Unintended fruit in mid September

I took a leisurely stroll through the garden Saturday morning for the first time since the heavy rains ended, and with a bit of sun the lawn has firmed up so that I can walk without turning my gardening sandals to a muddy mess. An abbreviated tour a day earlier had shown no damage from the week long storms, but lots of blooms coming along. So, I spent most of the late morning wandering about, stooping and kneeling to catch up after too many days looking at the garden from the kitchen window as the rain poured down.

The passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata, above) has been trained up the column and along the roof line of the summer shade house (a distance of fifteen or sixteen feet) until it has reached the end of the cable that I attached earlier in the summer. I have trained the still vigorously growing shoots to double back rather than growing into the Seven Son tree, and now that I am satisfied that the cable has been successful, I’ll install a cable to guide the vine along the roof line in the other direction next year.

There have been many dozens of flowers through the summer, and numerous buds are still to open until frost kills the vine to the ground. Passion vine requires a bit of maintenance to keep it in bounds, and I’ve begun to have suckers pop up between the stone slabs in the patio. They are easily pulled, but they’ll be back, and through the years the vine becomes ever more vigorous, so this is not one to plant and forget. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a low maintenance garden, but if a gardener has an inclination to keep his work to a minimum, passion vine is a poor choice.

Tropical (non cold hardy) passion vines are often found in garden centers, but the flowers of this cold hardy type are as splendid as any, so unless a different colored bloom is desired I can think of no good reason to plant any other. The vine emerges late in the spring, so the gardener must exercise caution not to give up on it, and then later to pull it as a weed. A stout support is required for the passion vine, but certainly not of the sturdiness necessary for wisteria. The vine dies to the ground each winter, so it does not get woody, and the stems are rather light in weight.

In any case, I bring the passion vine up because a fruit (above) has developed, the first I’ve seen since I planted it. The smooth skinned, lemon sized, green fruit hangs down from the roof exactly in the middle of the path onto the stone patio so that I must veer to one side or the other to avoid it. I’m not certain how to determine when it’s ripe, but the fruit is too large for birds to eat, so I suppose that I’ll taste it when it’s ready.

Though the planting around the swimming pond has become quite a tangled jungle, I managed to get close enough to the ‘Black Lace’ elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’, spring blooms above and fruit below) to see a few clusters of small dark berries. The berries are not abundant without another variety as a pollinator, but birds have discovered them, so it appears that the berries are gone as soon as they ripen. The elderberry was planted only for ornament, so I’m happy to leave the fruit for the birds.

‘Black Lace’ demands a bit of annual pruning of branch tips to maintain a more compact form, but even if allowed to sprawl the form is not awkward and the foliage is quite wonderful. The dark purple foliage is deeply divided, similar to a Japanese maple, and it doesn’t fade severely in the heat of summer. Several years ago I planted a yellow leafed form with broader leaves, but it pooped out in July and failed to survive the year. Perhaps if it had been planted in more damp soil it would have fared better, but ‘Black Lace’ has not been particular at all.

The crop of blueberries was sparse earlier in the summer, and I didn’t harvest a single berry, leaving them for the birds. In the past, when there were eight or ten large shrubs in the garden (that have since been removed to make room for something or the other) I enjoyed picking a handful of berries as I wandered about, and usually I would double back for another handful. Sometimes I’d pick enough to take in to share with my wife, but now I’m happy enough to let the birds have their fill, and I’ll pick up a quart or two when I visit the local grocer. Eating the warm berries as I strolled the garden seemed a just reward for my efforts, but today there are fewer on the small shrubs, so as long as the quantity is limited I prefer to keep the birds happy.

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