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Thankful for my porch garden

My first year of intensive porch gardening gave me much to harvest — both in food and in experience. The 'Big Top' beets grew fine in planters in part sun, and their greens were tastier than any I’ve bought in stores. Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) grew great in spring, but the taste was too bland for me, and it bolted early.

Malva verticillata apparently didn’t germinate. For a while I thought some of the beet seedlings were that, but eventually I stopped deluding myself. However its relative the flowering okra (Abelmoschus manihot) grew tall, with huge palmate leaves. Still it wasn’t until September that this one produced flower buds. On the day one opened, I didn’t walk out into the yard to see its face; the next day I discovered it’s a one-day flower. No problem, I thought: there were many more buds. But as the nights grew longer and cooler, the plants grew ever more slowly. Finally Ward and I started covering them with a trash bag at night ... but when the lower leaves still got frostbit, I cut down the plant and cooked up the greens, without ever seeing the purple center the yellow flower was supposed to have.

The shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium) started slow, because the seed arrived late. But the plants thrived in less than full sun, and though we covered them just like the Abelmoschus in September, they may not have needed it: in any case, they never got frostbit. On a plant less imposing than four feet, the few two-inch flowers at the top would have been decorative: daisy-shaped, with yellow centers and mostly yellow ray petals, except for one plant that had white tips on the petals. But I'd grown it for greens. Although the flowers are supposed to be edible too, they made me sneeze, so I figured I'd stick to eating the leaves.

When bulky greens are cooked and frozen, they don't seem to yield much. But a little of aromatic shungiku goes a long way. I just hope I'm not allergic to the leaves, too. I've eaten shungiku (and relished it) with no problem before, but when plants bloom, leaf flavor often gets strong. Perhaps I shouldn't have waited to see the flowers — but I'm glad I did.

Disability, keeping me from tending plants in the ground, had discouraged me. But using pots and raised planters on the porch gave me back gardening this summer.

Photo by C.H. Clark - Miner's lettuce filling up the container I sowed it in, before I transplanted it to the big planter.

Text and photo © Copyright 2006 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 17 November 2006

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  • As I'd hoped, the Claytonia even self-seeded, so I had a second crop coming in fall. But now I didn't want it.