What’s the story, morning glory? Are you a friend or foe in the garden?
I am always amused and exasperated at people’s responses when a gardening site posts an article about morning glory on social media. Check the comments, and sure enough, gardeners have piled on hysterically, stating under no circumstances will they allow this “thug” into their gardens! They maintain that once established, it will take over the surrounding area and any structure in it, and will never be eradicated.
They are most likely thinking about bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), that scourge of many gardeners here in British Columbia and elsewhere. The white trumpet flowers (small and pink in the Okanagan) of this perennial are admittedly pretty. But its twining stems can root down for metres, and it quickly grows many more metres above ground, smothering everything in its path. It feels like the kiss of death when it appears in the garden. The seeds of this perennial weed can remain viable in the soil for 20 years or more. No wonder people love to hate it so much!
It doesn’t help that the US Department of Agriculture Plants Database unfairly lists all morning glories (the entire genus Ipomoea), as noxious.
But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Not all forms of morning glory are criminals. The annual morning glory will enhance any garden it’s planted in, and doesn’t deserve any hate directed at its lovely trumpet flowers.
I have heard people insist that for them the annual type is a perennial that they cannot get rid of. I still wonder if they have confused the annual form with the perennial weed? A plant can’t be an annual and a perennial at the same time – it’s either one or the other. Annual morning glory is a strong self-sower, however, so maybe they are seeing each year’s fresh crop of seedlings taking over. This happens in my small garden, but it’s no problem to rake up tiny seedlings, or pull larger plants before they can get out of control.
Bindweed? Time to Move!
When I was laid up with muscle spasms in my hip 15 years ago and fretting about not being able to work in my perennial garden, my dear husband thought he’d help me out. You can guess what happened next: he took a rototiller to the patch that was choked with buttercup and bindweed. And you know the rest: he only succeeded in scattering bits of these two noxious weeds all over my perennial bed, which immediately rooted and completely took over. That’s when I said it was time to move! Amazingly, I did not murder him on the spot, and we are still speaking to this day.
A Garden-Friendly Flower
The “good” morning glory I want to celebrate is Ipomoea spp, an annual flower that is grown from seed. This pretty climber is related to and looks similar to bindweed, but it has much better manners. Admittedly it is a strong grower, but comes nowhere near the thuggish behaviour of its weedy cousin.
FYI: Morning glory is related to sweet potatoes and yams, although it’s not edible. In fact, morning glory seeds are poisonous.
The garden-friendly morning glory is a twining vine that has delicate trumpets in a variety of shades, including purple, pink, red, white and sky blue, often with white throats marked with a star. Some even looked like they’re tie-dyed!
This fast-growing, upwardly-mobile vine will create great vertical interest in your garden when grown against a trellis or unsightly fence. It’s perfect to camouflage a chain link fence.
Glory In My Garden
I have grown ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory for decades, first at the Historic Stewart Farm’s heritage gardens, then in my cool Vancouver yard, and now in my hot, dry Okanagan garden. It grows like a champ in all these places.
I’m a big fan of Grandpa’s royal purple velvet trumpets with a white throat and a beautiful magenta star in the centre. It does reseed itself, so once planted, you will always have it, but the seedlings are easily eradicated with fingers or a rake.
So don’t be too quick to villainize morning glory. Do a little research and maybe you’ll discover that annual morning glory is a plant that’ll add a little glory to your garden.
What do you think, gardeners – is annual morning glory a friend or foe? Tell me where you live and how it grows for you in the comments.