging stems with nowhere to go.

As we pointed out before, in our low-maintenance garden the ones that are self-sufficient are a better bet. Passiflora is a case in point. I still have trouble finding this climber in plant nurseries – a shame because it is a most alluring shrub, easy to cultivate and with unique blooms. Though the 400 or so species hail mostly from tropical America, they do well in South East Asia. Vigorous growers, they climb by means of tendrils on their stems, and possess exotic, scented and visually spectacular flowers.

The star-shaped blooms typically have ten-pointed petals, and vary in hue from blue (caerulea) to purplish-white (edulis) and deep red (coccinea and vitifolia). The complex structure of the flower has inspired associations with the Passion of Jesus in Christian mythology – for instance, the tendrils represent the whips used in his flagellation, the three stigmas at the center of the flower stand for the three nails on the cross. The unique floral structure means that pollination is difficult for all but large insects such as carpenter bees or, in America, humming birds. When I had a red passion flower in the garden, alas no more, I noticed that there was a perceptible increase in the number of carpenter bees boring into my trellis.

The fruits of passiflora have a range of medicinal uses, being extremely rich in alkaloids, organic acids and esters. They are becoming increasingly used as a treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. If you have a touch of the blues, your local supermarket has supplies of fresh juice.

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This climber likes a well-drained soil and a sunny position. It is good against a wall or fence and will climb happily over a trellis. If a friend has one, try striking it from hard-wood cuttings. Keep a look out for the passion flower as it is well worth a try.

Clerodendrum is another useful, if less spectacular climber. Unlike the passion flower, this woody shrub prefers some shade, and does particularly well draped around the bole of a large tree. It has a bushy habit and produces bunches of crimson or purplish flowers atop masses of dark green foliage.

Since it blooms almost continuously, it is another good choice for the work-shy gardener. One variety, C. thomso-niae, also known as the bleeding heart vine, is smaller and is often grown as a potted specimen. The dense sprays of flowers are white with distinctive red petals. In both species , the seeds turn green and finally black. They can be used to propagate the vine, though potted versions should be easy to find.

There are no yellow passion flowers or clerodendrums, but tristellateia come only in this color. It does share with these other climbers an equable temperament and a propensity for year-round flowering. A robust fellow, it grows vigorously – if you need to cover a fence or wall, the galphimia vine, as it is commonly known, will oblige. Like many fast growers, it needs good soil to flourish and a sunny spot with plenty of organic fertilizer. Once installed, it will produce clusters of five-petaled yellow blooms and lush pale green foliage. It seeds freely, and can also, as with most hard-wood vines, be resurrected from cuttings. Three easy-care vines. More next week… if you have the energy to read about them.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured, email the author at:

— Patrick Campbell

Thai Life

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