Category Archives: Vines

Akebia Vine

I’ve never met an Akebia I’ve liked.  When I see them they aren’t very friendly.  Twisting away, with a careless attitude.  Floppy, struggling with health, spotty.    Until this April when I saw the soft and secret flowers hiding under the five leaves.  They were in shades of violet and white butter cream.  Bursting open towards the spring sunshine.  A lovely surprise.  I was also surprised to read that the Akebia vine produces edible fruit, sausage shaped and purple, but only with cross pollination from another Akebia. Some reports say that the fruit tastes like tapioca.  Akebia vine needs pruning to keep it in check.  It can grow rapidly and cover fences and other plants.  It can be invasive in moist and happy conditions, with not too much heat or too much cold.   Several cultivars are available, ‘Alba’ has white flowers and fruits, ‘Rosea’ has lighter purple or lavender flowers, ‘Silver Bells’ has white flowers also and ‘Variegata’ has pale pink flowers and white variegated foliage.  Akebia quinata is native to central China, Korea and Japan.

I recently came across some fascinating information on the subject of vines in the book Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata.   Some tropical vines, such as liana, can reach 3000 feet long!  I can’t even begin to comprehend a vine growing just over half a mile long. The tallest trees on earth are in the neighborhood of 300-400 feet. “The rain forests of the foggy temperate coasts are heavily laden with mossy epiphytes but the trees are free of vines.  Vines such as wild grape, Smilax brambles, bittersweet and Virginia creepers penetrate well into Canada, but only as sprawlers in open habitats.  Temperate zone vines are weedy species absent from tall forests even thought the rough bark of many temperate trees offers abundant holdfasts.  Tropical warmth and moisture may be more critical to the success of vines than they are to the epiphytes.  In the humidity and mild warmth of the lowland tropical rain forest, there is a lack of such environmental constraints.”  So vines are free to grow in the tropics because of favorable conditions, I wonder what an Akebia would do there?

Just the Facts
Akebia quinata    Fiveleaaf Akebia
Length 15-30 ft (4-9 m)  Needs support as a climber or can be used as a ground cover
Zones 4-8
Sun or Shade
Fast growth in mild regions, more slowly with cold winters
Considered  invasive in moist or warm areas
Purple Flowers, Edible fruit


Little Known Edible and Useful Plants for the Northwest

This week I attended the Focus on Farming Conference in Snohomish County as a volunteer with the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association.  I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Dave Boehnlein of Terra Phoenix Design.  His concept of permaculture was easy to understand.  To create systems and landscapes that provide things other than aesthetics.  He suggested some new plants  for this permaculture approach.  His idea is to to help people meet their own needs and create an integrated garden design.  Dave is a great speaker and shared his enthusiasm and new ideas with us.  Here is his list of Functional Plants for the Pacific Northwest. You might find a new favorite on his list!

1.  Cork Oak (Quercus suber)  From Portugal, Mediterranean.  Used for cork production.  Tough plant, can take poor soils and dry conditions.  Evergreen.

2. White Mulberry (Morus alba)  A permaculture all-star plant.  Produces fruit July through September.   Chickens can forage underneath.  Leaves are high in protein and a fodder crop for sheep and cattle.  When leaves are young and tender they are edible to humans as well.  Silk worms only eat mulberry leaves.

3. Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativas)  Can take poor soils.  Is the most expensive spice on earth.  It takes 30,000 plants to make one pound of spice.  Beautiful and useful.

4. White Currant (Ribes glandulosum) Birds will eat the red and black currants, but don’t see or eat the white.  This plant can grow and produce in the understory, in part shade.

5. Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) From Chile, well-adapted to the Northwest.  Spectacular nut tree as well as timber tree. The nuts were the staff of life for the indigenous people.  Need male and female trees to produce nuts.  Nuts sell for $60/lb.

6. Fuki (Petasites japonicus) From Japan, shade tolerant and likes wet soil.  Huge leaves make a big statement in the landscape.  Can harvest stalks when tender for a food crop.

7.  Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) This is the pine that produces pine nuts.  It needs good drainage and is a tough plant.

8. Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) A hardy palm for the Northwest.  Because of the dissimilarity to our native plants it is a dynamic nutrient accumulator, drawing up micronutrients from the soil.  Used for fiber, building (roofs) and the flower stalks are edible.

9. Bladder Senna (Colutea arborescens) A nitrogen fixing shrub.  Reaches 9-10 ft. tall.  Orange/yellow flowers with pink seed pods.  Easy to manage, doesn’t spread prolifically.  No thorns.

10. Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) From the East Coast of the United States, aesthetic value, up to 6 ft. tall.  Fiddlehead fronds are edible.

11. Amole or Soap root  (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)  From California, tubers used for soap. Perennial, flower, resilient.

12. Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) Tuber forming, like potato.  A lost crop of the Incas.  Also a weed barrier.

13. Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora) From Japan7-8 ft. Beautiful bronzy new growth and stems.  Little berries high in lycopene.  Thorny, self-fertile.

14. Pineapple Broom (Cytisus battandieri) Nitrogen fixer, up to 12 ft. tall, clusters of yellow flowers with a pineapple scent.

15. Yuzu Citrus (Citrus ichangensis) From Japan, the most hardy of the citrus.  Like lime or lemon.  Needs good drainage, protection.

16. New Zealand Flax (Phormium) Fiber plant of the Maori people, use for plant ties.

17. Ground Nut (Apios americana) Nitrogen fixing vine, produces edible tubers, has nice flowers.

18. Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) Has a high sugar content, tastes like wintergreen.  Can be used for birch syrup or drinks.

19. Udo (Aralia cordata) From Japan.  Perennial to 6 ft. tall.  Harvest shoots when they are 6-8 inches,  like asparagus. An understory plant.

20. Azarole (Crataegus azarolus) As well as other Crataegus.  Drought tolerant, can take winter wet.  Has juicy, sweet fruit.  Ornamental and production!

For further information he listed a few resources:

Plants for a Future (

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford

Dave Boehnlein

Wisteria All Grown Up!

Wisteria the double agent.  It pretends to be a vine, but it’s really a tree.  This one is growing in my friend Lory’s garden and is quite spectacular as it winds its way up a Western Red Cedar.  She said this wisteria has been growing here for about 17 years.

Wisteria making itself at home in a Western Red Cedar

Natural Trellis

Base of Wisteria and Cedar

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is the most popular form.  It twists in a counterclockwise direction and blooms with long racemes of purple flowers in May, before the leaves have arrived.  The flowers have a sweet scent that is delicious as it drifts through the air.  Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) twists clockwise and the blooms are longer than Chinese wisteria, opening slowly from the base towards the tip of the raceme.  These plants are in a hurry.  They can grow 25 feet in one year which means they will need a lot of pruning to keep them in check.  Not a plant for wimps!

Wisteria on Arbor at the Gray Barn Nursery

Wisteria  Trained into a  Tree

Wisteria reaching and invading the neighborhood

Giant Wisteria Vine at the Arboretum

Vines for the Garden

Fatshedera lizei

Fatshedera lizei

When yearning to enter the third dimension, when insisting to fill the vertical space, when inspired to lift up thine eyes, try growing vines in the garden.  The technical definition of a vine is: any plant having a long, slender stem that trails or creeps on the ground or climbs by winding itself about a support or holding fast with tendrils or claspers.   Are vines really one of the best kept gardening secrets?  When people enter a nursery, they almost always head for the flowers, the shrubs, the trees.  Often the vine bed is unknown and unseen.  There are some amazing plants that grow as vines and can fill interesting vertical spaces in a garden.  Fatshedera is a hybrid cross between english ivy and Japanese aralia, with big glossy green leaves.  It’s semi-evergreen and needs some protection from frosty temperatures.  I keep mine in a container and will move it into the garage during cold weeks.  I have the variegata variety, with yellow and cream showing up in unexpected patterns. One of my favorite leaves was split right down the middle, half green and half white.  Wisteria is a vigorous vine, growing quickly to cover a trellis, arbor or even a tree.  The long panicle flowers bloom purple or white in spring and scent the air with a sweet fragrance.  Hydrangea vine can cover a north-facing wall and is a good bet for a shadier spot.  There is one in my neighborhood that reaches up to the roof on a two story house.  A spectacular sight.  The lacy white flowers bloom in summer.  Another shade vine is Kadsura.  It holds most of it’s leaves in the winter and grows 8-15 feet.  Boston Ivy is famous for the fabulous fall color in bright reds, oranges and yellows.  The clinging tendrils can be hard to remove, but this plant will make a dense, even wall cover.  Leaves drop in the winter and grow again each spring.  The fuzzy kiwi vine has appealing leaves, and will produce fruit if both male and female vines are planted together.  Honeysuckle is famous for the deliciously fragrant flowers.  There are many varieties, shapes and sizes of this lonicera, both evergreen and deciduous.   These are only a small sampling of this favorable group of plants.  Vines create a complete garden and will add a new dimension to your display.