Every winter and spring, I go through the various seed catalogs that fill my mailbox. I also spend time online looking for strange, unique and odd flower and vegetable seeds to try.
Many small nurseries do not mail catalogs but do have websites. I have found a number of unusual plants this way. I review the nursery’s description and also check Sunset’s Western Garden Book for any details it might have. Then I do a Google search for any other information prior to ordering.
Last winter, I discovered hyacinth beans (Dolichos Lablab) online. I decided to give them a try.
Since pollinators appreciate a garden with a wide variety of plants, my choice was a good one. Although the planting instructions said to nick the seed’s hard shell, I just soaked the seeds overnight and planted them outdoors when the air and soil had warmed.
Because they wanted to grow, they did. The plants quickly covered the trellis and started to bloom. When I saw the blossoms, I was pleased that my inquisitive nature (some call me snoopy) had led me to this plant. The flowers did not last as cut flowers but faded within 24 hours. Leaving them on the vine worked best for me, the bees and the butterflies.
The pretty flowers resembled the blooms on sweet peas. They were pale lavender with some deeper purple and creamy white areas. Shortly after bloom, bright purple pods began to form all over the vine.
Once the pods seemed mature, I picked them all and dried the beans to plant this coming spring. Lo and behold, the plant seems to be surviving our Napa Valley winter. It bloomed again in the fall and is loaded with purple pods. The beans inside are slow to ripen but this plant appears prepared to survive the winter.
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I did a bit more research and learned that the vine can be a perennial in frost-free areas. So far, we have not had a frost this year. During these dark days of winter, I love seeing those purple bean pods all over the plants.
In some parts of the world, the hyacinth bean vine and pods are used as forage. However, the dried bean can be poisonous unless prepared in specific ways. Since I don’t plan to eat them, I have not looked into that subject further.
If you need a living screen, consider planting hyacinth bean. These plants can reach 8 feet in a single season and will quickly cover a large area.
For a bean trellis, try double-stacking square tomato cages with a stake on one side for support. This is what my dream beans are growing on now.
The hyacinth bean is also known as the Egyptian or Indian bean. It was introduced to European gardens in the early 18th century and made its way to the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson may have grown them at Monticello; they are featured there today. He wrote a garden book in 1812 and mentioned that he had beans of many colors growing on arbors in his garden.
I have found many sources online for hyacinth bean seeds. For me, trying something new is a big part of the gardening adventure.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, Jan. 5, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Why do we prune roses? Is winter the only time to do it? What will happen if you don’t? Should hybrid tea roses be pruned differently than floribunda types? Join the experienced Master Gardeners of Napa County Rose Team at this popular forum. Topics include rose types, how and when to prune, what tools to use, tool care, safety and sanitation. Please come with your rose questions. Online registration (credit card only). Mail-in/walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment)
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will conduct a workshop on “How to Plan and Plant a Home Vineyard” on Saturday, Jan. 12, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., in Yountville. Join our Integrated Grape Team members to learn techniques for planning and planting a home vineyard. The workshop will be held at a new home vineyard planted last year. Learn the necessary planning steps, become familiar with the checklist of activities, methods of determining the proper rootstock, selection of wine grape varietals for specific locations and estimated yield calculations. Review our calendar timeline for planning, site preparation, initial planting and timing of the first harvest for a new home vineyard. Online registration (credit card only); mail-in/walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County (napamg.ucanr.edu) answer gardening questions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. E-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on the web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?