I bought this plant Claytonia nevadensis, also known as Sierra Spring Beauty, a few weeks ago on a trip to Lost Horizons, a nursery located in the town of Acton. The plant is endemic to California, growing along rocky streams high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
I bought the plant hoping it is edible like others within the genus (sometimes called Montia). Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about this species available and I haven’t found proof either way. The mystery continues, although I ate a leaf recently so… On the positive side of things, I haven’t come across a poisonous claytonia, so there is still hope. And I am neither sick nor dead. That too.
I do not recommend or condone this method of identification.
Edible or not, buying this plant has opened my eyes to a whole new world of claytonias. I have grown the most common types and have identified them growing wild in parks on trips to California, but I had no idea there were so many different species — some much more beautiful and intriguing than c. perfoliata aka ‘Miner’s Lettuce’.
The education I sometimes glean from the acquisition of a single plant and the new worlds it can open up still surprises me. Worth the insane $9 price tag.
On the flip side of things, I’m a bit concerned about my ability to keep this little gem alive. It grows in very free draining soil or scree, alongside flowing mountain streams. Clearly these are not the conditions at my community garden plot. So for the time being, I’m keeping it in a pot until I can figure something out.
Recently, our meals have been peppered with ingredients gleaned from the gardens; however, today’s lunch is the first that is all garden grown.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Chive Blossoms: A hardy perennial that has been growing for about a decade in a big container on the roof.
- Lemon Balm: Eat the fresh leaves in the spring. This is a hardy perennial that self seeds all over the community garden.
- Parsley: From the roof.
- Pansy petals: Also from the roof.
- Three types of lettuce: All of which self-seeded in various containers on the roof. I didn’t have to do a thing, although I did transplant a few to the community garden plot.
- ‘Egyptian Walking Onion’: Just the greens.
- Borage sprouts: I got this idea from Julianna, who brought a salad to our Saturday afternoon transplant trade/potluck that included borage from her garden. Borage self-seeds like nobody’s business and is coming up like mad right now. why not use the tender, fresh sprouts rather than tossing them in the compost? The first set of true leaves are prickly but the cotyledon leaves are smooth, with a fresh cucumbery taste.
- Baby kale
- Purple Mizuna: More on this soon. This is my new favourite edible!
- Assorted mustard greens
- Violet leaves and flowers: I have a small patch over at the community garden that is going to expand this year once I add the three additional varieties I have acquired this spring. Eat the young, new leaves and the flowers.
- Bloody Dock: If you’d like to know more, I wrote an article on spring greens including bloody dock, for Garden Making magazine.
For identification purposes, here’s what the borage seedlings look like. You can also identify them by their cucumber scent. The seedling in the top left corner is anise-hyssop. You can eat that too.
My greenhouse grown plants are coming along and at the rate we’re going weather-wise this spring, a few of these babies could be out the door before the typical May 24 planting weekend in this region. I’ve become more cautious than I used to be as we’ve had some fluke cold snaps and hail storms in the past that have sent me running to cover everything with a blanket or bring a thousand pots into my living room. But things have been so consistently mild this spring, I’m feeling daring.
Now if only the whipping winds would settle down.
The ‘Variegated’ tomatoes (above) are really starting to show their colours now. I’m particularly pleased with this one and pleased that I decided to grow them again. As I mentioned in a previous post, the tomatoes themselves aren’t much to write home about, but what’s fascinating is that they do start out variegated just like the plant, and ripen to red. It’s quite a visual treat. I’m hopeful that the year I grew them previously was just a bad year for this variety and the tomatoes will surprise me this time around.
This tomato plant looks really big already but is a ‘Black Seaman,’ a determinate (bushing) variety that grows nicely-sized slicing tomatoes if you give it a big pot. I’ve gone as small as a foot-deep but a bigger pot, if you’ve got it, will grow a bigger plant. My first experience with this variety was wishy-washy but it has since gone on to become a favourite. I never go a year without growing one and I always recommend it to container gardeners.
Remember when the naranjilla were teeny, tiny little things? They’ve had a slow start, but the seedlings are starting to come along to a decent size. They are very hairy now and you can see the beginnings of little thorns that will eventually turn into nasty rose-like thorns at maturity. Here’s a reminder of what it looks like at full size. Ouch.
The naranjilla’s cousin, Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) is also beginning to put out thorns. I have allergies to some hairy plants in the garden including beans (just the plants), sunflowers, and globe thistle. If I rub against these plants with wet arms, I break out in hives. Even at this tiny size the Morelle de Balbis is proving to be a hazard. I’ve felt some minor itches when accidentally brushing against it’s teeny little thorns. You can bet I’ll be exercising caution when this thing reaches full size and maximum thorniness.
It should make an excellent, although purely ornamental candidate for the street garden.
p.s. I took all of these photos with my cellphone; hence the weirdness.
What about you? How are your seedlings coming along?
Last fall my friend Barry put me onto pots of green and purple ‘Holy’ basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) for sale at a neighbourhood Indian food store. ‘Holy’ basil, also known as Tulsi, is a beautiful herb that brightens a dull spot in the garden. It’s a tough, woody plant with textured leaves that can take a lot of heat and a little bit of drought, but I don’t recommend it if you’re looking to grow a culinary basil. It has a very potent smell and flavour and is more commonly used as a medicinal remedy than a meal enhancer.
I intended to post about the plant here months back, but as sometimes happens, I neglected to get a good photo before the frost hit and to top it off I left the plant outside to die rather than overwintering it indoors. And even though I wasn’t going to tell this part of the story, now that I’ve exposed my neglect, I feel a guilt-ridden need to explain that the reason I didn’t bring it inside was because we were going away for a month and I didn’t want to overburden my friends with millions of plants to keep alive on top of the thousands I already have.
Passively allowing tender plants to die outdoors at the end of the season is a gardeners’ dirty little secret. Just about everyone does it, but few admit it. Many of us feel guilty about it, although in my case I suspect it has more to do with throwing away money than intentionally killing a plant.
But I digress. What I really intended to say was that as luck might have it, a month or so after the “killing frost”, I came upon the plant in this photo, growing on a farm in St. Lucia. It may not have been my plant, but I got the photo I had hoped for. And like most basil plants grown in a tropical climate, the thing was huge, much larger than any basil I could grow here in Toronto.
Dominica is often referred to as The Garden of Eden, which comes as no surprise since it seems that just about anything will grow here. No matter where I am on the island, whether it be on the coast or in the mountain rain forest interior, I often see wild foods growing.
I found this plant, a wild form of eggplant, growing along the road just around the corner from the cottage we are staying in. Wild growing pumpkins were sharing the same space. Apparently, these pea-sized eggplants are edible but very bitter tasting. I don’t think I’ll take a crack at cooking them this time around since I think it might take some experience and know-how to work with the bitterness.