Joanna and the Beanstalk

About this time in the last couple of years I was planting seeds of these large pole beans called Painted Lady. It all started one springtime when my friend L. asked me to come to her house and see the puzzling beans that had been growing there after having arrived from she-knew-not-where.

When I saw them, there was new spring growth of runner beans with large leaves and gorgeous flowers, and there were a few pods left on the vines from the previous fall. Inside the pods were large speckled dry beans. I had never seen anything quite like them.

I went home with a few of the beans for seeds, and searched online garden sites for plants that matched the description.

It didn’t take long before I found identifying pictures and information stating that these are the only pole beans with a bi-color flower. They are called Painted Lady after Queen Elizabeth I, who earned that nickname for wearing a lot of makeup. There were sites where one could buy seeds. One woman was selling a packet of five beans for a tidy sum. But I got mine for free! I planted them pretty soon, but it was too late in the season for them to do anything but make a few flowers before they were cut down by the frost.

L. had more beans again that summer, though, and she gave me more, which I planted earlier and more successfully, as you can see by the photos.

Not only did my second planting grow well, but the plants I had started too late the previous year sprouted again–they are perennials! These beans are too good to believe. Who ever heard of a perennial runner bean?

Everything about Painted Ladies is large. The flowers, the leaves, the pods, and the beans. The vines want to grow to the sky. I strung jute twine vertically along the fence, tied loosely at the base of each plant, for them to hang on to as they twisted upwards.

We never solved the mystery of how they got started. The seeds seem a bit large for a bird to drop in, and L.’s neighbors don’t garden. In any case, It felt magic. The fairy-tale seeds grew vigorously and rewarded me with the harvest in the top photo. I wanted to share the bounty and the adventure with my gardening friends, so before I cooked any of my pile I measured a bit more than five beans into packets to give away. I saw too late that I had accidentally named Queen Victoria instead of Queen Elizabeth on the packet. 😦

The beans when cooked have a typically mealy texture, and not a strong flavor. The skins are somewhat chewy. I’ve only used them in soup.

This week the rain or drizzle has been constant, and forcing us to put off planting the garden. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much work there will be when the ground dries out just a bit. But just writing about this happy gift makes me remember the surprises that make me glad to be out there doing my part to be ready for heavenly blessings.

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