With the garden kind of on automatic I have turned my attention to never before used plants. You know oddballs you come across when visiting a nursery and which beg for a place in your garden.
For me it started with a few pitcher plants or carnivorous plants to add to the pond. Then I added a few different pitcher plants, a sundew and a few Venus flytraps. When all was said and done I put them together in a small enamel baby bath I purchased years before and never knew what to do with. Now this collection of plants is in its second year in this container, having survived the winter outdoors last year.
While visiting a display garden and nursery in New York I came across an oddball plant with large and very spiky leaves called Solanum quitoense, also known as Naranjilla, and which is a member of the Tomato family. It bears fuzzy fruits the size of a large cherry tomato which will turn bright orange when they are ripe. The hairs can be rubbed off and the pulp inside is green, acid, and apparently of excellent flavor. On my plant the fruits are about that size right now, but they are still green. The spineless variety of this plant was found in Peru, Ecuador and Southern Columbia, while the spiky leafed variety can be found in the rest of Columbia, the central and northern Andes of Venezuela and the interior mountain ranges of Costa Rica. At only $8.- a plant, it was inexpensive enough to me to pick up a plant, albeit very gingerly. Once home I repotted it, again, very carefully and it took off. Soon new leaves sprouted with wicked looking spikes on both sides of each leaf. Each spine can be bent somewhat if you touch it from the side, but touch it head one and it will prick you. I doubt there is an herbivore out there which will eat this plant! But, it seems the roots can be attacked by root nematodes.
My agave collection, still in its infancy, started with one somewhat sad specimen picked up in our garden club’s annual plant swap. This plant spent a summer outdoors and perked up considerably. After repotting and giving it fresh potting soil the following spring it really took off; new and very spiky leaves unfolded with regularity. Pups or baby plants formed and soon I had baby agaves to give away. In late fall I bring the pots indoor, watering only sporadically until late spring of the following year when they go back outdoors again.
And so when there is not much work in the garden to be done, I tend my “oddballs”. It provides me with a challenge; different soils to be used depending on the plants’ needs; more or less watering because it is potted up in a container rather than in the ground. I learn something; new botanical names, new families. I do what gardeners like best; to see if we can grow something we haven’t grown before. Are you up for a challenge yet?