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Today (yesterday by now) several members of my Master Gardeners group visited a small nursery called Country Squires Garden, where the two owners grow everything they sell. I love visiting small nurseries such as this because they often have an interesting variety of unusual or hard-to-find plants that the big fancy garden centres don’t carry. In this case, the owners sell plants and only plants – no pots, containers, patio furniture, fountains, ugly useless garden ornaments, trinkets, chemicals – just plants.

I bought three plants there. One is a hardy gladiolus, Gladiolus palustris, that they’ve been nurturing from seed and must have taken years to bloom. I got it for two reasons: the idea of a winter-hardy gladiolus interests me, and as a little token of my parents. My father loved gladiolus but never had much luck growing them, while my mother loves pink (which I can’t stand). And the bloom is pink. Vividly so. It’s native to Europe (I don’t think there are any Gladiolus native to Canada or even North America), so I shall continue growing it in a pot; it’s much smaller than the large sprays of the common garden gladiolus. I could never be bothered to grow the common gladiolus because I can’t be bothered to dig them up and store them for winter. This should be interesting.

Second is Scorzonera hispanica, commonly called black salsify. I love growing unusual vegetables, and in North America, this counts as unusual – it’s much more common in Europe. I’d been thinking of trying this but could never find a local source, so now I’m glad I never got around to ordering seeds. The root is the edible part, so it might be suitable for garden permaculture i.e. just leave the plant growing for a number of years and harvest when it gets big and possibly dividable. I’m not sure where I’ll put it yet, so for the time being I might grow it in a container.

And finally…drumroll please…Anticlea elegans, formerly known as Zigadenus elegans, commonly known as the death cama. The plant is a lookalike for the various species of Camassia, although the flowers are different. Camassia bulbs are edible, and in fact once were a staple in the diet of native tribes. Death camas, as the name suggests, are extremely poisonous if ingested. I’ve wanted this plant for ages, because it fuels my warped sense of humour to grow them both. It is native to this area, which is a big plus in my eyes (I prefer to grow native ornamentals), so it’s a little ironic that the species of camassia I have (Camassia quamash) is native further west. I’ve been unable to find the local species for sale (C. scilloides).

Both types of plant are/were apparently often found growing together in the wild, but I don’t think I shall do that – even I’m not so foolhardy as to mix edibles with lookalike poisons. It likes a bit of shade, so it will go in the shade garden. The flowers are supposed to smell bad, so I might put it next to the bugbane (Actaea racemosa, formerly Cimicifuga racemosa), which has a scent variously described as anything from odd to foul. I don’t find it smells bad, but I wouldn’t say it smells “nice” either.

And before anyone complains, many common garden plants are quite toxic. If humans are careless or ignorant about them, that is not the fault of the plants, and it doesn’t mean nobody should grow them. Be informed, not irrational.

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