Good to Grow: Growing purple hyacinth beans for the vine

A gardener holds hyacinth bean seeds (left) and amaranth. ADRIAN HIGGINS | The Washington Post file photo

I don’t remember the first time I saw a purple hyacinth bean vine, but I can remember thinking it was a fabulous vine and one I wanted to grow in my garden.

I began by finding a trio of bamboo trellis pyramids and placing them in a sunny spot within my garden beds. I knew the vines loved full sun, and would attach to the structures as they grew. Yes, they are climbers and easily trained to any structure, even other plants.

Because this vine takes little effort to grow from seed, there is no need to buy starter plants. The seed is hard and soaking it overnight in water will allow for quicker germination. I placed them in the ground about 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

Remember, I chose to grow them on pyramid structures, so I placed them around the base, and not in a straight row.

The vine will grow quickly and it will grow tall, reaching anywhere from 10 to 15 feet in height. It will grow full, with pointed leaves almost clustered in groups of three stems. The bright green leaves have a bit of purple on the underside. These are all reasons it is sometimes used on fencing to create a seasonal privacy screen.

There are many fast growing vines, so I bet you’re wondering what is so special about this one? Well, it does have pretty little purple flowers, but for me it’s the seed pods.

They look like plump snow peas and they are purple! No need to deadhead the blooms, the pods will form as the flowers fade. I think they are as beautiful as the blooms.

Because of the quick growth of the vines, it won’t hurt to feed them once a month. Choose your favorite fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous, this will promote blooming.

I saw these glorious hyacinth bean vines in the Monticello gardens. There is record of Thomas Jefferson and his growers describing them as early as 1804. Jefferson referred to these vines as Arbor Beans in his Garden Book in 1812. Pretty cool that I’m growing the same vines that Jefferson wrote about and grew hundreds of years ago.

Butterflies are attracted to this plant and may lay eggs among the leaves, of course the caterpillars may feed on the leaves but this won’t last long and will create more butterflies in your garden. It’s a win for both you and the butterflies.

The hyacinth bean vine is sensitive to frost and is an annual here in Appalachia. It can be a short-lived perennial in USDA Hardiness Zone 10 (Miami, Florida). The seeds are easy to harvest from the pods. As they begin to dry out, simply pick them and open the pods to expose the seeds.

After they are completely dry, store them in a dry dark spot for next year’s garden. If you don’t get around to pulling the pods, they may self-seed as they fall off the vines and bury themselves in the garden soil.

With the word bean in the name, these seeds and flowers sound edible. Well, I think in certain areas they are a food source, but require diligence in their preparation. They must be boiled, and boiled again, in clean water. I would suggest extensive research before attempting to eat any part of this plant.

This is a fun plant to grow. Tall and robust with funky seeds pods. Find a sunny spot in your garden and give it try. Then save your seeds. Better yet, share your seeds. It’s nice to give away a few seedpods and, who knows, that gardener may give away a few the next year. Before you know, you have created a legacy of plants spread through friendship and gardens that will grow far and wide.