Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham

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'Passiflora manicata''
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'Distictis''
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Passiflora manicata

There is something irresistible about the colour red. It’s the colour of warmth, of ripe Summer fruit and hearty, rich food and wine.
During the bleak sodden days of Winter I long for red flowers in the garden to cheer me up and remind me what Summer looks like.
To my surprise two beautiful tropical vines come up trumps here in our region.
One is the amazing passion vine known as Passiflora manicata from Peru and Venezuela which blooms for most of the year here in a sheltered sunny spot with the most spectacular flowers. They are crimson with a purple eye in the centre and face upwards towards the sun. These result in smallish yellow fruit which are pleasant to eat though not as tangy as our famous black passionfruit. This evergreen vine is a fast, rampant grower with wiry slender stems and lush three-lobed leaves rather like the banana passion vine and likewise it is hardy and long-lived. While the main crop of flowers comes in the warmer weather, they still appear through the first half of Winter. Passiflora manicata is one of hundreds of different passion vine species from all over the world. There is even a NZ native species which the Maori call Kohia with exquisite, small creamy flowers and small orange fruit which are eaten by Kukupa.

Another red-flowered vine to knock your Winter socks off is the Mexican Blood-flower Vine, Distictis buccinatoria. It is also evergreen and I notice it is still flowering now, although it also flowers prolifically through the Summer and Autumn. In fact it seems to flower best when its under stress from lack of water or nutrients which to my mind seems like a remarkable reward for a gardener’s neglect. The slender blood-red trumpet flowers have rich orange-yellow throats and grow in clusters above the leaves. The vine grows fast and will cover 10m of fence or trellis in a single year with a curtain of luxurious foliage and crimson flowers. Its ideal for hiding an unsightly basement or creating lush shade over a pergola.
What I like about the blood-flower vine is that it looks great all year long and the flowers appear almost all the time in this climate. The best flower display results from growing it in dry, well-drained but poor soil. I still think it’s a good idea to get it off to a good start with a dose of good compost in the planting hole and plenty of water until its established, then abandon it to survive without further help. That’s what I tend to do anyway so its very much my kind of plant.
Both of these vines have twining tendrils that hold them to their support structure so they don’t need tying up once they’re pointed in the right direction.  They also don’t mind being cut back hard when they get too big for their boots. They just bounce back with lush new growth, and there are no nasty spikes or bad habits to deal with.
You’d think they were custom-made for the lazy gardener.
Those defiantly Summery red flowers growing around the deck railing or over the pergola could be just what a desperate refugee from Winter needs, with the fire roaring in the grate and a mug of mulled wine to complete the picture.

NB: Something to remember about subtropical plants is that they are subtropical, which means they don’t like going into cold wet soil. You need to wait till Spring’s warmth starts before you plant them. This includes Passionfruit, Hibiscus, bananas, frangipani, tamarillos and any of the other frost-tender plants, even if you don’t get frost. Once they’ve had a Summer’s growth they will have enough resilience to handle next Winter’s mucky worst!

 

 

(Text and photography copyright Russell Fransham 2005)