On Gardening: A salute to the Spanish flag

March 23, 2015

Spanish flag is an annual vine that produces hundreds of colorful flower spikes.

As spring fast approaches to our favorite past time of gardening it is high time we give some thought to raising the Spanish flag. While that is a little tongue and cheek the extraordinarily beautiful vine we call Spanish flag is certainly one that will cause your friends and neighbors to be green with envy. It is has another common name, exotic love.

It is known botanically as Ipomoea lobata and is native to Brazil. You might recognize the scientific name and relatives like morning glory, moon vine and sweet potatoes. One thing is guaranteed, grow it and you will be getting out the camera because this annual vine is like none others you have ever grown.

There is a revival of sorts going on in the garden world with the incorporation of climbers. Sure there are those with cottage-style gardens where climbers have always been popular. But there seems to be a new group out there with modern new homes who are building flower borders and incorporating vertical growing. Once you start growing upwards, it is kind of like you have arrived. Your neighbors begin to suspect that the weekend when you were suppose-to-be at grandmaís you were really at a landscape design seminar that cost a pretty penny.

If you canít find nursery-grown plants, no problem; these seeds are usually easy to find and you will be in business in no time. It takes around 135 days from seeding until you have hundreds of those glorious 8-inch spikes showing red, orange, yellow and cream all at the same time. There are several flowering stems on each branch, but flowers are borne only on one side of the stem. The flowers have a long vase life lasting several days and prove to be a delight to hummingbirds. Considering this vine produces these flowers in one season from seed makes me wonder why it is not more widespread.

We made a tower out of bamboo for our vine that was growing in the cottage garden. With arbors, trellises and towers becoming the rage, you have a lot of choices other than building your own. Plant your seeds in well-drained, fertile soil after the soil has warmed. Soaking the seeds overnight helps the germination process that takes place in 10 to 16 days. You can also lightly scratch the seeds with sandpaper to speed up germination. Space plants at least18-inches apart. This is a vine that needs plenty of sun and a sturdy structure on which to climb.

In the landscape, this vine can definitely be considered as a quick cover for arbor, lattice or trellis. Initially you will want to give it a little training help by tying, but then invite the neighbors over and watch it grow. I have to admit I did find it wonderfully humorous to see the staff adding more height to the tower a couple of times as the vine grew with reckless abandon.

The vines are capable of growing 10 to 20 feet and will be there a long time so keep them well mulched for the long season. To keep the vine growing vigorously, feed with light monthly applications of a slow-released balanced fertilizer. Keep well- watered, particularly during the long bloom cycle that should start in late summer lasting though fall.

Spanish Flag screams to be partnered with blue spikey flowers like Blue Fortune or Black Adder agastache. Salvias like Mystic Spires Blue, or Cathedral Deep blue would also look absolutely riveting. Since Spanish Flag brings in butterflies and hummingbirds, any of these combinations will just add to a pollinator haven.

Just as you add a picture or mirror on a wall in the living room a climber like Spanish Flag gives that sense of depth and dimension to your flower border outside. Once you do this, your landscape become as series of outdoor rooms.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services