Wednesday 21 March 2018

Gardening: Pretty blue bindweed excels

PRETTY: Blue bindweed makes a superb conservatory plant
PRETTY: Blue bindweed makes a superb conservatory plant

Gerry Daly

Blue bindweed is a very pretty small shrub-like plant that excels itself at this time of year. And yes, it is a bindweed, a name that many people associate with the annoying and troublesome weed of the same name. Mind you, even the weed, in flower, has its moments of prettiness, and gains perhaps a sneaking admiring glance.

The blue bindweed, or blue rock bindweed as it is also called, covers itself with blue flowers that have a touch of purple. The flowers are two or three centimetres across, shaped like a very shallow funnel. On the flowers, there is a series of radiating lines from edge to centre, each slightly offset and the pattern is reminiscent of the overlapping folds of a camera shutter. This distinctive shape is a family trait.

But the blue bindweed has none of the nasty habits of its relative. It is not a large plant and does not form the twisting stems of the weedy species that can reach three metres in a damp summer. The blue bindweed stems are light and run along the surface of the soil, and the plant is evergreen in countries of frost-free climate.

In a normal winter, it will die back part of the way and can be killed in a hard winter. This is not surprising, given that it comes from the region of the western Mediterranean, including North Africa. It has a woody base at ground level and can recover from there after some frost damage. This woody base does not send out spreading roots but stays in place.

The flower-covered plant is most appealing and can be used in a variety of ways. It is quite commonly used in hanging baskets for which its spreading, trailing habit is very suitable, added to its long flowering from June to autumn in a good sunny season.

It can be used as a rock garden flower, producing its long succession of blooms at a time of year when most rock garden plants have had their day. It is good grown at the front of paved borders where its mane of flowering stems can spill onto the paving.

Blue bindweed makes a superb summer greenhouse or conservatory plant. The extra warmth indoors makes it grow rapidly and it luxuriates in conditions more like those of its provenance. It can be grown from seeds sown in spring, which is how those used as bedding plants are grown, or from summer cuttings.

Sunday Independent

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