Despite the temperature roller coaster this spring, Cilantro is already setting flowers and going to seed.  I know many people can’t stand the taste or smell of Cilantro, but my daily diet would be sadly lacking without it!  I start my days with it chopped in with my scrambled eggs, along with Jalapeños, Moringa leaves and onions (sometimes mushrooms and mint, too!)  All this on a tortilla, topped with lashings of hot chunky salsa!!!


Cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum) has been cultivated as a medicinal and culinary herb for more than three thousand years.  References to this wonderful herb abound in Sanskrit texts, Egyptian papyri, a translation of The Arabian Nights and the Bible!  It was introduced to Central and South America where it quickly became associated with that cuisine by the Spanish Conquistadors.  Easy to grow, readily self-seeding, the only drawback is that it fails to cooperate in hot weather!


Enter Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale).

Fresh Papalo Leaves

Papalo is known by many names; Quilquiña, Yerba Porosa, Killi, Papaloquelite and broadleaf in English. It is a member of the informal quelites), the semi-wild greens rich in vitamins and nutrients that grow among the fields in central and South America. These green edible plants grow without having to plant them. They sprout with the first rains or field irrigation, often providing a second or third harvest, costing no additional work but giving food and nutrition.   Other quelites include lamb’s quarters, amaranth, quinoa, purslane, epazote and Mache or corn salad.

Papalo pre-dates the introduction of cilantro to Mexico by several thousand years, which is a very interesting story all by itself. South America is thought to be the ancestral home of papalo.  The name Papalo originates with the Nahuatl word for butterfly, and Papaloquelite is said to mean butterfly leaf. The flowers provide nectar to feeding butterflies, while also attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden with their pollen.

Use this “summer cilantro” just as you would the real thing.  Although it is not related to Cilantro, it is a good fresh-picked substitute.

Recycling: when it pays to pay attention!

I love recycling – its a fancy word to describe someone who can’t bear to throw anything away, in other words, a “hoarder”! (Me!)  Plants can be potted in all manner of containers, seeds can be sown in all manner of containers too.

This has been an usually dry winter and suddenly it has rained – hard, heavy rains that have totaled almost three inches in as many days.  Great!  I did plant my cucumbers out, and they are clearly loving it, but I have been moving smaller seedlings of tomatoes, several varieties of hot chili peppers and other, back into the shelter of the greenhouse.

The rains seemed to have come to an end this morning, so I put seedlings of Kumquats out on the porch table to catch some breeze.  Big mistake – it started pouring down, heavy, heavy rain.  First mistake – I forgot they were out there.  Second mistake, I forgot they were sown in cardboard type egg cartons!  I now have only half a carton left, and not many seedlings, but I’m very thankful I hadn’t used all those newspaper pots that I haven’t yet made!


Crispy, Crunchy Cucumbers

When I was growing up in end-of-the-war England, a cucumber was a cucumber was a cucumber!  We didn’t know English Cucumbers, Armenian Cucumbers, Lemon Cucumbers, Pickling Cucumbers, Bush Cucumbers, etc., just Cucumbers.  My dad and both grandads grew them in their greenhouses, along with the tomatoes.  Oh, what a sweet treat when they were ripe!  Imagine my surprise in later years when I discovered that in other countries there were cucumbers that had been developed to grow outside, and not only that, they came in all kinds of shapes and sizes!


Cucumbers are easy to grow as long as you don’t sow the seeds too early and can provide a little heat and light.  Too cool, too damp, too dark, they will damp off.  This year all my first sown seeds failed.  Second sowing doing great, ready to plant out but it is a little early in case there is a freak late frost.  I think I’ll take a chance this weekend, with sheet plastic and clothes pins handy “just in case”!  This year I’m planting Spacemaster, which hopefully will produce a bountiful crop in a small space!


According to Companion Planting enthusiasts, cucumbers are great to plant with corn because Raccoons don’t like them, and corn apparently “protects” the cucumbers against the virus that causes wilt.  Cucumbers “like” beans, peas, radishes and sunflowers, so I will be sowing radishes with them to protect against cucumber beetles.  These radishes will not be pulled to eat, but left to grow and hopefully flower before going to seed.  Cucumbers don’t like potatoes, and potatoes grown near cucumbers seem to be more likely to be affected by phytophthora blight, so keep ’em apart!!!

And to me, Cucumber Sandwiches will always be thinly sliced cucumbers seasoned lightly with salt and pepper,  between two slices of buttered home baked bread, nothing more, nothing less!

Calendula oficinalis – Pot Marigold

The Romans discovered that the marigold bloomed on the first day of each month, and named it for the calendar.  Thus, the Latin term Calendula oficinalis.  Oficinalis is the word to indicate “official medical abilities” as accepted in a pharmacopoeia.  Calendula can bloom in Fall, Winter and Spring here, but usually gives up in the Summer.  Note: no part of this article is related to the hybrid marigold.  The word marigold is used interchangeably with calendula.

There are numerous pages written on the medicinal qualities of the calendula, including remedies for various conditions of the skin, Exzema, Inflammation, Bodily Discharges, Sprains, Bleeding, and Mood Elevation.  Culpeper and other seventeenth-century harbalists felt that the use of calendula could comfort the spirit.  He suggested a chest plaster of marigold steeped in lard, turpentine and rosin to ease the heart during intense fevers.  When I was growing up we always had calendula in the medicine cabinet in one form or another, and it was always growing in the kitchen garden.  Henry VIII used marigolds in his personal recipe “Medycyne for the Pestilence.”  In this he used a handful of marigold, sorrel, burnet, feverfew, and a half-handful of that old epidemic standy rue, as well as a few dragons (snapdragons, that is!).  He wrote “This tea, if it is taken before the pimples do apere, then yt will hele the syke person with God’s Grace.”

Marigold flowers were once used to produce perspiration when on the verge of a dangerous illness, particularly during epidemics of measles and smallpox.  Marigold was often used by English country people either in tea form, or as a posset (a drink made with hot milk, and curdled with either ale or wine, sometimes sweetened or spiced.)  The Garden’s Labyrinthe (1577) also describes marigold as a toothache aid – “The juice of the marigold petals mixed with vinegar to be rubbed on gums and teeth becomes a soveraigne remedy for the assuaging of the previous pain of the teeth.”  It was also once considered an excellent remedy for red eyes, and, like the regular marigold, it has been planted in the vegetable garden as an insect repellent for hundreds of years.


Calendula petals are available in dried form, as a tincture, pressed juice, ointment, or lotion.  Use them for a dash of color in green salads, potato or pasta salads and soups.  Or, sprinkle the petals on cake icing for a delightful springtime dessert.  Young leaves are tender and edible, the mature leaves bitter; a few petals in rice color it like saffron, and it can also be used to dye cloth.  According to some sources, Calendula originated in Egypt, where it’s flowers served as the original dye in cheeses.

Easy to grow from seed, this plant also readily self-sows.  A little seed goes a long way – the average number of seeds per lb is 72,554!

(This article is re-posted from an article I wrote in March 2008! but as I just planted some today I thought I’d post again!!!)

New plants for the New Year.

January is a great time to plan your garden & landscape for the coming year.  Many of us feel the “New Year’s” urge to make improvements, both in self and our gardens.

On my plant list this year are (1) some I have never grown before, (2) others I haven’t grown in a long time, and of course some old favorites!  I buy my seeds from many companies, so any labels seen in these photos are not intended to be an endorsement of that particular company – you have to try them all and see what suits you best!

  1.  Among those brand new to me this year are Banana Tree Musa (Ensete ventricosum) as an annual or houseplant, mixed cacti  from seed,  Luffa to make sponges, from seed, and Kumquats from fresh fruit.

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  2. Previously grown in past years include Papalo, (a summertime Cilantro substitute),  Hibiscus sabdarrifa, the dried flowers of which are used to make Hibiscus Tea (Flor de Jamaica), and Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab), the flowers of which can be added to salads for a different taste and as a pretty garnish.

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  3. Tried and true Old Favorites include Lemon Trees from seeds of the lemons I use in making marmalade, and Moringa oleifera, which I am growing from seeds I harvested this year from my own tree.  Moringa bean pods are amazing when dried – great for flower arranging!  Each of my four pods contained 24 – 28 beans and the first ones planted are beginning to sprout.  The flowers are wonderfully fragrant, and the leaves are great on salads, in scrambled eggs, smoothies and many other dishes.


Long before there were gardening books, people had noticed that certain plants did not do well in certain spaces, while others thrived where they were planted.  From this observation grew the concept of Companion Planting, the art of determining which plants “like” each other, and those which don’t!

companion-plants-2 Companions are also used as indicators of disease, as in Europe where the practice of planting a rose bush at each end of a row of grapevines has been followed for years.  If the roses show signs of pathogenic or insect trouble, it alerts the vine grower to check the vines and take appropriate action – a kind of Early Warning System!  Unfortunately, in France this practice is being discontinued by many growers because of a different kind of rose problem – theft!  Under cover of darkness, tourists and natives alike are finding the vineyards a wonderful source of free rosebushes!     Most people have heard about planting marigolds with tomatoes, because marigolds are thought to discourage nematodes, but who pauses to wonder why the marigold can be infested with spider mites, while the tomato might show no sign of them?  Basil and oregano are also widely planted with tomatoes because not only do they grow well together, but some declare the tomatoes absorb a slight flavor of the herbs – perfect for Italian cuisine! companion-plants-3.jpg  Nasturtiums are popular companions in the garden, getting along well with most plants, including tomatoes, squash, and radish, and are very versatile in that they are easy to grow, pretty, companionable, and edible!  The flowers give salads a peppery flavor, and the seedpods are commercially produced as Capers!  According to one published list, lettuce, carrots and radishes make a strong team when grown together, but parsley does not like pumpkin, squash, cucumber, sunflower, tomato or raspberry!  Parsley is happy around beans, corn, cabbage, horseradish, marigold, and eggplant and as a lure for the Colorado potato beetle.
Guate#5.Caoba.2There is little scientific evidence that companion planting “works”, other than the fact that few plants will grow under or near the Black Walnut (Juglans nigra L), because of the chemical produced by the tree, juglone, which is toxic to much plant life; some theorize that the aromatics repel pests, and others that interplanting vegetables with flowers and herbs confuses the non-beneficials so they fly past their favorite host.  These days we don’t have huge areas of garden in which to separate the plants that don’t like each other, but if there is a particular plant which doesn’t do well, pay attention to who it has for neighbors.  Next year give it new friends to grow with, and don’t forget to plant those nasturtiums!


Not called “Cast Iron Plant” for nothing!

Aspidistra elatior – Cast Iron Plant!  Most people know aspidistra merely as an unobtrusive evergreen foliage plant.  During World War II, the British chose potted aspidistras to take into bomb shelters to lend a homey touch (and maybe improve air quality) during the long waits.  In Victorian England, aspidistra became known as the “Cast Iron” plant of bank and hotel lobbies because it could survive neglect, cold drafts, summer heat, or being watered with brandy snifter remains and mulched with cigar stubs!  Evidence exists in Victorian family records of aspidistras being passed down from generation to generation – some over a period of as much as a century or more!  In China and Japan, aspidistra has long been popular as a foliage plant, with the leaves becoming indispensable to Ikebana and other flower arranging disciplines.


The monocot Aspidistra is part of the lily family, Liliaceae, often placed in the sub-family Ruscaceae, which has priority over Convallariaceae (which includes lily-of-the-valley.)  It must be considered a genus in flux, with many new species being found and documented in the biodiversity “hotspot” in Guangxi Province, China.  They have the reputation of being “boring” plants, however given the right growing conditions they are lovely and interesting plants.

Aspidistra.in garden


Little known is the fact that they bear flowers at or below soil level, and sometimes need to be partially excavated to see them properly.  The flowers are often vividly colored and with 6 to 14 lobes they can look like little stranded starfish.  It is now thought that tiny pollinators such as fungus gnats or tiny terrestrial crustaceans called amphipods, are really responsible for pollination, rather than slugs and snails as previously thought.  If pollinated, each flower would produce a single berry, similar to those of lily-of-the-valley.


Watch for new cultivars in the future, even with variegated and spotted leaves.  There are some now, including A. elatior “Okame” (striped) and “Starry Nights” (spotted) but they can be hard to find, and tend to revert to green in a relatively short period of time.