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One of the plants that screams "summertime" to me are Morning Glories. Their trumpet shaped flowers that grow along a climbing vine are only open fully in a morning and will shrivel up as the sun gets to it's hottest, so you have to put a bit of effort into getting out there to enjoy them. I think they're worth it, and perhaps part of their attraction is their fragility and tendency to wilt away in the midday sunshine - us northerners have a funny relationship with the sun, we moan about not seeing it like they do "darn sarf", then complain when we turn lobster red and as sore as a smacked bottom if we suffer from a rare cloudless sky. So, like the Morning Glories, we long for the sun but it hurts us when we get some.
GROWING MORNING GLORIES
The BBC gardening website pages classify Morning Glories as a beginner level plant - I disagree. In my opinion, they are more needy than an 18 month old toddler who's teething and has nappy rash, and I've known friend's mother-in-laws who are less fussy. For starters, don't let the plants anywhere near a frost or cold night as they'll turn black quicker than a leaky pen in a white shirt pocket, and then die. In fact, I've forbidden the use of the "f" word (frost, not the one that rhymes with duck) in front of mine as they are that sensitive to it. To prevent the deadly frost scything down my Morning Glories, I don't plant mine out until June as we can't always guarantee frost free nights in the frozen wilds of Lancashire. Those of you who live in Devon and Cornwall with palm trees in the garden and who don't have to wear woolly jumpers outside of January and February would be able to put the small seedlings outside earlier, or even plant directly into the soil. About three years ago, I was on my fourth batch of seedlings which had been started indoors, then were planted out and subsequently killed by late frosts - it was very frustrating and I learned about the plant's fussiness the hard way. I learned that it's best to wait before planting the seeds out, then wait another week just to be sure. Don't worry, they'll still have time to grow even if you do wait till June.
They thrive in full sun as they need the warmth (they are originally a jungle plant from South America) and also need something to climb up. Unfortunately though, the full sunshine does batter the actual flowers a bit as they are used to hot shade in the jungles where they come from. I plant mine into a long low window box which sits on my decking right next to the balustrades of the hand rails. With some coaxing and clever positioning of twigs and string, I train the growing plants up these balustrades and the end effect is quite pretty - confirmed often by my wife and two daughters who being very girly have an eye for these things, especially the pink varieties. The climbing aspect can be tricky as you need to give them something to climb up when deciding on your final planting position. Something a bit strange that I've noticed about them is that they only ever seem to curl around whatever they are climbing up in an anti-clockwise direction. I don't know why, and am scared to find out in case I unlock the secrets of the universe. Maybe one of my fellow dooyooers might know about the anti-clockwise thing?, answers on a post card please!
I've found also that they respond well to feeding prior to flowering. I use the juice that drains from my compost bin to feed them, mixed in with water. Speaking of my compost juice, it's a bit like tripe - it comes from a disgusting place via disgusting means, but to some it's a luxury item. My Morning Glories certainly seem to sup up the luxury from it and produce quite long bushy vines when fed about twice a week before the plant starts to bloom. When the flowers do start to come through I then hold off on the watering and feeding - this tricks the plant into thinking that it's going to die and will produce a lot more flowers in the hope that it can "spread its seed" before it croaks it. Plants are right mucky little buggers and their sole raison d'etre seems to be to have sex - the floral equivalent of a teenage boy, but without the embarrassing diseases, CSA payments and guest appearances on the Jeremy Kyle Show. The compost juice thing is a fairly recent disgusting deviation of mine, so I'm able to compare their growth both with and without the smelly "tea" drink and can confidently say that they definitely do better with the feed than without.
In the UK climate the plants are what is known as "annuals" - meaning that they won't survive the winter and grow back, so need to be re-planted from new every year. You can save the seeds though and plant these next year, so long as they are dried out first and kept in a warmish place over the winter.
To get mine going, before planting the seeds into small compost filled pots (which are kept on the kitchen windowsill around early May ready for planting out in June) I soak the seeds overnight in tepid water. This starts the germination process and the next day you will see that the seeds have swollen and if you look very closely, you may even see the tip of a white shoot poking out of the end of the seed. Any seeds which haven't swollen are left in the water for another day and then looked at again, and the ones that have are placed into the pots and covered very lightly with fine crumbs of compost. After about 3 or 4 weeks, you will have plants that are a couple of inches high - by this time it should be late enough in the season to plant them out and avoid frosts. I do cram my plants together a bit, and I've found that four or five inches between plants seems to be enough to get them to grow at least a metre high.
As I mentioned above, they do require a bit of coaxing to start wrapping round your chosen supports - but once they take they will spiral up in a quite a tight corkscrew like a jungle creeping vine and give your garden a hint of the exotic.
After about two months from first soaking the seeds, you should start to get flowers appearing. To enjoy the flowers when in bloom, it's just a matter of making sure you get into the garden in a morning before the flowers shrivel up and wilt in the (hopefully) bright midday sun - although even in Devon you can't rely on an English summer being sunny!
In America, Morning Glories are generally considered to be a weed (shakes head in disbelief). I would gladly swap them with our nettles and dandelions as national weeds. Actually, some types of Morning Glories are illegal in the US to be grown due to their invasiveness in a warm climate. However, as I look outside at the rain and wind in the month of June I don't think we'll ever have that problem in the UK. Global warming? - BRING IT ON!
PESTS AND DISEASES COMMON TO MORNING GLORIES
Fortunately, if you can nurture your seedlings through the risk of late frosts, you won't be troubled by an army of diseases and pests - Morning Glories are relatively disease free and in my experience are very rarely troubled by pests, apart from perhaps the odd greenfly.
I grow a few different types for a riot of colours. The types that are easily available as seed include: Heavenly Blue, Carnivale De Venetia (a mixture of pinks, whites, blues and purples all with stripes on the petals), Hazelwood Blues, Ismay (man city blue coloured petals with an Everton blue stripe), and Kholians Black which are actually a deep brown rather than black, but look gorgeous.
USING MORNING GLORIES
There are, apparently, some people in the world that eat the seeds to get similar effects to taking LSD. It's currently a big worry in America where the plants grow everywhere, and to be honest it worries me that there's so many people in the country with the highest gun ownership in the world that are dribbling whilst staring at imaginary talking dogs called Wilson with 6 legs and hands instead of paws. Obviously, the health effects whilst being in this state are potentially fatal as people under the influence can do silly things resulting in their own tragic death, and also I bet half these people don't realise that commercially produced seeds in packets intended for gardeners are coated in nasty chemicals like fungicides and pesticides. Grow them, don't eat them. So, consider that a warning.
Also, the Japanese have used the seeds for hundreds of years as a powerful laxative, so not only are there countless Americans walking round with paranoid delusions about being eaten by their own settees, they are quite literally crapping themselves at the same time. As they would say, go figure!
All the usual suspects supply morning glory seeds, Suttons Seeds, Mr Fothergills etc and Wilkinsons are currently selling their own brand of "Heavenly Blue" seeds for 98p which gets you approx 60 seeds. Shop around though, I've seen Morning Glory seeds for sale in all sorts of places ranging from fancy book shops to Lidl and Aldi.
I think that Morning Glories are ultimately worth all the faffing about waiting for frost to pass and fiddling with bits of twigs trying to get them to wrap around a cane - these requirements certainly make them more tricky to grow than broad beans for example, a far more useful plant that tolerates the cold quite well and can be pretty much left to grow on their own. However, the small white pea like flowers on a broad bean plant aren't half as pretty as Morning Glories and the way that they climb means that with a bit of imagination you can transform a blank empty wall space or fence. However, for their fussiness, I'm knocking off a star and give them 4 out of 5 dooyoo stars. Thanks for reading.