Gardening: Tubular belles

TOTALLY TROPICAL: The magnificent flame vine, Pyrostegia venusta.
TOTALLY TROPICAL: The magnificent flame vine, Pyrostegia venusta.
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David Overend dreams of bringing the botany of the Med to the Pennines by growing a flame vine.

A few days of warmth and sunshine and Britons start to think they can grow just about anything in their gardens.

They think back to exotic holidays when every day was marked by blue skies, blazing sun and plants so colourful, so fragrant and so gorgeous that common sense goes out of the window and unbelievable optimism enters.

That’s why I want to grow Pyrostegia venusta (flame vine), a rampant climber that carries cascades of bright orange tubular flowers. It’s so stunning that it has also earned the name golden shower.

It’s a dazzling spectacle when in full flower, but in some parts of the world it has become so rampant it classed as a weed.

And yet I still want one growing high up in the Pennines where there’s usually snow in early May and where the winds are so lazy they blow through you rather than going around you.

I have seen the flame vine growing uncontrolled in sub-tropical gardens, and it is simply stunning. When it is allowed free rein, it can go head to head with a bougainvillea; and it’s just as tender.

Pyrostegia venusta is, in fact, a liana (a vigorous, woody climber) and it’s usually seen growing in tropical and subtropical areas, as well as in milder parts of the Mediterranean where plants form dense masses, growing up trees, on walls or over rocks.

In Brazil, the leaves of Pyrostegia venusta are used in traditional medicine as a tonic and for treating diarrhoea. However, Pyrostegia venusta is more widely known as an ornamental climber that flowers throughout the year in favourable locations.

The flame vine grows rapidly, climbing by tendrils and covering everything that can offer a good support. Heavy or frequent pruning is needed to restrain it.

That’s outdoors, of course, in countries where it has no fear that frost will ever threaten it. Here in the UK, things are different and Pyrostegia venusta needs protection, so the best advice is to grow it, under glass, in a loam-based compost with added sharp sand. A cool conservatory is considered ideal.

Even when confined to a container, it can put on impressive growth, but indoors it’s also a martyr to red spider mite and other greenhouse and conservatory pests.

Will I try growing one? Probably not. 
But I, like millions of Britons, can dream.

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