Jefferson or Hyacinth Bean…

Plant and Stand Back!

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Hyacinth Bean Seed Envelope

Don’t have a green thumb? I think I have found the answer.

Early this summer, on a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s summer home, Poplar Forest, I picked up a package of seeds from the gift shop. Jefferson was interested in many things, plants being one of those interests. The gift shop sells seeds from plants that Jefferson had presumably selected for Poplar Forest or Monticello. Having no idea what I might be getting, I bought a pack of Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab) seeds.

I had a small bed around the flagpole in front of the house that needed something, so I planted the seeds there. There were eight seeds in the pack. Each seed was the size of large pea.

It was not until that afternoon, after planting the seeds that I thought to do a little research. Easy to find, the description told me that it was an ornamental vine with pinkish-purple flowers.

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After about Three Weeks, Sprouts are Reaching for Something to Climb

A few more sentences suggest a “sturdy support” because the plants would grow 10 to 15 feet tall and a “sturdy trellis” was suggested. I have no trellis, but the flag pole would certainly support one or two plants.

I collected some green fencing wire that had been used for climbing beans, and cut enough to make a column about three feet in diameter and set the ring down over my rain-gauge post. I retrieved three beans from the flag pole garden and planted them inside the fence ring. Although not very tall, I guessed it would give the vine a little space to grow and keep the blooms at eye level.

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Old Telescope Used as a Flagpole Garden Feature for the Hyacinth Bean

The plants sprouted within a matter of days, and within two weeks the vines were searching for something to climb. I set an old telescope in the flagpole garden. The telescope is now barely visible, and the vines are easily 15 feet up the flag pole.

As advertised, the blossoms are light purple to pink and they resemble bean flowers in their shape and arrangement. They are supposed to bloom well into September.

After several weeks, reddish-purple bean pods began to appear. I will let them reach full size, then collect the beans and begin thinking about where I can plant them next year.

The beans are supposed to be edible, but a word of caution, they can also be poisonous—they have to be cooked properly to be safe to eat. I do not plan to supplement my garden harvest with hyacinth beans—not this year, anyway!

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Hyacinth Bean Flower

According to one source, “Thomas Jefferson’s favorite nurseryman Bernard McMahon sold hyacinth bean vine plants to Jefferson in 1804. Because of this, the hyacinth bean is also known as Jefferson bean. These fabulous heirloom plants are now featured at Monticello in the Colonial kitchen garden.”

Based on some quick research, the best time to harvest the bean seedpods is just before the season’s first frost. Seeds can be removed from the pods easily. Store seeds in a paper envelop (not a plastic baggie) in a cool dry location for planting the next spring.

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Young Hyacinth Bean Pods

Plant seeds in good average soil, in full to partial sunlight. Provide a trellis or fence or other support—up to 20 feet tall—for the vines. I saw no signs of insect damage, and we had a problem with Japanese beetles elsewhere in the yard this year).

For these and other heirloom seeds of both annuals and perennials, check out “The Shop” at Monticello ( http://www.monticelloshop.org/farm-garden-seeds.html ) for next year.

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2 Responses to Jefferson or Hyacinth Bean…

  1. Those are beautiful–both the flowers and the beans! Do you think they would grow in the colder climate of northern New England?

  2. merlinjr01 says:

    I think they would grow. Plant in late spring after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is beginning to warm. In good rich soil they should grow and bloom until the first frost. There is lots of information about them on line, too.

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