Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chickening out on vinca

Last weekend’s gardening chores included planting a variegated periwinkle (Vinca minor ‘Illumination’) in the ground near a clumping bamboo (Borinda papyrifera). The idea was to let the vinca fill in the bare spots near the bamboo. Even when not in bloom this is a beautiful groundcover, and I was excited to have found it.

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Vinca minor ‘Illumination’

However, several readers expressed concern about vinca’s aggressive growth so I decided to do some research to confirm that I had made the right decision. I didn’t take long before I realized that I probably had not. The Internet is full of horror stories about vinca. Apparently it has the ability to engulf and smother everything in its path. Since it competes aggressively for water and nutrients, it simply starves other plants that might get in its way.

While I do take what I read online with a grain salt, enough doubt was raised in my mind that I decided to dig up my Vinca minor ‘Illumination’ and instead put it in a bowl in the same location. Our backyard is simply too small to play Russian roulette.

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Vinca minor ‘Illumination’ in the ground…
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…but now confined to a clay bowl with a piece of plastic underneath to prevent roots growing through the drain holes into the ground

Interesting bits and pieces of information I unearthed about vinca:

Vinca minor is classified as invasive in CA, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MD, MI, NC, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, WI, and WV.

The U.S. Forest Service featured Vinca minor as its Weed of the Week on 2/1/2006. I love the “Weed of the Week” designation. Why should the pretties get all the attention?

Vinca is native to Europe and was introduced to the U.S. in the 1700s as an ornamental.

During the Middle Ages, criminals wore wreaths made of vinca on their way to their place of execution.

In Italy it was called Flore de morte (flower-of-death) and placed on the bodies of dead infants.

The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus: Of the Virtues of Herbs, Stones, and Certain Beasts describes a very special use for vinca:

When wrapped with earthworms, then beaten into a powder and cooked with an herb called houseleek [succulents we now call “sempervivum”], periwinkle will induce love between man and wife if they partake of it as part of their meals.

And there you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about vinca a.k.a. periwinkle, creeping myrtle, joy-on-the-ground, flower-of-death, blue buttons, hundred-eyes, devil’s eye, or sorcerer’s violet.

4 comments:

  1. For your small yard, this is probably a good decision. Just be aware that vinca spreads when the vines touch the soil and take root, not by spreading roots. It's not instantaneous though, so don't think you need to prune the trailing vines every couple of days.

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  2. BTW, Blotanical still isn't getting your posts. The last post of yours I saw there was "Wordless Wednesday"

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  3. You know it might make a pretty hanging plant under the bay trees!

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  4. Becky -- I've never considered putting it in a hanging pot before! I'm going to do that with my vinca major this year, as I've got plenty of plants I can dig up. Thanks for the idea!

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