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001Vinca (Catharanthus roseus) is an annual flower I would not like to live without.  Though it is easily mistaken for Impatiens from a distance, Vinca couldn’t be more different; it features glossy leaves, thrives in hot sun, and prefers dry soil.  Deer, woodchucks, insects, and diseases leave it alone.  When its flowers are spent, they self-shed.  In normal summers, I have good luck with it in boxes on my upper deck railing, where the sun shines brutally all afternoon.   068Vinca comes in many colors: white, pink, red, lavender, and purple; and there are several cultivars available.  This year I am particularly happy with ‘Cora Strawberry’, which has a dark pink eye, fading to paler pink petals.  In my boxes, the plants average nine inches high by six inches wide, and the flowers are one and a half to two inches wide.016012I paired ‘Cora Strawberry’ with Vinca ‘Pacifica Cherry Red.’  Its bright pink flowers average an inch and a half in width and feature large white eyes.  The plant is smaller than ‘Cora’, growing to about seven inches tall.  011
In the rock garden, ‘Pacifica Cherry Red’ does just okay.  This space is wetter and more shaded than the boxes are.  033Another cultivar, ‘Sunstorm Deep Pink’ suffers badly in the dogwood corner of my terrace garden.  Because I’ve been so diligent in keeping the newly planted tree and shrubs in this bed well watered, the Vinca here has gotten far more water than it wants.  Its foliage is not supposed to match the yellow blooms of the neighboring marigolds!037It’s no wonder that Parks Brothers Greenhouses includes thirty-seven varieties of Vinca on its list of “Best Plants for People Who Forget to Water.”

I’m having better luck with ‘Sunstorm Light Blue’ in a different bed which receives a good deal of afternoon sun.  It is about seven inches tall by five inches wide, and its pale violet-blue flowers are an inch and a half wide.  024I once tried to start Vinca from seed indoors in the early spring.  It must be started very early, in very warm soil, and I saw a slow, poor rate of germination.  It’s worthwhile to me to buy these from a nursery.  If you can’t plant the nursery plugs right away, give them a little sun exposure, and keep them barely moist.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve lost entire trays of Vinca by over watering them.  It’s taken me a number of years to learn to hold off on buying my Vinca until I’ve prepared their boxes!

When I plant Vinca, I grit my teeth and pinch most of the blooms and buds off, to encourage more branches to grow.  I am willing to sacrifice a couple weeks of blooms for the benefit of a fuller plant.  Once the heat of summer arrives, it is a fast grower. Here is one of this year’s boxes just one month ago:014Vinca does well in containers, but must be mixed with plants that are as drought-tolerant as it is.  Geraniums and Dusty Miller would be good companions for Vinca, I think.  In the garden, it will like a hot spot with all-day sun exposure and relatively dry soil.  If you can give it the conditions it likes, Vinca will reward you with a long season of bright, prolific blooms!020018
I am linking this Thursday Plant Profile post with Canadian Garden Joy.  Stop by her blog to see what plants other bloggers are featuring this week!