Thursday’s Feature: The Three Cousins

The story of the three sisters of native American agriculture (corn-squash-beans) is a story which goes hand in hand with almost any elementary school lesson on the Pilgrims or Thanksgiving.  Northeastern tribes of Native Americans commonly grew the three crops together in the same mound, and as the corn grew up and the stalks provided support for the twining beans, the squash filled in along the ground and together the three crops coexisted peacefully, each filling their own niche.

This spring I rebuilt the rebar arbor which marks the entrance to the vegetable garden and this summer three vines are working their way up and over the arch.  They don’t coexist quite as peacefully as the three sisters and they’re far less useful in the kitchen, but I like them well enough anyway and even if they never make an appearance on the back of a Sacagawea coin I guess we can say they’re close enough to be called cousins at least.  The three cousins are Cypress vine, Love in a Puff, and Red Noodle bean, and all I can think of is how great common names can be 🙂

rebar arbor

After struggling for four years with an arbor that fell over each spring, I finally put in the effort to set the base in concrete.  The jury is still out on whether it will survive this spring thaw or not any better, but since the jury is still also going back and forth between rustic and ugly, survival may not matter either way.  

There are many a more floriferous trio for a trellis, but for some reason I love the mixes of foliage, flowers, and fruit of these three cousins.  The bright scarlet flowers of the cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) sparkle alongside its soft ferny foliage and contrast nicely with the puffy green globes of love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum)  and the dark red pods of the red noodle beans (Vigna unguiculata… aka asparagus bean… aka yardlong beans).

red noodle bean flower

The pale lavender flowers of the red noodle bean only open in the morning but they look just right mixed in with the ferny cypress vine foliage.

I wish I could take credit for this combo, but in all honesty I saw it a few years ago on Nan Ondra’s blog.  As it is with these things a single picture got stuck in my head and then over the next several years the radar stayed tuned in to find seed for the three components.

cypress vine, red noodle bean

The red “noodles” of the asparagus bean stretch anywhere from a foot and a half to nearly two feet.  The arbor is starting to look pretty cool with all these red beans dangling down.

Right now I think it’s the noodle beans stealing the show and I wish I had a few better photos, but the ones from this afternoon just didn’t make the cut and then the daylight called it quits on me.

red noodle bean

I think the beans are cool, but the hummingbirds much prefer the cypress vine flowers.

As I think further on it each of the three cousins also provides something more than just looking pretty.  The beans are edible (and some say have an excellent taste if picked small), the hummingbirds love the cypress vine, and the kids love picking and popping the puffs.  It is a useful trio and it’s likely they’ll show up here for many a year to come… if only because (with the exception of the beans) I haven’t planted a thing on this trellis for three years and there are still more than enough seedlings each spring to fill the ranks.

So there they are, the three cousins as my feature for Kimberley’s Thursday Feature meme, and although they are technically three entries it’s nearly impossible to separate them so I think I’m good to go.  If you think you’re good to go might I suggest a visit to Kimberley’s blog?  She encourages us to look around each week and find something which grabs our attention in the garden and it’s always interesting whether you’re just visiting or joining right in.

19 comments on “Thursday’s Feature: The Three Cousins

  1. Christina says:

    Success, I think! I grow yardlong beans but they are green , not red – yours are rather dashing and show up well, even though my beans are sometimes nearly a yard long they are almost invisible so much so that I often forget to pick them.

  2. Cathy says:

    A great combination! All these plants are new to me. I love those long dark bean pods against the ferny foliage.

  3. pbmgarden says:

    So interesting to read about your arbor. Love that you’ve planned to create the effect for some time now and finally see the achievement of your efforts. I like the texture of that cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit).

  4. Chloris says:

    What a great combination. But I’ m glad you gave the Latin too or I wouldn’ t have had the faintest idea what you were talking about. Did you make the names up?

    • bittster says:

      Latin names really are indispensable. The number of common names for these plants is really something, I’m not sure if it’s the oddity or the popularity but whatever it is people have been creative. I can say with complete honesty I did not make any of the names up, but I’m sure someone was very proud of themselves after coming up with several of them.

  5. As soon as I saw red noodle bean I thought Nan Ondra. Such a creative and generous gardener! When I saw the words love-in-a-puff I thought “Since when does Nigella damascena climb?” but it turns out its common name is love-in-a-mist. I agree the common names are fun and you have a winning trio there. I don’t think I would call them cousins unless they all came from the same botanical family, but that is nitpicking and I didn’t bother to look them up to see if they did.

    • bittster says:

      My three cousins are definitely through marriage and even then the tree has a few broken branches since none of these are anywhere close to being related. They do seem to get along well enough though. Three vines on one trellis and still I haven’t had to break up any fights… although the last spell of dry weather has done in the beans.

  6. Isn’t it great how much we learn from other garden blogs? I grow Nan Ondra’s unusual petunia (Petunia exserta.) I am very impressed with your arbor and now I want to grow those three ‘cousins.’ Well done. P. x

    • bittster says:

      Thank you!
      Nan Ondra is an exceptional source of inspiration, isn’t she? One of these days I should put together a post which solely highlights the plants and combinations which have come this way via her books or her blog. Her etsy shop should come with a warning, I’ve already been eyeing a few things she has listed…

  7. Linda says:

    Love your cousins. Having grown up in western NY, it’s fun to think of the 3 sisters concept in terms of other familial relationships.

  8. Annette says:

    That looks very much like Club Tropicana to me, Frank. Fab plants, I wonder if I could grow them here in the Sahara…better check them out! And yes, some common names are just wonderful!

    • bittster says:

      I hope a few would make it through your year of the desert. I’ve cheated this year and have drip irrigation running through the bed. It’s very addicting to have your plants thriving and healthy without you having to lug a hose or pray for rain… I may add more.

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