Tardy starters

28 April 2017

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SOWING morning glories now is an easy win. Ipomoea, to give them their Latin name, grow quickly, and peak in August, when gardens tend to look tired. They will clamber over shrubs or a wigwam of bamboo canes and distract attention away from any unkempt areas, with their brightly coloured funnel-shaped blooms like fairy lights in a student’s digs. They are also useful to furnish and add height to a new garden while perennial subjects establish; they can hide raw fences and create a sense of enclosure.

It is getting late in the seed-sowing calendar for most subjects, but these climbers from tropical America are speedy, and the last-minute gardener can afford to be smug. A young morning-glory plant put outside too soon, when tem­per­a­tures drop below 10°C, will turn yellow, sulk, and may never recover. So rejoice in your tardiness, and go shopping for seeds.

There are a few varieties to choose from, ranging in colour from crimson through purple and plum to blue. Ipomoea tricolor “Heavenly Blue” has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It is per­ennial in warmer climates, but can be treated as an annual in UK gardens. It delivers blooms that are a perfect sky-blue — a rare colour in the average border — right up until the first frosts of autumn. Each flower lasts just one day, but they keep coming.

Ipomoea lobata, another AGM winner, does not have the typical bindweed-shaped flowers. Instead, they resemble tiny bananas held out to one side of the flower stems, and age through orange, yellow, and cream. A profusion of flowers at different stages gives a spectacular effect.

Morning-glory seeds are large and easy to handle. It is worth soak­ing them in a mug of water over­night, but not essential. Sow one per small pot, and place somewhere warm indoors. They should germi­nate in a few days. Let them get into their stride on a warm windowsill as the nights warm. By June, you will have vigorous young plants raring to be unleashed.

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One word of warning: they are, at this stage, very tempting fodder to slugs and snails; so protect them by scattering a few organic slug pellets around each plant, or create a bar­rier using sheep’s-wool pellets. Choose a warm settled spell of weather, and plant in pots or into beds. They will scramble over chain-link fences, twiggy prunings pushed into the ground, or any tall pieces of junk that you can find, such as decommissioned step-ladders, or curtain poles inserted into the soil with the finial at the other end retained.

They will clamber over existing shrubs, provided they have a fairly open framework. To clothe a conifer, an annual climber with cling­­ing tendrils is needed, such as the lovely Chilean glory vine Eccremo­carpus scaber. There is time to sow these, too, if you do it now. They will dis­play their racemes of pinky-red, orange, or yellow tubular flowers from late August well into autumn, and, in a mild garden, survive winter to flower earlier the next year.

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