Where the Wild Things Are

>> Saturday, October 3, 2009

I've always been a "color outside of the lines" type. Long before (decades actually) it was trendy to decorate with bold colors, my adolescent room was painted hot pink, orange, and some paint color called kumquat. My early foray into oil painting brought forth a lavender city skyline drawn with a torn paper towel roll instead of a traditional paintbrush. So, it comes as no surprise that my gardening style is a bit unconventional.

I love looking through seed catalogs searching for the most unusual, exotic looking specimens. Because my current garden is a preschool learning environment, I am always on the lookout for plants with unusual texture, color, structure, and smell. My new favorite is Dutchman's Pipe, recommended by my plant buddy, Chad. It is a climbing vine with beautifully formed heart-shaped leaves. That alone would be enough, but the bonus is the transformation of the flower as it blooms. It is at once, exotic, erotic, and enticing.

Another favorite is Hairy Allium. It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss character, very whimsical in structure. It was a bit weak in the first season, but spread generously the next year. Fireworks Allium is also fun, but I, personally, did not have good results.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is another exceptional one to watch as it transforms. It provides visual interest in all stages, from the striped canopy covering "jack" to the bright berries at the conclusion of it's growth.

One year, we grew loofah gourds on a trellis and were amazed at the size of the fruit. The real fun started after the gourds dried. The children whacked the gourds on the ground to loosen the skin and expose the dried pulp. The sound was great, and the large black seeds exploded in all directions. It was like a natural pinata! We were left with wonderful loofah sponges, which soon became my favorite dish scrubbing sponge.

Cardoon is a striking addition if you have a large, sunny space. I planted three, small, pitiful looking specimens and ended up with a dense cluster approximately 4 foot wide by 5 foot tall. The leaves measured up to 24 inches long. The flower head resembles an artichoke, then bursts with a cluster of purple filaments. When it goes to seed, the head pops open and black seeds are carried on the wind like fairies. The stalks are edible and have a texture similar to cooked celery.

Hope you enjoyed my walk on the wild side. I'd love to join you on yours.



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