Pampering Perennials: Historic Snail Flower.

It's cold. My toes are cold, my nose is cold. Soon, the greenhouses will serve a dual purpose of germinating seeds and sheltering my favorite tender perennials. Although our zone (7b) is typically safe from the first frost until Halloween, my gardener's intuition tells me to be prepared. Today, as I waited for Mikey's school bus, the steel grey clouds looked ominously like snow clouds.


I know that's absurd, as I shivered in the 55 degrees. Still, as a former northern girl, I know snow clouds.

And these looked just like them.


weather sources

are predicting cold, snowy days for the Southeast—which I love. I miss snow. Now, though, it's time to think about finishing the last plantings of the season, as well as preparing the garden for the approaching cold.

Most of our tender perennials planted in the landscape receive a good layer of mulch or a thick blanket of straw, in the case of our banana trees. But some of our potted perennial favorites earn sacred space in the greenhouses.

One of those perennials is my lovely snail flower,

Vigna caracalla.Grown as a tender perennial in the south and an annual in the north, snail flower is a quiet vine early in the season, producing lush foliage for several months prior to bloom. But when those blooms appear—oh my.Originally discovered growing in Caracas, Venezuela, snail flower is an heirloom variety with star power. Often noted for growing in Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello, this historic plant intertwines history with botanical art. Spiraling purple and lavender flowers highlighted with cream and a touch of yellow smell as beautiful as they look. The vines reach up to 20 feet in warm climates, making them an excellent choice for trellises, mailboxes, or fences. Although they bloom most prolifically in sun, I've found that partial shade still produces stunning blooms.Snail flower is one of the first heirloom flowers I propagated from seed. While many sources caution that it's difficult to germinate, I've found the plants very easy to grow. The most difficult aspect of growing snail flowers from seed is the price: $1 per seed at Seed Savers Exchange, due to the challenge of securing viable seed. The plant blooms the first year, but the second years' blooms are heart-stopping.Soon, the greenhouse will fill with overwintering perennials and trays of baby perennials grown from seed. Soon, we'll need to determine how to fit a 120 pound propane tank into a Prius. Obviously, I forgot to consider heating the greenhouse when trading in the minivan. Soon, as October's temperatures drop, seed catalogs will arrive, and I'll begin making lists for Garden Delights.Until then, though, I'm going to enjoy the last garden blooms and prepare the winter homes for the perennials. Poor, cold plants.Do you overwinter any of your favorite plants? XO ~Julie **