'Illumination' Variegated Periwinkle

"Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes."

-William Wordsworth


Illumination Vinca minor 'Illumination' is an incredible find. It's a sport of the commonly gardened periwinkle, discovered in 1995 by Christy Hensler right here in Washington state, springing up at her iris & daylily nursery The Rock Garden near the little town of Newport in the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains.

It is the brightest of the variegated vincas. The majority of each leaf is golden when young, maturing to a lighter softer cream, & the majority of leaves are rimmed with deep green. Mature twigs are red.

The leaves bring light to dim garden corners, as it thrives in partial to full shade. It'll survive in the sun, too, but will need much more watering, & won't have as fine a leaf color, so should really be reserved as a groundcover or edging plant for those shady corners.

It is reportedly only slightly less aggressive than regular green vinca, so it should be kept in mind that once established it is pretty darned hard to ever be rid of it, since it grows back from any missed bit of root. So select its location with permanency in mind.

It can be particularly useful in container gardening, either to fill the surface of the pot's soil underneath a potted shrub, or in hanging baskets since it'll dangle a long ways over the edge. It's also great for dark places under large shrubs in xeric gardens, where very little else would thrive.

We got two small rooted starts & put them at the edge of a flagstone patio in cracks between the flagstones & the wall of a raised garden. The first photo shows one of these starts not long after it was planted.

At first it did not make a big impact. They were slow to establish because the flagstones are practically imbedded in clay, but slowly 'Illumination' began to spread a great deal, truly illuminating their dark corner of the patio. It sent out long runners in search of rich soil, rooting itself along the way.

It actually became a slight worry, keeping it out of a nearby shade-bed of triliums & lungworts & hepaticas. But we have an inducement to remove bits of it as it spreads: We trowel it up pretty regularly, to plant in tall pots, where they're soon fountaining down the sides of containers we take to sell at a streetfair.

Before our first planting of 'Illumination' had taken hold, we received a much bigger start as part of a gift, a hanging basket that otherwise contained annuals. When the annuals began to fade, we stuck the remaining periwinkle under a huge black elderberry shrub on the sidewalk/shade-side of a xeric garden. By the following spring it had rooted itself so well that it began to spread like a sun-of-a-gun, as it's good soil there even though very dry in summer.

When first getting established a regular watering schedule & a slow-release fertilizer can give it a leafy boost, but this almost-aggressive autumn-planting just needed winter & spring rains to be hardy as all hell by the time it met its first long hot dry summer.

The one-inch fully-open pale blue flowers, beginning as early as March & numerous by April, are very pleasant but secondary to the more deeply colored foliage.


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