One of the many joys of gardening is that you get to experiment, explore and take risks. Often the cost is no more than a couple of dollars—the price of a package of seeds. This is the frugal side of gardening. (I can also show you the exceptionally non-frugal side of gardening, but that, my friends, is a story for another blog post.) One of this year’s experiments in my garden was the cup and saucer vine (Cobea scandens).

cup and saucer vine Cobea scandens 2

The flowers on the cup and saucer vine begin as pale green lanterns and open to ivory or deep purple flowers.

I don’t recall if this is one of the seed packages I purchased or if it was included in a freebie package from Botanical Interests, one of my favorite seed companies. It seems like something I would order because the description promised this vine would 1) be a quick growing, 2) grow up to 25 feet in a single season 3) have flowers that open pale green and mature to ivory or deep purple and 4) have a sweet scent.

Apparently the only thing this vine doesn’t do is grow hundred dollar bills on every other vine.

cup and saucer vine Cobea scandens

Before the flowers open they resemble small, green lanterns.

I like the idea of a quick-growing, decorative vine as part of creating summer shade over the chicken run. The chickens have a covered porch that allows them to get out of the rain or to shelter from the blazing sun. But in the summer some dappled shade over the rest of the run would improve the comfort factor in the rest of the run as well as shade their water cooler.

So how did the cup and saucer vine perform?

I’m thinking of starting my own rating system. For now, let’s base the rating system on stars. I’ll fancy up the idea later.

What should my personal rating system include? An overall rating, certainly. Beauty? Yes, I do think beauty is important. Pest/disease resistance in my garden? Yes indeed, that seems like a good idea too. I am over having powdery mildew on lilacs and Japanese beetles on pole beans. Toxicity/safety? This might not be important to some gardeners, but it is important to me if I’m going to grow it over the chicken coop. I found a handy list of toxic/non-toxic plants assembled by the California Poison Control System. The cup and saucer vine is, apparently, non-toxic—at least to humans. I didn’t find it listed as toxic to chickens anywhere else on the Internet. And in my bold experiment here it is, apparently, non-toxic since the chickens have kept the lower parts of the vines pecked clean of leaves and flowers.

What else? Scent? Usefulness? Edibility? Okay, we’ll go with that for now.

Chicken coop with cup and saucer vine

The cup and saucer vine covers the left side of the outdoor run. The vine on the right climbing over the coop roof is a sweet autumn clematis, which will be covered in tiny white flowers in the fall.

So, here is my rating for the cup and saucer plant on a four-star (for now) rating system.

***    Beauty – The flowers certainly are beautiful, although they are somewhat subtle. This is not a vine that will draw your eye from a distance as some clematis do, for example.

**** Pest/disease resistance – No complaints here. The Japanese beetles are completely uninterested. The vine doesn’t show any signs of disease or other problems this year.

**** Safety/non-toxicity – Courtesy of the California Poison Control System and my own bold experiment.

**      Scent – The flowers do have a mildly sweet scent, but you need to stick your nose right into it to smell it.

**** Usefulness – This is a work horse-type vine because it grows so quickly, providing a nice screen where needed in the summer heat.

*        Edibility – You can’t eat it (I don’t think). Well, you can’t have everything.

**** Overall – A grand four-star rating.

The bigger question might be, would I grow the cup and saucer vine again? Yes! And I would also recommend it to other gardeners. It’s an easy, robust and pleasing vine. All for the cost of a package of seeds.


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