Passionate gardeners are always looking for the thrill – the ancient species to resurrect, a “sport” that invented itself and magically appeared, the rare, the bizarre, the anything but usual. There’s something to be said for the tried and the true. The pansies and marigolds, the zinnias and the petunias. We love them too. But like a true treasure hunter, the quest can only be satisfied by finding and embracing the Grail itself. Forgotten plants. Lost species. The Mother Stock. Wow.
This is not about something as dramatic as that. But it is about two little darlings which have been overlooked. I want to sing their praises.
A good friend who used to have a gardening TV show and a column, “The Coastal Gardener” (Dave Egbert), gave me just a handful of seeds a few years ago. “Just throw them out there”, he said. “You’ll love them.” He was right. This annual, which so few people know about, is a gem. And once thrown, it spreads it’s own way about the garden, insinuating itself in the nicest way possible – easy to pull if need be, yet seeming to know the very right spot to resurrect. In fact I marvel at it’s transition each spring. OH! There you are! How brilliant is that!
It’s called CERINTHE major. Or “honeywort”. My Sunset Western Garden Book (THE Bible – what will I do in the Midwest!) – says the species is rarely grown, but the variety “purpurascens” which I’m sure is the one growing in my garden, “is easy to grow from seed (DUH!) and can self-sow, though not enough to become a pest (HARDLY!).
Sunset lists it as a Mediteranean native that likes full sun or light shade with regular water and that grows in zones 1 – 24. Now here’s the rub. I know my Sunset Guide inside out and backwards. I know what their zones mean and entail. But that is for the “WESTERN Garden”. This is somehow NOT Minnesota!
Calling All Mid-West Gardeners! Please write and tell me what compensates for the ultimate Sunset Garden Guide. I feel out in space here. I always kept my old edition in the car in case I passed a nursery and needed to consult or if there was a thrilling and unusual roadside plant. I have my current edition permanently ensconced at my window seat, site of much plan and debate. So I definitely need help here for the future.
But in the meantime – Cerinthe. Get it. Grow it. You will not be sorry. Call me if you can’t find it and I will send you seeds. I have PLENTY!
My other darling comes from my darling Grandma Marie. She always lived with us when I was growing up and our little white clapboard cottage on the postage stamp lot was so spectacular in spite of it’s size that people would drive by in the spring to see her garden. The yard was ringed with a white picket fence and two arbors above each entry gate and rose trellis’ about the front door. There were hydrangeas and fuchsias (my ballerinas – made to dance by pulling out all but two of the stamens) along the cool side of the house, and in profusion – all along the fence – daffodils and sparaxis. Everyone knows daffodils. But who knows sparaxis?
I found them in a garden catalogue and reinstated the tradition here at Castenada Lane. Again, I’m not sure what would happen in the Mid-West, because I see they are native to South Africa and Sunset describes them as a “gay plant from the Cape of Good Hope”. How fun can that sound! They are commonly called the Harlequin Flower or the Wandflower, and Sunset says “they look best when naturalized or grouped as accents in borders, in a narrow bed between a walk and a wall, in crevices in a rock garden”. I planted them to rim my daylily garden, however they had ideas of their own. They simply moved – I think not by the usual “bulb spread”, but by the way that Mother Nature decides to spread her seed. Jumping to the desired location without consulting the garden designer. So there they are and glad to have them along the path instead of in the daylily bed.
In Minnesota I might need to put them in a pot and bring them inside. It hardly seems fair, considering they like to plant themselves and jump about. But I offer them as one of my darlings. And I guarantee that if you put them in your garden, they will make you happy.