Surfboards and Coconuts

Surfboards and Coconuts

January 27 2021

The growing season here in Montana is relatively short, we can expect frosts into June and again in September. About 100-120 days, tops. It is true that many perennial plants are untroubled by freezing nights and are busily growing for another month in both the spring and fall, so let’s say 6 months altogether. What’s a gardener to do?

I’ve had a hoop house for vegetables, which is enormously helpful, not only does it protect on those frosty nights, it keeps nighttimes warmer. Tomatoes, peppers, and other heat loving veggies slow down their growing on our frequent below 50 degree nights. That simple one layer of plastic can extend the season by almost two months, sometimes with a little supplemental heat. But the long dark nights grow old and one wishes for just a taste of green. I am blessed to have a greenhouse/sunroom built on to the side of our garage which buys me another couple of months. I don’t heat it much because I feel it would be cost prohibitive and one would need lights also. The coolest thing about this space is that I can push the zone limits and grow plants that wouldn’t survive outside. Even without heat, it rarely gets below 15-20 degrees, a lot better than 30-40 below zero.

I can grow rosemary and lemon verbena inside this greenhouse, and overwinter tender roses, but my favorite is passionflower. It grows over 20’ long, covers most of the ceiling below the light panels and it blooms-steadily for months and months. And what an extraordinary flower it is!

Here is my granddaughter’s description: “passionflowers have ten purple petals, they are three inches long. There is a row of little dark purple squiggly things, about 100 of them in the middle of the flower. The flower has 8 little things sticking up, they are green and look like surfboards and coconuts. They are tiny and make seeds.” Yep, she nailed it. She doesn’t know what stamens and pistils are exactly and though I explained briefly, one really musn’t stifle the artistic expression of an eight year old with too many facts. And yes, those ten petals are actually five petals and five sepals, but they look the same on the top.

Christian missionaries to South America, or Mexico, depending on your source named passionflowers because they saw similarities to the symbols of the death of Christ-the crown of thorns, the number of disciples, the nails, even the tendrils resembling whips. Oddly, I couldn’t find any reference to what they were called by native Americans, obviously it couldn’t have had any reference to Christianity. Another common name is Maypop, because the fruits pop when you step on them. There are over 400 species and only a few produce edible fruit.

Should my vine become too invasive, as they can in their native habitat (southeastern US to South America), I could just let it freeze a bit harder. Passionflower is a good herb for anxiety as tea or tincture, but it doesn’t hurt to lie in the hammock under the drooping vines and ethereal flowers either. Life is good in a greenhouse in Montana.

Passionflower; passiflora edulis, passiflora incarnata