Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

The Best Season Ever: Lablab

It's the rare vegetable that's showy enough for the garden at large. What others are there besides fancy-leaved kale, cardoons, Jerusalum artichokes, and artisanal grains such as broom corn and amaranth?

 

Lablab! This astonishing bean is grown world-wide as animal fodder, as well as for human consumption of its flowers, foliage, roots, and pods. It's also grown world-wide as a garden ornamental.

 

Here, the glossy rhubarb-pink pods glint in the sun.

 

 Lablab purpureus pods bloom fingers 092918 915

 

They would seem to be oiled or shined-up, but no: Their reflective surface is due to a smooth surface enhanced, likely, by a thin waxy coating.

 

Lablab purpureus pods fingers closer 092918 915

 

The long spikes of pink flowers earlier in the season are singular, as well. 

 

Lablab purpureus in bloom fingers 915

 

Then, there's the foliage. It's large and very dark green, with purple veins and backsides. 

 

Lablab purpureus foliage 092918 915

 

Even if Lablab purpureus never flowered or "podded" or had interesting foliage, it would still be worth growing just so that you could pronounce the humorous common name, "lab-lab."

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this easy and so-showy annual vine:

 

 

Latin Name:

Lablab purpureus, formerly Dolichos lablab

Common Name:

This vine is grown world-wide, and hyacinth bean is but one of many common names that include Egyptian kidney bean, Australian pea, Indian bean, bataw, dolichos bean, lablab bean, and seim bean.

Family:

Fabaceae, the Pea family.

What Kind of Plant Is It?

A tender perennial vine that most often grows as an annual.

Hardiness:

As an annual, anywhere. As a perennial, lablab is likely to be hardy only in Zones 10 and warmer.

Habit:

Twining.

Rate of Growth:

Modest until true summer weather is steady, then excitingly fast.

Size in Fourteen Weeks:

Six to twenty feet high, depending largely on the strength of the available sun and day-by-day warmth. In Edinburgh, lablab might not exceed eight feet because summer days, while exceedingly long at such a northerly latitude, are only rarely truly warm. In Nairobi, lablab is likely to reach its maximum size.

Texture:

Robust, thanks to its large foliage and profuse, weighty seed pods. The slender spikes of flowers are an excitingly graceful contrast.

Grown for:

Its showy flowers: These are most often two-toned pink with a dark upper petal (known as the banner) and a lighter pink lower (known as the kee); but forms with white or even blue petals are reported. Of whatever color, the flower are borne in loose, slender upright spikes a foot long and more that project upward and outward beyond the bulk of the foliage and, so, provide an excellent contrasting show.

 

Its even showier pods: Each individual flower on a spike can potentially mature to a pod; in my experience, each flower spike produces about ten pods which are four to five inches long and contains up to four lima-bean-like seeds. Pink-flowered forms produced stunning rhubarb-pink pods that are so shiny they seem to have been oiled the minute before you noticed them. (White-flowered forms produce light-green pods whose shininess is less striking.) Because the pods are far heavier than the flowers, pod-laden spikes dangle outward and downward.

 

Its foliage: Each leaf has three very large leaflets, each of which is a matte purple on the bottom, and a suffused-purple on top. Even out of flower, lablab is credibly showy.

 

Its vigor and ease: As is typical for beans, the large seeds germinate easily, and the seedlings usually grow lustily. (See "Culture" and "Where to use it," below, for how to enhance vigor.) As the weather settles into the steady warmth of summer, growth accelerates noticeably; by August, the vines seem to race upward and outward a couple of feet a week. Happily, lablab tolerates high heat and humidity and, so, doesn’t flag through the dog days of summer.

 

Its comprehensive edibility: If boiled in several changes of water to remove a toxic glycoside, the pods and seeds are edible. The seeds can also be made into tofu and tempeh. The foliage & flower spikes are both edible either raw or steamed. The roots can be boiled or baked. The foliage can be used as animal fodder.

Flowering Season:

Mid to late summer.

Color Combinations:

In the pink-flowered form most often seen in North America,  lablab is happy only in neutral to pink-proud settings. Avoid bringing red, orange, or deep yellow within “eyeshot.”

Plant Partners:

Lablab's striking as well as specific charms—showy pink flowers and pods, quick and sizable upward growth, unusually large and colorful foliage, love of summer's hottest weather, requirement for full sun on its planting area and its young plants—each informs your choices in companion plants.

 

The ideal partners possess many or even all of these qualities: coloring that's compatible with pink, foliage that contrasts in color as well as texture, a contrasting habit, scale (or siting) such that the lablab planting area remains in full sun, and performance that doesn't flag even by late summer. Here are a few options:

 

Its feathery bright-green foliage, mounding habit, season-long endurance, and relative compactness place thread-leaf bluestar at the top of the list. A quartet of lablab pyramids arising from a vast-as-possible swathe of it is on my bucket list.

 

Smokebush could be at the north or east side of lablab, so as to minimize any shade it might cast. Its rounded leaves are comparatively small, and their intensely saturated purple coloring would be a vivid contrast—as would their fluffy "smoky" inflorescences.

 

At the other end of contrast, the gigantic foliage of elephant ears and bananas makes that of lablab seem delicate. Each has cultivars with extraordinary dark-purple foliage, too. Plus, they all go toe-to-toe with lablab in reveling during summer's steamiest weeks. 

Where to Use It in Your Garden:

Lablab is energetic when growth ramps up during hot summer weather. Then, it would be challenging to provide more than general “go forth & prosper” guidance higher up available support. When the vines are young and still finding their sea-legs, they welcome being tied-in to their supports, so that, come high Summer, their upward tide swells evenly.

 

So, while lablab could easily soar high into view—say, to twelve feet or higher—even amid bountiful neighboring plants, its locations need full sun right to the ground earlier in the season, as well as easy access for that tying-in. Young vines that don’t receive the full measure of sun and warmth may never launch fully.

 

It’s simpler, then, to locate lablab amid plantings that either remain comparatively low throughout the season or, like lablab itself, don’t begin their full-speed upward ascent until July.

 

If you are fortunate enough to have a large and very deep planting area—which, likely, would cry out for plantings that could top ten feet or higher by August—see if lablab could be sited fairly close to the south- or west-facing edges. There the young vines would receive full sun, as well as your early-season tying-in.

 

Lablab would also be delightful on an arch, or up very tall poles at either side of a walkway. As part of a kitchen garden that’s planned for visual display, too, consider towers of lablab at the outer corners of the entire garden, in the center, or up towers generously spaced down the garden’s spine.

 

If you have an immense ornamental tub—twenty-two inches across or more—it would be weighty enough for you could erect a tower for lablab that, even when fully clothed in August, would remain stable. Thus, you could ornament a terrace with a tub or tubs of lablab.

 

As is typical for fast-growing annuals—think vegetables in particular—lablab does best in soil that is loose, deep, and relatively free from root competition from hardy plants. So, even where the your goal is that lablab be an intimate part of a wider composition, you couldn't just tuck seeds or starter plants in small pockets of soil between clumps of, say, perennials or ornamental grasses. Instead, bring lablab into close association with partner plants by growing it in a very large container—or in a raised bed—that is, itself, set near or amidst them.

 

Wherever you site lablab, be sure that its planting area as well as the young plants receive maximum sun and warmth; nearby plants should not cast shade onto either.

 

See plant partners, above.

Culture:

Grow lablab in full sun in any soil in which you’d grow vegetables: rich, well-draining, and warmed by the sun. You can grow lablab, then, wherever and whenever conditions would favor growing tomatoes. That said, lablab is notably tolerant of less than ideal soil, thriving in just about anything from deep sand to heavy clay. 

How to Handle It: The Basics:

Soak seeds in water overnight, then direct-sow after the last spring frost in rich, well-drained soil. If buying young plants, transplant carefully into prepared soil, aiming for minimal disturbance to the roots. Lablab is a heat-lover, and there’s nothing to be gained by sowing or planting-out before temperatures are reliably warm. If it’s not yet warm enough to plant tomatoes, it’s not yet warm enough to plant or sow lablab.

How to Handle It: Another Option—or Two? 

Lablab needs something sizable as well as sturdy to climb on. This will usually be upright poles, either in three (to form a tripods) or four (to form a pyramid). Store-bought bamboo poles work fine but normally won't be tall enough; they are rarely available longer than six or eight feet. I prefer to use sections of rebar, which are available as pre-cut ten-footers, or can be custom-cut by a building supply store from twenty-foot stock pieces.

 

Rebar that is a half-inch or five-eigths-inch thick is sturdy enough to form structures that are twelve to fifteen feet high out of the ground. Be sure to pound each leg into the ground by a foot, so that sixteen-foot pieces will produce a tripod or pyramid of about fifteen feet high. Secure the top ends together and, so, for the tripod or pyramid, by tying with galvanized fence wire or, if you have the patience, a gear-strap. These latter will enable the structure to stay in place for years but, in the haste of spring, I have often erected temporary structures by tying the top ends together with clothesline.

 

Setting the poles three feet apart at the base is usually wide enough for stability. If your soil is deep and, so, permits deeper pound-ins, you could space the poles just two feet apart. This produces tripods or pyramids that are impressively narrow and, seemingly, elongated almost in the style of figures in a Mannerist fresco.

Quirks and Special Cases:

The flowerspikes of lablab poke up from the bulk of foliage. If that bulk has a well-displayed top edge, then the spikes thrust themselves vertically along the top like a punk Mohawk. Lablab, then, could be a striking summer clothing for any fence.

 

It will twine through—and, therefore, hide—chainlink easily. But if you have split-rail, not to worry. Use pea-stakes to get the vines up to the top rail, then help them twine outward along it by tying a guidewire or, even, string to nails pounded into the top of the top rail.

Downsides:

None provided you also have access to the pure-white form in "Variants," below. Between them, these forms could party with any other colors in your garden.

Variants:

Lablab purpureus ‘Alba’ is also available by seed; its flowers are white, and their pods are green. The pods and seeds are supposedly more tender—more readily edible, in other words—than those of the showier pink-flowered / purple-podded forms that are typically available. Alba could be grown amid colors that the straight-species’ pink flowers and raspberry pods wouldn’t appreciate: red, orange, and deep yellow.

Availability:

Seeds of this pink-flowered, purple-blushed-foliage form are readily available online. Because germination is very reliable, and the resulting plants are so excitingly vigorous, starter plants are often available at plant sales and nurseries.

Propagation:

By seed.

Native Habitat:

Lablab purpureus is native to Africa.

 
 
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