What is that vine?” first time visitors always inquire when they arrive at our house. If you’re a gardener whose spent any time in the southeast where it’s native, you might know Dutchman’s pipe vine, but here on the West Coast, it’s sorely underused.
When I purchased my vines in 4″ band pots from Heronswood in 2000, they were impossible to find here. Thank goodness one wholesaler in the Puget Sound area started growing it, so I was able to spec it for many design clients over the years after it was so successful at my place. Each end of my garage hosts a vine, and after about 3 years the two met in the middle of the structure after being trained up the 10′ posts then towards the building center. 22′ in three years is no small feat, but Dutchman’s pipe vine doesn’t miss a beat.
One of the easiest vines I grow, it tolerates both sun and shade–mine enjoys a northerly exposure that allows it a quick shot of early morning and late afternoon direct sun. The huge, heart shaped leaves are a refreshing matte green and impart a lush, tropical appearance to the shallow pergola that frames the front of my garage. Once the “trunk” was trained up and over, it now requires only yearly pruning to shape and keep it from crawling up on the roof. It’s vigorous enough to give impact in a few years, but it’s no wisteria. It’s not suckered or taken over my garage, though I bet if I wanted to cover the building with it, it would be game.
After the leaves turn a pleasing buttery yellow in autumn, they flutter and drop. The golden fall color is dramatic next to a bold clump of tall, deep blue monkshood (Aconitum ‘Spark’s Variety’) that grows next to the pergola’s post. The large leaves are easy to rake from the gravel driveway once shed, unlike those of wisteria.
The name Dutchman’s pipe comes from the flowers that are unique but not at all showy. In fact, when the vines bloom, I scarcely notice until the spent flowers drop to the concrete apron, where at first glance, their green, curvy shape appears more like a large, curled up caterpillar than a blossom. The tropical species of Aristolochia have larger flowers, some with an unpleasant scent, but the North American native has no detectable odor. The flowers are a curious treat to behold and a fine reminder of the wonder and variety of nature.
© Colleen Miko, 2012