Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

The Scarlet Runner Bean: Both Beautiful and Delicious!

20150524AThe scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) is a vigorous climbing bean you find in most seed catalogs… in the annual flower section. And with its beautiful scarlet flowers (they also come in white, pink or bicolors) and its green or golden foliage, depending on the cultivar, it certainly is beautiful.

Its vine grows at the speed of lightning (it is said that the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, is based on the runner bean!): over an inch (2.5 cm) a day. But the beans are also edible and in fact, delicious: long and green, they can be used like any other bean. Just make sure you harvest them when they are still immature and quite thin, as they do get stringy if you leave them too long on the plant. Also, its flowers are edible, cooked or raw, and add a lot of color to a salad. Finally, did you know that this climber is one of the favorite flowers of the hummingbird? Another good reason to plant it!

20150524BScarlet runner bean seeds are available almost everywhere. Just sow the large and colorful seeds where they are to grow about  an inch (2-3 cm) deep when the soil is thoroughly warmed up and there is no longer any risk of frost in your region. That would be in late May or early June for most North American gardeners. The ideal location is in full sun in well-drained soil near a fence or trellis the plant can climb. It doesn’t even need rich soil: the runner bean, like most legumes, lives in symbiosis with bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen and thus provide their own fertilizer.

Easy, beautiful and oh so tasty! A definite must for both the flower and the vegetable bed.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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