Monday, 1 September 2014

Beautiful Weeds: Periwinkle

The first time I took any notice of this attractive plant was when I saw it growing in a Canberra garden where it was used as a ground cover beneath a deciduous tree in an island bed. This courtyard bed was surrounded by paving and the periwinkle was the only ground cover used there.  The plant was the lesser periwinkle - Vinca minor and it made an attractive low growing, yet dense, planting.

The distinctive windmill sail petals of the periwinkle

A year or two later I saw blue periwinkle - Vinca major, the larger ornamental species, growing in a large country garden. What appealed were the beautiful bluish single flowers along with the glossy dark green oval leaves. Now smitten by the plant I took a few rooted shoots home to my own garden and with a little care they soon thrived. That relocation was a bad mistake because within a couple of years the periwinkle soon spread throughout the shadier parts of my garden.  Instead of making a dense ground cover the plants habit was wiry and allowed other plants to grow through it. Soon realising that the plant was weedy I decided to rip the plant out of my garden. I now appreciate this beautiful plant in other peoples gardens rather than my own.

Periwinkle is often found growing 
in old cemeteries

The Vinca genus is a member of the Apocynaceae family, a poisonous tribe that includes the oleander and mandevilla.  The larger species is native to the Mediterranean area and prefers moist, shady sites.  Due to its popularity with home gardeners (sorry) the plant has become a garden escape in many areas.

Vinca major 'Variegata' 
growing among Asparagus

Vinca major flowers from late winter to spring. While most colours are bluish purple there is also a white cultivar. Another popular choice is the variegated form. The smaller sized species Vinca minor is native to south-west and central Europe and the Caucasus and grows in similar conditions to its larger cousin. The flowering period also lasts longer, from late winter to early summer. Roger Phillips and Martin Rix in their classic 1991 book Perennials (volume 1) list several cultivars: 'Albo-variegata' has white flowers and gold variegated leaves; 'Argenteo-variegata' has silver edged leaves; 'Atropurpurea' has deep-purplish-red flowers; and 'Flore Pleno' has double purplish-blue flowers, both with green leaves.

© Silas Clifford-Smith 2014
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