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.