Despite the bonkers temperatures of the past few days (here in the south east at least – sorry about the rain further north and west) the garden is getting an autumnal look even though it is hotter than a summer’s day out there. Apparently yesterday was the hottest day for a century or more – it certainly felt hot and humid (so I took the decision to clean the conservatory roof – a bit too active but at least the constant soaking kept me cool).
The plant that has the most autumnal look of all is the purple-leaved grape, Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’. This is an ornamental form of the common, wild, wine grape with attractive purple-ish leaves although they are more or less green in summer and notably greyish in spring because of the hairs on the young growth.
Like the much more vigorous V. coignettiae, the real moment of glory comes in autumn when the leaves turn bright scarlet and crimson. But before that there is the display of small, deep purple fruits which, so far, the blackbirds have ignored, a sign that they are not yet ripe.
Most references say that the fruits are not edible but this is because of thick and rather bitter skins and their small size rather than any toxicity and I think they would make an acceptable wine and some people say they make good juice and jellies. So although this is primarily an ornamental plant it has some culinary use too.
My plant was popped at the base of some trellis in a rather shady spot, for a photo shoot and, over the years it has clambered into the sunlight and slung itself over the medlar that initially shaded it and now has the upper hand. Like all grapes it should be pruned in the depths of winter but it can also be pinched back in summer. It is not too vigorous and a good choice for a sunny fence or wall. More traditional accompaniments would be a late-flowering clematis or a pink rose.