Steve Bender

The new mandevillas bloom nonstop and are a cinch to grow.

Way back in 1985, I wrote a one-page story for Southern Living about a spectacular but largely unknown tropical vine called mandevilla. Large, trumpet-shaped, deep pink blooms smothered the foliage. At the end of the story, I asked anyone who wanted a list of mail-order sources to send us a letter or post card (no email then). More than 5,000 did. So many people wanted the plant that it sold out all over the country. I said to myself, “I got the power.”

That particular selection of mandevilla was ‘Alice du Pont.’ While its flowers are beautiful, its six-inch leaves are coarse and dull green. Without flowers, no one would want it.

Fast-forward to today. Potted mandevillas in bloom crowd the fronts of garden centers across the land. This was my doing, I think proudly. But mandevillas today are vast improvements over the old ones. Plant breeders at Suntory Flowers in Japan crossed several species to create the Sun Parasol series. Smaller, deep green, glossy leaves have replaced the big, dull ones. Velvety blossoms of heavy substance supply rich colors of red, pink, or white. The plants bloom heavily from the day you buy them until your first frost in autumn. No summer vines give you as much bang for your hard-earned buck.

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The Sun Parasols come with another twist – they can be vines that climb or mounding bushes that don’t. The former work well adorning walls, fences, light posts, mailboxes, or trellises. The latter are perfect for containers. The two forms can be hard to tell apart in their nursery pots, so be sure to check the plant tags. Remember that they won’t take frost, so either bring them indoors for the winter if you want to save them or buy new ones each spring.

Judy plants a new vining one at the foot of our iron mailbox every year. Every time I mention that, I get scads of complaints from the families of mail carriers who are deathly afraid of bees. This fear is misplaced. I have never seen bees or any other insects buzzing around the flowers of our mandevilla. My guess is the blooms lack nectar.

Growing a mandevilla could hardly be simpler. Just give it full sun and moist, well-drained soil. The hotter and stickier the weather gets, the more flowers you get. No insects bug it, so forget about spraying. Deer don’t eat it either.

Today, you don’t need a list of mail-order sources. You’ll find mandevillas practically everywhere they sell plants. When you buy one, remember who it was that made it all possible.

Me.