As I went outside the front door this morning I noticed fat buds on the new Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata) that we bought and planted last autumn. They look like flower rather than leaf buds, which is rather exciting.
In 2011, when we were planting Grapes Hill Community Garden, I was introduced to this lovely climber and we planted two young plants against the trellis that surrounds the garden on two sides. The combination of purple, vanilla scented flowers borne in April and the possibility of edible, chocolate-flavoured fruit in Autumn was very enticing. Sadly, however, the plants haven’t flowered – I think it is too shady for them. I eventually saw my first flowering Chocolate Vines growing on an east-facing house wall near the top of Helena Road and a fine specimen growing up the pergola in Heigham Park, both near where we live in Norwich.
Akebia quinata is in the family Lardizabalaceae and comes from China, Korea and Japan. It can be rather vigorous and the comments on the Gardeners’ World website include the terms “beast” and “rampant thug”, so beware if you’re planning to grow it with other climbers or if you’re short of space. Our house faces south and the soil is rather poor, so I’ll be happy if ours does well. I added some good garden compost to the planting hole and will probably have to water it in the summer. The Chocolate Vine took the place of a climbing rose which was very beautiful but suffered in the intense heat, so I moved it to a cooler spot in the back garden, where it will hopefully do better.
We won’t have any fruits, sadly, as although the plants bear both male and female flowers, the flowers need to be cross-pollinated with another individual of the same species to set fruit. That’s a shame, as the fruits have a delicate flavour and a soft, juicy texture, according to the Plants for a Future website. Maybe, if the first plant is a success, we’ll find space for another.