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My choices for new greens

In containers on the edge of my front porch, I hope to grow some unusual annuals for greens to eat this year, plants that should tolerate the part shade there better than last year's tomatoes.

Cluster mallow, a.k.a. red Chinese mallow, Malva verticillata or in Chinese, dong kui zi — a relative of hollyhock and okra — will grow six feet tall, with broad leaves that start out red, then fade to green with red veins. Like amaranths, mallows concentrate poisonous nitrate in their leaves, so must not be overfertilized, and fed only organic sources of nitrogen. Malva moschata, which grows wild all over my garden, tastes a bit peppery, like okra — but not hot. Will this more showy relative taste similar? One of the oldest cultivated crops in China, it's eaten raw; also boiled, fried, or roasted; and even dried.

Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata or Montia perfoliata), an annual native of Western America, gets that common name from gold rush days when panhandlers ate it for its vitamin C, to prevent scurvy. It also cooks well. Small, fleshy leaves grow in a low basal rosette, and also wrapped in pairs around the top of numerous four- to ten-inch flower stems. These pairs "perfoliate," or fuse together, so the stem appears to emerge through one saucer-shaped leaf. Small flowers, with five round-tipped petals, look like their Eastern perennial relatives with whom they share another common name, "spring beauty." Like them too, miner's lettuce grows best in cool weather; in fact I hope to get it self-sowing, maybe with a cover even grow it through the winter. Since it wants plenty of moisture, I'll transplant the seedlings into a self-watering planter.

Those two are sown already, in little pots set outdoors to freeze and thaw, and germinate naturally as the weather warms. Although my main motivation for winter sowing is to avoid damping-off disease, it should also improve the mallow's poor germination rate.

One packet of seeds hasn't arrived yet: garland chrysanthemum or crown daisy (Chrysanthemum coronarium — also called chop-suey greens, shungiku (Japanese), tung ho (Chinese), and ssukgat (Korean). A stronger-tasting variety has smaller leaves, finely-divided and very pretty, but I'm going with the milder variety because its larger, rounded leaves will take a lot less work to get the same amount of food. I've eaten this variety; it's still quite flavorful: tangy, aromatic, sort of flowery-minty.

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 3 March 2006

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Photo by C.H. Clark - Sown at the end of February, by the end of May my Claytonia is ready to thin, eat, and pot up.

Text and photo © Copyright 2006 Catherine Holmes Clark

For more information
  • Claytonia perfoliata (miner's lettuce, syn: Montia perfoliata)
  • Malva verticillata (red Chinese mallow)
    • The photo on the page at Johnny's Seeds shows mature leaves. I couldn't find a good photo of the flower stalks but they apparently look like hollyhocks.
    • Plants for a Future has more info.
  • Chrysanthemum coronarium (shungiku, garland chrysanthemum)