All photos in this post are credited to Avant Gardens.
As a gardener with particular tastes and interests that border on obsession, it’s always a treat to meet someone who shares the same enthusiasm and passions. I was introduced to Katherine Tracy and her nursery Avant Gardens (located in Dartmouth, Massachusetts) through Margaret, who found out about this off-the-beaten-track plant treasure trove by word-of-mouth through some of her gardening friends. “She’s one of us,” Margaret explained, meaning to say through verbal shorthand that she’s a bit plant crazy (the best kind of crazy) and with impeccable taste to boot (because, of course, being somewhat mad, we happen to believe our own tastes in plants are impeccable).
Collectors of unusual and interesting plants since the 1980s, owners Katherine and Chris Tracey sell all manner of colourful foliage and dependable perennials. Like many of the most interesting nurseries, their business got started by way of a personal passion that simply got out of hand. They began doing mail order in 1997, focussing on uncommon annuals, but gradually moved on to include some of the perennials, trees, and shrubs they personally grew as well.
I have a special place in my heart for currant tomatoes. They’re wild and free-growing. They are quite literally their own species (Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium). Naughty, unruly, and rebellious, they will blanket the garden in a webbing of lace-like foliage if you turn your attention away for even a moment. They are out of control and promiscuous. They readily cross-pollinate with other tomatoes in the garden, spreading their genes where you don’t want them. And once they get started, they never seem to stop producing legions of the tiniest, pop-in-your-mouth fruit.
They are too much, and yet I always go back for more.
Colourful flowers that sway and jitter on wiry stems, Fame flower (Talinum calcycinum) is another example of a rough and tumble, easy-grow plant that is disguised as delicate and fragile. Rather, it is a hardy (zones 4ish-9) succulent that is native to the North American prairies. Related to the common edible weed purslane (Portulaca oleracea), fame flower likes it dry, so if you do not have sandy or gritty soil, consider keeping it in a pot as my friend Barry has with the specimen pictured here.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but my interest in oddities from the Euphorbiaceae family seems to be growing. To be fair, it is an attractive family of plants with incredible diversity. Euphorbias can be succulents, trees, bushes, or herbaceous plants. From your seasonal poinsettias to colourful and spiny crown of thorns, and a few thousand utterly wacked out, alien-like plants in between, it’s a family that constantly takes me by surprise.
[Giveaway details can be found at the end of this post.]
This week I was a guest on Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden.com‘s radio show. We spoke at length about growing tomatillos as well as other edible crops of the same genus (Physalis). You can listen to that episode over here.
Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) have only recently gained popularity as a backyard garden crop across North America and are definitely worth growing if you’re a Mexican food nut. I first learned of this tomato-like fruit on a trip to southern Mexico many years ago. At first I thought the tangy, green sauce we were served with quesadillas was made of green tomatoes, until I did some research and discovered it was a different fruit entirely. Back at home I started buying salsa verde in cans at a Latin American food store in Toronto’s Kensington Market. I honestly believed for a time that store-bought was good enough and couldn’t be improved until I grew my own and learned just how wrong I was. Like their botanical cousin the tomato (both plants are nightshade or Solanaceae family plants), tomatillos are infinitely better tasting when grown at home organically. They are sweeter, tarter, more flavourful, and complex. They are a surprise.