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Bean and Grass Pleased Crowd At Fall Garden Day
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The Hyacinth Bean tunnel was a big crowd pleaser again this year as thousands of garden-loving Mississippians walked through it at the Fall Garden Day. This event was held Oct. 16 and 17 in Crystal Spring at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station.
The Fall Garden Day has acres of the latest garden vegetables, herbs and flowers, but what gets the most acclaim is a plant Thomas Jefferson grew in his garden and has been around forever.
Every year, I get phone calls asking what is the gorgeous vine with light purple flowers and unbelievable bright purple beans. It is the hyacinth bean or lablab purpureus, formerly dolichos lablab.
The hyacinth bean is super easy to grow and is perfect for a fence, trellis, arbor or over a tunnel as we do at the Experiment Station. Another remarkable thing about the plant is its rate of growth. Perhaps this is the bean that Jack planted to get to the chicken that laid the golden eggs.
It originated as a forage crop in tropical Africa and Egypt, which accounts for its common name, Egyptian Bean. In Japan, they call the purple-blooming variety Darktime, and the white-blooming variety Nighttime.
True to its pea family heritage, hyacinth bean produce beautifully colored, butterfly-like pea flowers that are held above the foliage. The purplish green foliage grows on purple stems which produce brightly colored, velvety, purple seed pods in the fall. These seeds resemble lima beans and are edible, but I have never tried them myself.
Hyacinth bean is treated as an annual in Mississippi and is fast-growing to 20 feet. It thrives in the hot summer sun, but does need good drainage. It can be trained on a trellis or arbor to provide summer shade for a patio, porch or swing.
You can get seeds at most garden centers to plant in the spring. Once planted, you will be able to harvest and save its seeds for years to come. To harvest seeds, wait until fall when the seed pods have turned brown. For a really strong stand, plant yours six to eight inches apart.
Another repeat attraction at the Fall Garden Day is a plant native to Mississippi called Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Muhly grass, as with most ornamental grasses, reaches its real peak of beauty with the fall bloom.
Muhly grass is a clumping type grass that serves the flower border well even when it is not in bloom. The green, spiky texture of the leaves work well with summer annuals.
Muhly grass begins to bloom in early September, and by mid-October becomes a cotton candy-like cloud of wispy pink blooms that float with the prevailing breeze. Even gardeners who haven't yet planted ornamental grass may want to try this one.
It is as easy to care for as is monkey grass. We cut ours back to about 12 inches in late winter before the new growth emerges. Other than an occasional irrigation, nothing else is needed but full sun and well-drained soil. Many nurseries are handling Muhly grass now, so look for it.
Don't pass up next year's Fall Garden Day. It may be one of Thomas Jefferson's plants or a Mississippi native, but there is almost guaranteed to be one that catches your eye.