The Weekly Gardener 1


Summer Chaos

Magic Beans

Scarlet Runner Beans

I plant scarlet runner beans for their flowers - all the beauty of sweet peas with none of the high maintenance. Of course they are not fragrant, but nothing in this life is perfect.

If you plant them as a crop, and during favorable years they do produce, don't pick them green, you are not doing yourself or the beans any favors.

There are three types of beans, based on their use: snap, shell and dry.

Any bean can function as a snap bean, as long as you pick it very young, while the pod still snaps easily when you bend it. Considering how large scarlet runner beans get, this isn't the best use for them.

Shell beans can be used green or shelled for the soft beans inside, and most of the stringy genes have been bred out of them during many hybridizations. These varieties include broad beans, Lima beans and French haricots.

Dry beans are stringy, and runner beans are the stringiest of them all. You can make rope out of those suckers, they are long, tough and impossible to chew. Even the shells are relatively unpleasant if you want to consume them green, their rough fuzzy texture does not agree with one's palate and kind of ruins their taste, which is not bad, as green beans go.

You have to wait until the shells are dry to really appreciate runner beans; their offspring grows to gargantuan size and sports a calico pattern in white and deep purple, almost too beautiful to eat. This is an heirloom variety and will come true from seed, so do keep some of those pretty beans for next year's planting.

As I was admiring my valiant vines I couldn't help but notice that they escaped the trellis and clambered their way up a phone wire and are now headed for the second floor. It's going to be an interesting experience trying to pull their dried up stems from there when I get to the fall cleaning later.


Garden Textures

Garden Textures

The difference between planting and landscape design comes from paying attention to seemingly unimportant details and one of them is texture. Its impact is even greater in the shade, where very few plants bloom.

A well balanced shade border will have all of the following:

Broad leaved plants, both deciduous and evergreen. If the leaves are variegated and have different indentations, that is even better. A few good examples are hostas, elephant ears, hellebores, rhubarb and chards.


Plants with long narrow leaves - grasses, irises, day lilies, crocosmia, grape hyacinths and lily turf.

Plants with lacy foliage, like ferns, bugbane, wild bleeding hearts, dill and asparagus.

Plants with needle shaped leaves, especially evergreens.

Last, but not least, plants whose inflorescences come in diffuse, cloud-like drifts, like the one in the picture, but also catmint, navelwort, foam flowers, grasses again, and coral bells.