Saturday 18 November 2017

An old pretender

Easy to grow and propagate, the potato vine is a ringer for jasmine
Easy to grow and propagate, the potato vine is a ringer for jasmine

Gerry Daly

Plants often pick up the name of another unrelated plant simply because there is a passing resemblance. This is the case for the potato vine, which is a ringer for the much-loved jasmine of Mediterranean gardens. Of course, jasmine grows here too but never with the same brio as its continental cousins.

The potato vine flowers are white like those of jasmine, at least they are in the most widely grown sort, a white form of the original, which has pale blue flowers, not badly unlike those of the potato, its true relative. But apart from the similarity with potato flowers, one would be hard-set to list other similarities.

The potato vine is a true vine, a vigorous climber well capable of reaching five metres or more in height and span. It has twining twigs and stems. Few plants offer as much flower over an extended period in late summer and late into autumn and even winter. The flower heads are light and airy, composed of about 20 starry, flaring, jasmine-like flowers, each with a pointed yellow centre.

Its ability to keep on flowering so late is a great asset and it does so until frost calls a halt. In a mild area or in a mild autumn, this could be well into November. The potato jasmine, like many members of potato family that are grown in gardens, comes originally from South America, native to Brazil.

As winter grips, some of the smaller twigs can be killed by frost but the main stems usually survive and sprout to make new flowering stems the following year. The loss of small twigs and foliage is akin to pruning and a little tidy-up might be needed in spring.

This is a very easy plant to grow and easy to propagate from cuttings in summer. It grows well in any soil that is not too heavy and a lighter soil will promote more sturdy growth. It can grow quite large but can be limited because it needs something to climb on as it does not have an ability to attach to a bare surface like ivy. It looks really well on a bower or pergola with those very pretty flowers hanging in clusters.

How do I remove old bark?

Q I'm having some problems in removing decorative bark from an area where I want to add about 10-20cm top soil and sow a lawn from grass seeds. Can I just leave it and cover it with soil? C Griffin, Dublin

A If there is just a thin layer of bark, simply cover it. If it is more than 2cm deep, the bark will rot down eventually and the soil might subside, leaving an uneven surface to the lawn. Uneven lawn could be remedied by top-dressing with good soil raked down in a thin layer.

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