Healthy Beginnings

Kissin’ Cousins

hollyhock_gardening300“A Rough Patch”

My sister Beth and sister-in-law Becky dropped by my house unexpectedly this week. Late February is the official beginning of my gardening season, and I was preparing to plant some seeds that need an exceptionally early start.

I was working at the table, so I moved a bag of potting soil and a stack of clear plastic salad containers so they could sit down. I like to start seeds in those containers; the lids seal and make an ideal greenhouse environment, allowing in light and retaining moisture and heat.

“I see you’re making room for the relatives,” Beth said. “It’s funny how some members of a family are beautiful, and some useful.”

“And some are both,” Becky said.

“There’s no need to argue,” I soothed. “You’re both very attractive.”

“Plenty useful, too, as you ought to know,” Beth said. “But we were talking about the new types of seeds you’re preparing to plant. They’re relatives of things you’ve had in the past.

Sure enough, they were.

I’m replacing the artichokes I grew last year with cardoon. They’re so closely related they can pollinate each other. They look and taste very much alike, but cardoon is grown for the fleshy stems, while artichoke is grown for the flower buds.

Both artichokes and cardoon are perennial in warmer climes, and I piled garden debris on the artichokes last fall, hoping to cozy them through the winter, but I’m sure they didn’t survive our cold snap. Artichokes produce tastier and bigger buds the second year, and that second year is elusive in our zone. So I’m trying cardoon, which takes the same conditions, with the hope that the quality is good even the first year.

The other relative is a little charmer named Roselle. If you’ve ever had tea with “hibiscus” in it, chances are, you’ve made her acquaintance. We associate hibiscus with Hawaii and other tropical places, and Roselle doesn’t like cold. But if you can provide her with a sunny window until the weather warms up, she should do fine in our area. She’s drought tolerant, and needs only mildly fertile soil.

By now, the reader is probably peering at Roselle like an elderly aunt at a family reunion. “Now which branch of the family do you come from?” I can hear you ask.

Roselle is a member of the malvaceae, or mallow family. She’ll grow to five or six feet tall–if she lives up to the hype on the seed packet–and her red foliage will beautify the garden. Her less exotic cousin is the still-beautiful Hollyhock, which readers will recognize as a supremely well-adapted ornamental. She’s also related to the Rose of Sharon shrub, another good choice for Nevada landscapers.

Still another relative, one less likely to show up at the family reunion, or in Nevada gardens, is scarlet globemallow. Scarlet grows wild in the Great Basin. Although she’s a wild one, she will locate happily in your garden, where a little extra water will keep her blooming all summer. Scarlet globemallow plants used to be available from High Country Gardens, which did not survive the economic downturn. However, seeds are still available.

Hollyhock, Rose of Sharon and especially Scarlet might as well be wallflowers when Roselle is around. I’m expecting her red leaves will set off the silvery ones of the cardoon perfectly. They’ll be the most dashing members at the family reunion this summer.

When Teresa Howell isn’t trying to decide which of her relatives is the most beautiful, she teaches English at Great Basin College.