The plant: Lilac vine is native to Australia, where gardeners like to call it “false sarsaparilla” or “native lilac.” It reminds some of us in the Valley of the wisterias we left behind in our gardens back home. The lilac vine, as we Americans call it, is a beautiful climber with profuse purple pealike flowers that bloom in late winter and early spring in the low desert.
Her magnificent show of “look at me” purple blooms keeps your eyes entertained for weeks, and then she quietly fades into the background as spring and summer bloomers take over.
This vine was named Hardenbergia after Franziska Countess von Hardenberg, a 19th century patroness of botany, and violacea for her violet-hued blooms. She is a member of the pea family and grows throughout southeastern Australia. Luckily for us, the similar climate conditions we share with southern Australia make this plant a winner in our gardens. If you’re looking for a plant to brighten up your winter, choose this spectacular evergreen vine.
Growing guide: Morning sun and afternoon shade
Culture: You’ll find transplants of lilac vine in local nurseries December to March. Since this vine is moderate- to fast-growing, save some coin by purchasing one-gallon pots instead of larger, more expensive specimens. Lilac vine twines and sprawls up to 10 feet and can be used as a climber or as a ground cover. Prepare your soil for flowering plant cultivation. Once your vine is planted, water it regularly during the first season to establish a deep root system. For future seasons, applications of organic bat guano or all-purpose “dry crumbles” (a combination of organic ingredients in a dry, granular form) would encourage nice blooms and healthy growth. If you are training lilac vine upward, provide support.
Maintenance: Lilac vine is easy: Just prune after flowering.
Barn Goddess tips: Happy Wanderer is the most common selection of lilac vine you’ll find in local nurseries, but others are worth seeking out. Monrovia introduced Lilac Swirl in 2002. It combines royal-purple and snow-white blossoms in one plant. Rosea offers pink blooms, and Mini-Ha-Ha is a shrubby dwarf growing just 3 feet tall and wide. Lilac vines also grow well in pots. Foliage at the bottom of the vine can become sparse, so plant other diminutive growers around the base to conceal bare areas. I’ve combined this vine with queen’s wreath to arch over a client’s living room windows. The two vines provide delightful color for most of the year.
Visit www.gardenterritory.com and click on “Organic Gardening” for details on how to prepare soil for flowering plants, annuals and perennials.
Leslie Honaker is a master gardener and co-owner of Garden Territory at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix.