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    Monday, August 08, 2022

    Growing Up: It's a good time to get vine plants going

    In Norwich, Asian immigrants who flocked here to work at the casinos have brought with them some interesting garden plants.

    A few years ago my sister-in-law gave me a handful of seeds for something she called "a crazy gourd plant." Her husband is a native of the Phillipines and had brought her some of

    the same seeds the year before. My sister-in-law had thrown them in the dirt near a small arbor in her backyard and within a month or so the plant that emerged had large, dark green leaves and had overgrown the arbor and then made itself to home in her yard, spreading out a couple dozen feet or more in every direction.

    I had built a large pergola on my deck the year before and wanted some kind of vine to grow up it, so I took the seeds of what I later learned was an Asian gourd, or "Upo" plant, and

    threw a bunch in a small garden on one side of my deck in early June.

    That crazy plant took off like Jack's beanstalk. By mid-July it had so completely taken over

    my pergola that the top slats of the structure were no longer visible. It grew the length of the structure, about 20 feet, and was still sending out tendrils and feelers before it realized there was no where left to climb.

    By early August the leaves and vines of the plant were so dense overhead that they provided a virtual ceiling on the pergola. You could sit under it during a rainstorm and barely get wet.

    The plant itself grew by what seemed like leaps and bounds overnight. So tenacious and eager were the little shoots that anchored the plant as it grew that a friend once joked that she

    was afraid to stand next to the plant for fear it could, within seconds, begin twining itself around her.

    And the fruit that plant yielded were, in fact, crazy-looking gourds by Western standards.

    The "opo" plant, as I later learned it was called, is popular in Asian cultures because it grows easily and the fruit it bears can be eaten. My sister-in-law's husband sautés it in stir fries, though his wife says she finds the fruit bitter and inedible.

    There are several different size opo plants you can grow. I've always grown the giant variety because I like the large leaves. The fruit it yields is long and cylindrical.

    At full growth they sort of look like a caveman's club.

    In Norwich, the opo is grown a lot these days because of the large influx of Asian immigrants there in recent years.

    In our climate I find the plant doesn't grow well until it's pretty hot outside, like now.

    You could easily plant seeds within the next few weeks and have a hearty vine growing by

    mid-August. The plant will thrive into October, but it doesn't like the cold. After the first frost or so it will die.

    Lately, I've been getting the seeds through online catalogues, such as Kitazawa Seed Co., kitazawaseed.com, which sells all sorts of Asian vegetable seeds.

    There's still time as well to grow other types of climbing plants, like Morning Glory or sweet peas. In fact, though Morning Glory's are classified as an annual in this part of the country, I have four areas in my yard where they grow and reseed every year.

    Either the plant is acclimating to our colder climes or global climate change has something to do with it. I'm hoping it's the former.

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