March 7, 2017 > Vinca varieties
By Pat Kite
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And Õtis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
There are seven Vinca varieties, but only one can sometimes be a garden headache. Vinca major is usually sold as a semi-shade ground cover along with buddies Vinca minor types. However, I have seen six-packs just labeled ÒVinca.Ó The problem with Vinca major is it spreads aggressively by runners and is difficult to eradicate. It has been used as California highway ground cover for erosion control. Vinca major is useful in areas where you never want to look again, but it can get to 24 inches high. Anything that high, with dense coverage, can be a haven for little beasts, like rodents, like rats.
Vinca minor, alternately known as Òdwarf periwinkleÓ and Òcreeping myrtle,Ó has smaller leaves. It grows to perhaps six inches high, and is less likely to get annoyingly adventuresome. There are several flower colors, some easier to find than others. Flowers are only about one-inch in diameter, appearing quietly from spring to fall. Most common are the purple flowered types, such as Altropurpurea, and the blue flowered type, Bowles Variety. Ordinary garden shops tend not to identify, so caution is advised. If you hunt around in catalogues, or specialty shops, you might find the white-flowered Alba, Evelyn, or Gertrude Jekyll. Be persistent, and you might locate Ralph Shugert with blue flowers and white-edged leaves, Sterling Silver that also has blue flowers with white-edged speckled leaves, or the yellow-leaf type called Illumination.
For historians, the name ÒVincaÓ comes from the Latin wordÊÒvincio,Ó meaning Òto bindÓ or Òwind around.Ó The long stalks were used by the Romans to make ceremonial wreaths. In the Middle Ages, criminals on their way to execution wore Vinca wreath garlands. The alternate name periwinkle came from Vinca pervinea, or creeping Vinca.
Vinca can be woven into a decorative wreath. In olden days, these wreaths were hung upon the front door for household protection. For instructions on how to make them, search the Internet for ÒVinca Wreaths.Ó The Victorian language of flowers equated periwinkle with thoughts of fond memories and friendship.