Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: salsify

Gardening, Rachel-style

I usually give all the gardening and nature posts to Veronica, but this one isn’t worthy of her master gardening skills. It’s very much a Rachel kind of project, starting with, not surprisingly, a prominent bed where nothing could grow.

When we came here nine years ago, it was full of irises and day lilies. Very nice flowers, but they were over crowded, not having been tended for who knew how many years, and they only flower for a short time in spring. I wanted to stretch the bloom time through the summer. Right away I took out the bulbs, leaving only a few that were hard to get out. I had a vision of native prairie wildflowers and grasses, approximating a little patch of prairie on the lawn in front of our motel, highlighting the sign which rises up out of the bed. But the first year I just put in inexpensive annuals, because I didn’t have time just yet to manifest the whole vision.

Everything died. Plant food did nothing. A soil test showed normal acidity. Over the years I did everything short of taking out all the soil (which I have concluded was actually construction dirt) and replacing it. I was thrilled to start composting, but failed to maintain proper balance and after a couple years I was adding more bugs to the dirt than nutrients. I know people say that roly polies cannot eat live plants, but I guarantee you it is not true. When we die and leave our bodies, we will be one with everything and have access to all knowledge. Then we will know without doubt two things: where all those socks went, and that roly polies eat flowers.

My friend John Queen invited us to take some perennials from his garden, and for a few years we had a very nice echinacea. The butterflies loved it. I tried transplanting weeds from the cracks in the parking lot to join it. Surely if they could grow in gravel, they could grow in this stuff; but they didn’t. Eventually the echinacea died too.

I gave up on native plants and put in anything I could think of. Ice plant shriveled. Ornamental grasses were seeded but never appeared. Year after year, all that grew there was buffalo grass, bindweed, and the few scattered irises I’d never managed to remove. Last year we got in some queen anne’s lace, which was kind of pretty for a short time and looked like the untended weed it was for most of the summer.

Spring rolls back around, though, every year. Most years I get that itch to give it one more try. Rodeo was coming, the one weekend every year when we know we can rent every room suitable to rent, and turn some people down. It had been a couple years since I’d added the pest-infused compost, so maybe they had gone somewhere else. I decided to put in an assortment of cheap annuals and throw down some mulch, in the spaghetti method (throw it at the wall and see what sticks). If it all dies in 2 weeks, I won’t have invested much.

Of course I couldn’t resist adding a few weeds from the parking lot. So far the daisy fleabane is doing much better than last time. This year was the first time I’d seen salsify here, and it doesn’t transplant well generally, but hasn’t died yet, so I’m considering that a success. In fact, rodeo is over, everyone has checked out, and every plant I put in is still alive, so my first goal has been reached. I have pictures to prove it.

Salsify Seeds

Salsify seedhead

When a fairy wishes to make a journey by air, one might hitch a ride on a salsify seed.

Two days after I posted about transplanting salsify to a flower bed, one of the buds opened into this stunning seedhead. I’d seen them before but hadn’t ever taken a closer look. I probably photographed it a bit early, because later every one of those seeds had put out its own parachute. Fully open, the seedhead has a graceful symmetry, more complex and lovelier than the dandelion to which I previously compared it. A few hours yet later, and they were all gone.

Salsify, Tragopogon dubius

Today’s pretty flower is another of our guests here in North America, and, as far as I can tell, not one who makes herself particularly useful. Salsify is considered to be edible, though other species are more commonly eaten than dubius, which I’ve concluded is the one I have here. It does have a thick taproot, which is the part one would eat; the greens are sometimes considered edible as well. As for medicinal value, I believe this is the first plant I’ve researched for which I find none whatsoever.

I transplanted one to a flower bed today, just because I find the bloom pleasing to look at, and the seeds will be displayed in a manner equally striking. If you imagine a dandelion in her explosive seedy glory, perhaps mutated to be several times typical size, then you approximate the salsify seedhead.

This specimen was growing in a gravelly matrix, hardly worthy of the word soil. She was with some daisy fleabane, which you can see in the pictures. I put them together in the flower bed, so they wouldn’t miss each other. I don’t yet know if they will like their new home; I’ll have to wait and see.

Update: Two days later, this plant opened a seedhead. It’s as exciting as the bloom. See the picture here: Salsify Seeds.

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