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

Climbing Asparagus, showing off its purple shoots in Spring

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Climbing asparagus: the ultimate in ferny foliage all Summer, but the ultimate in slender stalkiness in Spring.  Purple, too. 

 

And unlike asparagus you enjoy as a vegetable, climbing asparagus doesn't stop growing when the stalks reach five or six feet.  They soar upward two or even three times as high.  As they grow, they quickly adopt a spiraling habit that brings the stalks into contact with one another.  Left on their own, the stalks rocket upward in a single spiraling pack, in which each stalk seems to be competing to see who can reach the highest the fastest. 

 

This season, I'll separate the pack by spreading out the stalks.  The clump is planted by one of the supporting poles of a pergola; the pole is just out of view to the right.  I'll string a series of lines of twine from the base of that pole up to the cross bar of the pergola, creating a fan of individual climbing options cutting right through the middle of the clump of still-young stalks.  Before the stalks have a chance to spiral together, I'll lead them in one's and two's over to their separate strings.

 

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It's much easier for this vine to twine around a string than a two-inch galvanized pipe.  Perhaps the stalks will climb higher than ever as a result.

 

 

Here's how to grow this feathery vine:


Latin Name

Asparagus verticillatus

Common Name

Climbing Asparagus

Family

Asparagaceae, the Asparagus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy, herbaceous, perennial vine.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 10.

Habit

Clumping, semi-twining, strongly upright.

Rate of Growth

Fast after established.

Size in ten years

A clump about eighteen inches wide at the base, sending up a column of foliage three feet or more wide and fifteen feet tall.

Texture

Ferny, but so profusely-foliaged that it's not see-through.

Grown for

the delicate, thread-like foliage exactly like that of edible asparagus, but on the narrowest of stalks that each Spring soar (if supported) in a loose vertical mass.

 

the sheer oddity and surprise of the plant.

 

the tiny white flowers, somewhat fragrant, that mature to showy red berries.

Flowering season

late Spring / early Summer:  Mid-June here in Rhode Island

Culture

Easy!  Full sun, rich soil, plenty of water.

How to handle it

As with edible asparagus, this is a long-lived clumping plant.  Plant it where you'd like it to thrive for the very long term.  Climbing asparagus is slow to "clump up," a trait it also shares with edible asparagus, which doesn't send up enough canes to permit harvesting until the third year after planting.

 

Each Spring new stalks arise from below-ground; they are a striking but ephemeral deep purple.  Despite twining around each other with joy, the clump overall needs support if it isn't to flop over.  One option is to tie thin twine around the whole clump, gently and every two or three feet.  But the stalks lengthen so fast and Spring is such a busy time already that I usually forget, and then must tie in a leaning ten-foot mass that, seemingly, was only a foot tall the week before.

 

Another option is to create a fan of training strings starting from an anchor at the base of the clump and broadening outward as they ascend to where they're tied at the top.  Lead individual stalks over to individual strings; if you can find a minute or two every few days in the crush of Spring gardening, revisit the fast-lengthing growth to keep the stalks busy racing up their own strings instead of reclumping around each other to ascend further as one tangled mass.

 

The canes stiffen up as they gain height, although the tips remain a bit fragile (again, just like edible asparagus).  You can be as cavalier as you like when strapping in the body of the column of foliage, but you'll want to be careful not to bend or even snap off cane tips that will soon be far above.

 

The canes die to the ground each Fall.  Be sure to cut the entire clump off at ground level during the cold months.  Otherwise, you'll be clipping out individual canes the following Spring while also trying to avoid the fragile tips of that season's new crop.  I speak from tedious experience here.

Downsides

the "climbing" asparagus name is a bit of a misnomer: The clump needs support most of the way up.  In my experience, it doesn't self-seed or run, so this is a well-behaved oddity.

Variants

Asparagus fern, Asparagus sprengeri, is planted by the millions in landscapes throughout the subtropics and tropics, as well as in containers for houseplants, although it is scorned as a weed in its native South Africa.  The really ferny asparagus fern, Asparagus plumosus, is grown by the cubic mile as filler for flower arrangements.  It, too, is tender.  

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By division and by seed.

Native habitat

Central and Eastern Asia

 
 
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