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Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca Minor)

Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca Minor)

This little flower is Vinca minor, the lesser periwinkle. It is native to Central Europe spreading down through Southern Europe into Asia Minor (although at this point it has naturalized throughout the temperate world as an invasive garden plant). In the United States they are sometimes confusingly (mis)called “myrtle”.

A magnificent carpet of lesser periwinkles (Vinca minor) near Vienna in Austria (photo: landschaftsfotos.at)

A magnificent carpet of lesser periwinkles (Vinca minor) near Vienna in Austria (photo: landschaftsfotos.at)

Lesser periwinkles are subshrubs (which would have made for a good insult in grade school). They grow only to 40 centimeters (16 inches) high and do not climb—though they spread rapidly into large clonal colonies. Periwinkles are members of the hardy Aster family (the plant family not the snooty otter-killing magnates from New York). With vigorous evergreen leaves and shapely five-petaled flowers, the plants can be used as perennial ground cover for flower gardens.

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The best and most famous feature of lesser periwinkles is the distinctive blue-purple color. In English the flower and its color have become synonymous—the latter surpassing the former in popular recognition! Periwinkle is a very lovely and soothing color which seems purple in some light and blue in others. It makes an ideal color for walls and home furnishings as well as garments.

Periwinkle

My garden in Brooklyn at the end of June.

My garden in Brooklyn at the end of June.

My summer garden looks a lot different this year for two reasons.  First of all, the hydrangea finally started blooming!  It has magnificent human head-sized blossoms the color of blueberry ice cream (or maybe I should say the color an alien gas-giant planet) and I love it.  I thought the poor thing was dead for a year and a half but now it is the centerpiece of the garden!  There is an allegory about hope in there somewhere.

The second big change is more disquieting.  In shade gardens, the best way to get a colorful ground cover is to plant impatiens—tiny jewel-like five petal flowers which easily grow into a dazzling multicolor carpet. Because they are cheap and hardy (and beautiful–despite what flower-snobs say), I usually carpet my beds with them.  But this year things went very, very wrong for impatiens.   A deadly strain of downy mildew has struck down happy little impatiens across the nation and beyond.   The pernicious fungus is named (Plasmopara obducens) and it has spread like an Old Testament plague through the United States and Great Britain (as painfully detailed in this excessively wordy NY Times article).  I bought a few flats of impatiens from the hardware store at the beginning of spring—but after that there were no more.  I fret that the little red and pink flowers could fall dead at any moment.

Vinca "Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry" (that doesn't get easier to write)

Vinca “Jams ‘N Jellies Blackberry” (that doesn’t get easier to write)

To make up for all of the coral and purple impatiens which I never got a chance to obtain, I bought a bright white New Guinea impatien (which you can’t see in the photo up there) and it is magnificent, however it was so expensive that I only bought one.  I filled up the remaining beds with weird purple-black vincas agonizingly named “jams ‘n jellies blackberry” (who comes up with these names?  Maybe the seed companies should hire some of my poet roommates).   The vincas are growing very slowly.  It is unclear if they will be able to set roots and flourish before the evil squirrels dig them all up.

New guinea impatiens are so pretty!

New guinea impatiens are so pretty!

So my garden is all ferns, Persian shields, caladiums, vincas, and lilies.  I am hopelessly drifting back towards Victorian England while the rest of the world is going all ahead towards ultra- cyber-hip-hop (which is represented in the garden by what exactly? picotee morning glories, track lighting, and giant aluminum cylinders maybe?).  Anyway I also planted some weird autumn plants—passionflower vines and toad lilies—so check back in late summer to see how those turn out!

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