Cup and saucer vine

by Adam Pasco

A wooden obelisk at the heart of my formal garden plays host to a variety of annual climbers, but I've grown tired of sweet peas in recent years.

Cobaea scandensA wooden obelisk at the heart of my formal garden plays host to a variety of annual climbers, but I've grown tired of sweet peas in recent years. Their performance relies on the right weather, but we don't seem to be getting the 'right' weather any more (that's a topic for another day).

So, what are the alternatives? There are quite a few annual climbers to choose from actually. Morning glory (ipomoea) is popular, but their flowers are all too short-lived. The purple bell vine (rhodochiton) is nice for a pot, but not rampant enough for an obelisk. I tried black-eyed Susan (thunbergia) last year, but flowers were sparse.

Then there's the cup-and-saucer vine, Cobaea scandens, described in the RHS A-Z of Garden Plants as a "woody, evergreen and herbaceous climber found in forest and thickets from Mexico to tropical South America." I'd love to see a picture of this. Suffice to say, my cobaea is on an obelisk in Cambridgeshire, and has been a star this summer.

I've tried growing it from seed before, but nothing germinated. This year I grew three seedlings from seed sown in the greenhouse in April. Slow at first , they soon developed into strong climbers, so tall split canes were pushed into the pots for support. By early June they were about a meter high, and robust enough to plant outside. Cobaea produces lots of spiralling tendrils for support, and these do a good job themselves, although I sometimes lend a hand to point shoots in the direction I'd like.

Flowers were a while coming, but by August a succession had developed, providing blooms until now, in November. The shape of their flower resembles a cup and saucer, hence their common name, but another descriptive name for them is cathedral bells. From the centre of the bell emerge a tight clump of stamens with curved tips carrying pollen-laden anthers. I was hoping some might have set seed, but no luck yet!

With sweet peas long gone I've just checked and the cup-and-saucer vine still carries a few blooms despite the frosts of recent nights. Will I have flowers for Christmas?

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Gardeners' World Web User 16/01/2008 at 22:41

I too find sweet peas a great deal of work with all that dead heading and I don't even like cut flowers in the house that much so have started growing Morning Glory instead. Last year I chose a red variety - sorry, name escapes me - and though the flowers were small and short lived they grew in such profusion they gave a great display right through to the frosts. No effort required apart from sowing and planting out. Brilliant.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/07/2008 at 16:09

About a month ago I have finished a small pergola (6ft X 4ft x 7ft) in my tiny garden, and I bought a cobaea from my local car boot without knowing what it was. Since I planted it at the corner of the pergola it has galloped away and now covers half of one side. I am looking forward to seeing it flower. A question: can I keep it over the winter if I cut it back and cover the roots?

Gardeners' World Web User 07/11/2009 at 18:17

I'm new to the site and need info on harvesting seed from Cobaea Scandens. I bought seeds from my local Wyevale last year.My garden faces south and the plants I got have done so well,height and distance and loads of flowers. After the flowers drop, a fruit/seed starts and gets quite large (about the size of a Kiwi fruit. I've cut one open and it's full of green seeds. My question I leave the rest of the 'pods' on the plants,or remove them,open them and try to dry out the seeds? Anyone had experience of this? Any successes?

Gardeners' World Web User 09/11/2009 at 12:10

I've never harvested seed from this plant myself, but as a rule you should wait for seed to fully ripen in its pod before emptying them out. As weather is turning cold now I'm not sure how ripe the seeds inside pods will have developed. If not yet fully mature then they may not be viable, but certainly worth trying.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/12/2009 at 13:40

I've grown mine from seed rather late in April or so and it only started flowering in late August but it's still flowering and bumblebees are still feeding on it now in December in London. It's full of seed pods too but I'm not sure I want anymore of it. It grew so vigorously this summer, I'm afraid it might take over the whole garden and eventually the world!

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