January 29, 2020

A Ground-level View of the Heavens

A trio of 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories brighten a summer day.

Janine Pineo Photo | A trio of ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories brighten a summer day.

• By Janine Pineo •

The simplest things are, by far, the most endearing and enduring.

Little did I know that a few morning glories would turn out to be some of those things.

The story begins last year when we rebuilt the deck, adding wrought-iron railing instead of a wooden one. Somewhere between then and June, I hatched a scheme.

Morning glories twine their way up a railing while an orange and yellow begonia (background) provides contrast to the sky blue blossoms.

Janine Pineo Photo | Morning glories twine their way up a railing while an orange and yellow begonia (background) provides contrast to the sky blue blossoms.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to get a planter for that awkward corner by the back stairs? Something that didn’t mind a lot of shade but would brighten and soften that little spot that has been a wasteland of railing, lattice and downspout. With the new railing so unobtrusive, a world of possibilities opened up.

I had this small mission in mind when I started plant shopping this spring, but nothing seemed quite right.

Then I saw the morning glories.

Dick Smith of Glenburn Gardens had a good many of them climbing merrily up bamboo stakes, and I passed them by a few times, thinking I just as easily could start my own. Silly to buy them, practical me repeated over and over.

But that wee voice in my head kept saying to buy a couple.

So I did.

At first, I didn’t have a clue what to do with them and had to ponder it for a few days. Then it hit me: One pot had to go in the half-whiskey barrel that’s tucked up against the back stairs, conveniently adjacent to the foot of the railing.

So it did.

It would twine its way up along the stair railing and then across the little piece of deck railing, I thought.

And so it did.

Progress was slow as the plants acclimated to their new home. Then one day I noticed that the vines seemed to be racing up the railing. Never have I watched three little vines with such admiration. The sheer marvel of a plant winding itself around a support never ceases to fill me with wonder.

According to “100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names” by Diana Wells, there’s a good reason to be awestruck when it comes to a morning glory. She writes, “ … Looking at it from above or below, morning glory always twines clockwise or counterclockwise around its support. However you see it, the direction does not vary, regardless of heat, cold, light, climate, or even hemisphere. It is genetically programmed.”

Nor am I alone in my twining fascination.

Wells mentions such diverse individuals as Shakespeare, who alludes to it with honeysuckle (which incidentally twists in the opposite direction) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Charles Darwin, who delved into the mystery with a study titled “The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.”

The morning glory most of us likely think of when we hear that name is Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue,’ a stellar specimen celestially exquisite in form and hue. It is a native of tropical America, with records of it arriving in Britain in 1629.

There are hundreds of other Ipomoea, including I. batatas or sweet potato vine, I. lobata or Spanish flag, and I. alba or moonflower. That last one, by the way, gets its name because it blooms after the morning glory has faded and lasts into the night.

I. tricolor is better known, however, and easy to grow straight from seed. For some inexplicable reason, I have skipped over ‘Heavenly Blue’ and planted others for the past few years, including ‘Crimson Rambler’ and ‘Flying Saucers.’ Close relative I. purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ never fails to stun with its flowers of deep purple changing to magenta into a white center, while ‘Sunrise Serenade’ is now a perennial favorite because of its brilliant magenta, double-flowering blossoms.

Perhaps it is location, location, location. Having these vines with their chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves greeting me every time I go in and out the door has given me a new appreciation of something so very old-fashioned. When the blooms burst open, the achingly beautiful blue draws my eyes like a magnet, sometimes with me standing there basking in its brilliance and yet lamenting the fleeting glory.

I had to smile when I read the last bit in the Wells’ book. She quotes another book, a novel titled “Old Herbaceous” from 1951 by Reginald Arkell, with a heartfelt tidbit: “Mrs. Charteris sees morning glories on the French Riviera, ‘as though someone had torn great masses out of a morning sky. It was so blue, so blue that it positively hurt.’”

I know that endearing, enduring feeling when looking into a blossom of ‘Heavenly Blue.’

First published in the Bangor Daily News in August 2010.