A Lilac for the Desert? Another Great Lesser-Known Plant to Try

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Purple lilac vine

Purple lilac vine

I am here to showcase a lesser-known plant for you to try in your garden.  

In winter, the garden can often look blah and colorless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way in the desert garden. There are many plants that bloom in winter.

And so, I am very excited to show you this lesser-known plant.  

Are you ready?  Drum roll please…

Purple lilac vine

Isn’t it beautiful?

This Australian native is known by different common names with purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violacea) being commonly used in our area of the Southwest.

It is not actually a lilac, but because we cannot grow lilacs in the low desert, this is a wonderful substitute.

Purple lilac vine

My first experience using Purple Lilac was over 20 years ago when I used it in a feature area on one of the golf courses I worked for.

Although traditionally used as a vine, I used it as a ground cover; believe it or not, it did beautifully.

One of the best attributes of this vine is that it blooms during the month of February in our zone 9 gardens.

Now be honest, there is not much going on in your garden in winter, is there? Wouldn’t it be great to have gorgeous purple flowers blooming when little else is?

Purple lilac vine

Here are more reasons to try out this vine in your garden:

  • It flowers in winter.
  • When not in flower, attractive leaves cover the vine year-round.
  • Fairly low-maintenance.  Prune to control size if needed.  Supplemental fertilizer is usually not needed.
  • Requires a trellis or other support to grow upwards.
  • Does especially well in areas that face east or south.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 9 (about 23 degrees F.), but will suffer frost damage when temps dip into the upper 20’s.

Under normal winter temperatures, it doesn’t suffer frost damage.

It decorates a bare wall beautifully or can screen out an unattractive view.

Purple lilac vine

When people ask me if I recommend a particular plant, I tell them that the highest recommendation that I can give is is if I have that plant growing in my garden.

I do not have the patience to grow a plant that struggles and/or takes too much maintenance.  It also has to look beautiful most of the year.

So if you ask me if I truly like this vine, I answer by saying that I have four growing in my backyard 🙂

**One complaint that I have heard often is that it can be hard to find in your local nursery. Don’t worry; most nurseries normally have them in stock when they are in flower in winter.  

lesser-known plant

**It’s important to note that although the flowers look like lilacs, they are not particularly fragrant. But, they are so beautiful, it’s hard not to care.

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
43 replies
  1. Carol
    Carol says:

    Dear Noelle, I can imagine the joy you must feel with the rain!! Your garden too! What a lovely flowering vine! I love it growing over the fence. A great screen.
    I did enjoy seeing the chicken getting a bath. I was somewhat in disbelief! What a hoot! I am sure it was important too.

  2. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    What a beautiful flowering vine. I have a Sandpaper or Queen's Wreath vine, Petrea volubilis, that I got as a baby plant about 6" high, it's now about 3' high and I'm eagerly awalting blooms.


  3. The Violet Fern
    The Violet Fern says:

    This vine is beautiful! I would love to grow it on my fence. Does it smell as wonderful as lilacs? I like that your highest recommendation is that you grow the plant in your garden. That would sell me.

  4. Jan
    Jan says:

    Oh the rain was so nice!

    I would love to add this purple lilac to my garden and I have just the fence for it too 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful suggestion.

  5. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello and thank you so much for your comments!

    I forgot to mention that Purple Lilac Vine is not a fragrant plant.

    This vine flowers for 4 – 6 weeks, which is normally a rather short period for me to consider having in my garden. BUT, since it flowers in February, when I do not have much going on, it is worth it 🙂


  6. Christine
    Christine says:

    This is a lovely plant – and I checked up and apparantly will grow in a semi shaded position too so sounds ideal for my garden. Will have to see if I can get it here in South Africa – should be able to, I see a lot of Aussie plants at my local nursery. Thanks for this tip.

  7. Jo Turner
    Jo Turner says:

    The Purple Lilac is just beautiful. I'm really enjoying your column..and hope to try a few of the plants this Spring. Jo

  8. Brad
    Brad says:

    I love this plant. I planted it in my last place along our back wall, a drab gray. The purple actually made the gray kinda nice. This plant seems at it's most dramatic draped over a fence, or as a ground cover. I've seen it planted with no trellis, just crawling along the ground and it looks great. It's been planted along some of the freeway on-ramps where I live and it's blooming like crazy right now. Great plant rec.

  9. Blanktile
    Blanktile says:

    I have one planted in my backyard and it has been doing so well for the past two years. Just recently all the new leaves are yellow. Any idea why this is happening?

  10. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Blanktile,

    The yellowing leaves could be due to overwatering and/or a lack of iron. Try fertilizing it with a fertilizer that contains iron, which should help. Also, make sure that the soil is not overly wet.

    I hope this helps!

    Noelle 'az plant lady'

  11. Blanktile
    Blanktile says:

    Due to the 115 degree temperatures, I just recently increased the watering time on my drip system. Thanks so much! Turning the water down immediately. Thank you very much for responding to my comment. 🙂

  12. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Amanda,

    I have found conflicting information on whether or not this vine is poisonous to dogs. I have several growing in my garden and have 3 dogs who don't eat it, so I haven't had any problems. I would check with your veterinarian to be sure.

    Noelle 'az plant lady'

  13. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Margo,

    It would be hard for purple lilac vine to survive in heavy shade. Here is a link for a list of vines that do well in the Arizona desert. It lists what each type of vine needs in regards to sun exposure.

    I hope this helps!

    Noelle 'AZ Plant Lady'

  14. Dave Henning
    Dave Henning says:

    Also, I had a question about these lilac vines. Do you think I could grow them under a mesquite tree against an east facing wall. They would get filtered sun throughout the year, with less sun in the summer as the mesquite leafs out.

    I am thinking of growing them together with something that flowers in the summer, perhaps yuca vine or bower vine. What do you think?

    Dave …

    P.S. Thanks again for your site. Here are some of the many flowers in my yard, I think you will see a bunch of your favorites given all the ideas I have taken from your blog!


    Thanks again,

  15. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you for your comments. I love your music deal of pairing bower vine with the lilac vine. I don't think the lilac vine will flower too much in the shade of the mesquite, but I still think that it is worth a try. Keep in mind that vines can take a year or so, before really beginning to grow.

    I'd love to hear these two vines do for you. 🙂

    Noelle – AZ Plant Lady

  16. Lucas Gilbert
    Lucas Gilbert says:

    Hi Noelle,

    I just started reading your blog and had a question regarding the Lilac Vines. What kind of supports will they grab onto? I am trying to cover some bare block wall and would like to attach a Redwood frame with horizontal planks to make a more modern look. If there is several inches between each plank do you think a lilac vine would climb up?

    Thanks for sharing all of your information!

  17. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Lucas,

    Thank you for your kinds words 🙂

    Yes, the lilac vines should be able to climb up that support. If needed, you can tie some of the tendrils of the vine with flexible plant ties or strips of panty hose to the trellis.

    You will certainly enjoy the lovely purple blooms this winter!

    Noelle -AZ Plant Lady

  18. haole12
    haole12 says:

    Thank you for this informative post. I purchased a lilac vine today and I am excited to plant it! What sun exposure do your 4 lilac vines get in your yard? I have several open spots in my yard and I want to chose the one where my vine will be happiest in winter and the heat of summer. I am in Mesa, AZ. Thank you for your site and sharing your plant wisdom!

  19. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Haole12,

    I am so glad you have decided to plant this beautiful vine. North and south-facing exposures are best. East would also be okay, but avoid planting in areas that face west where they will receive the hot, afternoon sun, which can burn them.

    My vines face south and love it!

    I hope this helps and good luck 🙂

    Noelle – AZ Plant Lady

  20. Rachel Wright
    Rachel Wright says:

    Can this be kept in a pot on the balcony?
    I live in an apartment complex here in Tucson and would love this if I can keep it in a pot on the balcony.

  21. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Rachel,

    It can, but with some modifications. The hot air temperatures in summer can literally ‘cook’ the roots of plants, so there are two different things to do that can help it to grow and add beauty to your balcony space. 1. Plant in a plain plastic pot (with a hole for drainage) that is about 2 feet wide on the top. 2. Place the plain plastic pot into a slightly larger, decorative pot. Doing this, creates some separation (insulation) from the hot air temperatures. These vines are so beautiful and I highly recommend them. I hope this helps!

  22. Cindi stitz
    Cindi stitz says:

    I have a north facing vine. I love it. The root is not that big I think it would grow fine in a planter. Mine is in its 4th summer. The 3rd Winter it was beautiful. Kinda messy.

  23. Jeanine Nunes
    Jeanine Nunes says:

    I recently was VISITING FAMILY IN FALLON, NEV. Saw a shrub on many properties there as a border that was beautiful and thriving in the desert…was defineitly a shrub that grew to min. tree size with lilac – like flower tendrels purple in color and green stems/leaves. Can you ID? Thanks.

  24. douglas cereghin
    douglas cereghin says:

    trying to find this in the valley first bought it at Lowes not available any longer. Hardenbergia violacea can you help?

  25. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Douglas,

    Most nurseries begin to stock them closer to when they bloom in winter, including Home Depot and Lowes. You can try looking at more local nurseries such as SummerWinds, Whitfill, or Treeland Nurseries. I hope this helps!

  26. Barbara Lavrich Winani
    Barbara Lavrich Winani says:

    I always love reading your pages. They are informative and i enjoy reading them.
    Today i have seen the lovely climber Purple lilac vine. I know i can not come and buy one or two plants but is the possibility of seeds of this particular plant.

    A special thank also to share with your readers a recipe of pumpkin bread. Pumpkins are known here but are not cooked the way as you do. So i will go to my kitchen and grab one pumpkin from the garden and made it in the cake. Thank you!
    Have a lovely day!

  27. DW
    DW says:

    This is a lovely plant thanks for showcasing it. I however would like to disagree with you. Yes, you can grow Lilac’s in the desert. I’ve grown them in Gilbert for years. It does take patience and babying them, but it’s possible. I was also driving in Phoenix and saw a yard with a whole bunch of them lining their fence. It was great!

  28. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Wow! I am so glad you let me know this. This goes to prove what I often tell people is that you can often find a plant growing where it has no business growing – plants are full of surprises! I enjoy seeing my daughter’s lilac bushes in her Michigan garden and am glad that some people have figured out how to grow them in the low desert garden.

    Would you mind letting me know any special tips that you use to grow lilacs?

    Thank you!

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