Bigleaf Vinca Bud
This shot of a vinca's bud in extreme close-up was taken in March 2002, pointing the camera lens through a crack in a stairwell into extreme shade. I didn't expect the photo to show anything at all in such darkness, & if it did, the shutter stayed open so long I figured I shook the camera by then. But magically it came out kind of cool. Lower on this page you'll see another close-up shot from exactly one year later.

Vinca major
a traveller in the shadows

"The periwinkle crawls
With flowers in its hair
into the wood."

-Edward Thomas


Granny Artemis & I were salvaging plants from a decades-abandoned property a few years back. The house that had once been there was gone; there was only a deep basement foundation bared to the bright sky for so many years that large gum trees were growing from the cracks of the basement floor.

Only a few plants from old gardens had survived the long lack of care, & even the Vinca major was puny for lack of shade once the house was gone. That the vinca survived at all is indicative of its invasive capacity, & before I transplanted any of it in our garden, I thought long & hard about whether I wanted to risk it.

One way to control the spread of this potentially aggressive plant is to place it in strong shade with nowhere to go where it has to cross bright sunlight. It loves shade, hates the sun, & even in places where it has become invasive, it does not cross open areas into sunlight but creeps through corridors of shade, until it can spread out into the next well-shaded area.

Vinca BloomSo I planted it underneath a staircase to a high deck. In this spot it gets only a little water, almost no sunlight, & the soil is gravelled & stony. Virtually any plant except Vinca major would've dropped dead in no time. The Vinca however just loves it there. It got big & bushy &, true to form, it did not want to crawl out from under the porch because if it did, it would receive direct morning sun. Instead, in its quest for better water resources, it has been creeping around like a creature of the night, sending forth long leafy runners through the darkest underside of the deck, which is a gravel bed on which we park a lawnmower & keep a few gardening tools.

I try not to feel too clever in having placed it so well that it has not spread beyond its dark confines, as I well know I could yet live to regret planting it. But so far, it seems quite wonderful, filling up that dark stairway's underside with lush greenery, when that area would otherwise have been bare stony ground. The reward has thus far proven worth the risk, & even if it does someday find access to parts of the garden where I didn't intend it, it's aggression is nothing so terrifying as morning glory. Anyone who ever wanted to be rid of some Vinca major need never resort to herbicides, because the surface-rooted stolons render Bigleaf Vinca easily dug up or even simply mowed to the ground repeatedly until it fades away from loss of vigor. Vinca minor is much more tenaciously rooted than the bigleaf form.

It's a broadleaf evergreen with a natural range from Switzerland to Portugal to North Africa, where it thrives in the crappiest conditions just so long as its shady & preferably moist, though drought alone won't do it in. It is now naturalized in much of North America. It produces exquisit purple flowers along its far-reaching vines. It rarely stands up higher than a foot & a half, though some of the vines on ours are standing almost erect to three feet to poke through a couple of the wooden steps.

See also the variegated form of big-leaf periwinkle:
Vinca major 'Maculata'


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