Daily Flower Candy: Vigorous Vincas

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Vinca: periwinkle

First, a health warning: periwinkles, especially the kind that appreciate the British climate, can be complete thugs. Just this weekend I spotted a quarter-acre monoculture of Vinca major ‘Alba’ (below) covering a stretch of chalk cliff beneath Charles Dickens’ Bleak House in Broadstairs. The wandering stems formed an undulating green custard, studded with thousands of pure white flowers, smothering even the most rampant of competitors. (The latin word ‘vincire’, from which the name vinca is derived, means ‘bind’.)

Vinca major, which generally produces five-petalled, lilac-blue flowers, has its place …. somewhere around the far fringes of the garden where it can revel in dry shade or rampage down a steep bank. Here the plant’s Southern European heritage comes to the fore, rendering it tolerant of drought and summer heat, as well as deep shade. Vinca major is such a voracious visitor that in some countries it’s become a serious problem plant.

Vinca major 'Alba' flowering in the depths of January
Vinca major ‘Alba’ flowering in the depths of January

Providing you’re happy to tolerate a little bad behaviour, Vinca major will work hard for you. Named, variegated forms such as ‘Maculata’ (green leaves with gold centres), ‘Variegata’ (green edged with white) and ‘Wojo’s Gem’ (cream with green edges and pink stems, below) will spread light across a dark corner faster than you can say “Stop right there!”. Vincas root where the trailing stems touch the ground, rapidly creating enormous clumps of evergreen vegetation.

Foliage of Vinca major 'Wojo's Gem'
Foliage of Vinca major ‘Wojo’s Gem’

Don’t be fooled into thinking Vinca minor (lesser periwinkle) is any more polite than her big sister. Yes, she’s a lower growing plant with more delicate leaves, but her ideas about world domination are equal. There are some lovely cultivars, many with RHS Awards of Garden Merit, including ‘Azurea Flore Pleno’ AGM (sky-blue flowers), ‘Atropurpurea’ AGM (deep reddish-purple), ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (pure white), ‘Ralph Shugert’ AGM (vivid, deep violet) and ‘Variegata’ AGM (green leaves margined cream with violet-blue flowers, below).

Vinca minor 'Variegata'
Vinca minor ‘Variegata’

Somewhere in between major and minor comes Vinca difformis (imaginatively dubbed intermediate periwinkle), which is an altogether better behaved plant. It spreads slowly to about 120cm and revels in dry shade where little else will grow. Flowering begins in late summer, when the simple blooms appear white, tinged with blue. This bluishness fades to pure white through the winter, whilst the flowers keep on coming. Vinca difformis is a diamond in the rough and well worth tracking down if you are craving a little winter colour in your garden.

Major, minor or somewhere in between, there’s a vinca out there with designs on your garden. Choose the right location and vincas will do your dirty work; make one false move and your precious plants will be engulfed by a rising tide of glossy green foliage. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Vinca difformis at Chelsea Physic Garden
Vinca difformis at Chelsea Physic Garden, London


Categories: Daily Flower Candy, Flowers, Foliage, Perennials, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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20 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Vigorous Vincas"

  1. I like your “warning” 🙂 and the vincas in general. Have the vinca minor ( blue and typical form, whatever it means ) in my garden, planted in the shade. It grows well enough, though in hot and dry summers I have to water it a lot. In early spring, every two or three years, I just cut it back with a …lawn mower. The newly growing plants look much better and “fresher” then.

  2. I love the pictures that you presented of vinca. If I didn’t already have experience with it I would consider it for a back corner of my garden. I have tried to eradicate it from a friend’s garden without any success, and I have witnessed it’s world domination techniques in portions of the wilderness where it makes me weep. I am very lucky to have a cottage on the Bruce peninsula where there is true wilderness in areas, there are patches of lily of the valley occasionally which obliterate the native trilliums, bloodroot and ferns. But the worst is a huge patch of vinca that somehow managed to escape from someone’s garden, it is the size of a suburban yard in Canada, and is a complete monoculture. I garden extensively at the cottage, but I am very careful about the plants I introduce there.

    1. Hi Lisa. I had to look up the Bruce Peninsula as my Canadian geography is pretty lousy. It looks absolutely beautiful and a wonderful location for a country retreat. Lucky you! I can understand why you would be reluctant to let any invasive non natives loose in such a pristine environment, especially when you could be enjoying treasures like trilliums, which are highly prized and tricky to establish here in the UK.

      1. Canada is so large and varied, I don’t even expect Canadians to have much knowledge. The Bruce Peninsula is an Unesco World Heritage Site. It is only a 2 1/2 hour drive on country roads from my home. We have Lake Huron on the western side and Georgian Bay on the eastern side, so the paddling is fantastic, the water is pristine. The two bodies of water also regulate our growing conditions, the temperatures don’t fluctuate as quickly. I do not grow food at the cottage as we are concerned with attracting bears, raccoons, coyotes, skunks. We also have a resident Massassauga Rattlesnake that lives on the other side of our stream. The Bruce Trail passes in front of our cottage and has a side trail next to it. There are many different wildflowers and ferns. One of the highlights are when the native ladyslipper orchids open. They grow along the side of the roads in the ditches. Unfortunately the bugs have always been so bad that I barely get a picture.

      2. I was ogling the pictures of pink and yellow lady’s slipper orchids on Wikipedia. I’ve seen them on the show bench, but never in the wild. The Bruce Peninsula is now firmly on my list of places to visit, I’m so glad you mentioned it Lisa.

  3. “Rampage” is the perfect word . . . lots of Vinca here in the Ozarks, including on the rocky slopes outside my office and my home. Its presence is indeed a blessing and a curse, depending on one’s gardening/landscaping goals.

  4. Only you could come up with the wonderful line “the wandering stems formed an undulating green custard……………….” So enjoyed this article on Vincas. Caher Bridge Garden in Co Clare, Ireland has Difformis and the Jenny Pym. A garden I could go back to once a month – no other one like it. Carl’s fabulous and unusual gdn is on Facebook.

  5. Im a big fan of the white vinca major, ive never had much luck with the minors, they never seem to get going with me.
    The blue vinca major grows wild all around herne bay and beltinge and it also climbs when grown through a hedge or wire fence, ive seen it at 5 foot tall.
    Theres a white and slightly pink flushed flowered form growing in vincents nursery car park in herne bay that really lights up the dark spot and seems to flower pretty much all year round. its the perfect thing for under a tree or at the base of a shaded fence.

    1. I agree, given generous space Vinca major is a tough and reliable plant for awkward places. The pink-flushed variant sounds very pretty Tim. Worth a trip to the nursery to see. I don’t need much encouragement!

  6. Probably not worth a visit unless youre going there anyway as its just growing seemingly wild among their boundary bushes, but stem cuttings are worth taking as they all root really easily. The pink flush is quite slight and not really noticeable until you look up close but this established plant is a flowering machine going all through winter when theres nothing else around, and pretty much the rest of the year whenever ive gone there. I dont know if this is typical for all well established vinca major plants, perhaps the usual wild blue version has been too unnoticeable for me to notice in winter as it grows in shady spots, but i’ll be following it in comparison this year.

  7. i went to vincents today and took a closer look at the vinca while i was there, its more of a blueish hue to the flowers now rather than pink, its still going strong though.

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