Mother Earth Living

Wild-Card Plants

I grow a few wild-card plants each year to add a bit of whimsy to my garden and to satisfy my curiosity. Last year, my wild-card plants were peanuts and luffas (Luffa aegyptiaca). Every time I went out to my garden, one of them was up to something new. The luffas’ tendrils seemed to grow 3 to 4 feet in just a few days, and I was delighted to watch the peanuts bury their long shoots (or “pegs”) underground to form shells. If you garden in the South, then peanuts and luffas may not be that exciting, but, because they prosper with a long growing season, nobody seems to grow them in Kansas (Zone 6a). With their regional novelty came a fan base of friends and family who regularly asked for updates and stories; my curiosity fed their curiosity, and gardening conversations grew with the season.

One of the best parts about growing wild-card plants is that there’s very little pressure to succeed. If the peanuts or luffas failed, I would’ve shrugged, grinned sheepishly, and said, “I gave it a solid try, but they’re not really meant for this growing zone anyway!” Whereas if my tomatoes, basil, or strawberries failed to produce, I would’ve been heartbroken knowing that our homemade tomato sauce, pesto, and jam would be missing from that year’s table. 

This year, my two wild-card plants will be purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), two medicinal plants that excel in warmer climates but should grow as happy annuals here in the Plains. I’ll grow exotic passionflower on a trellis and tincture the sedating blossoms for help relieving insomnia and anxiety. I’ll harvest ashwagandha before my first fall frost, dry and powder the root, and mix the adaptogenic tonic into warm coconut milk.

Do you plan on growing any just-for-fun wild-card plants this year? I’d love to hear your ideas and see photos of your experimental plants’ cheery presence! Shoot me an email at or find me on Instagram @Hannah_Aften to chat about our wild-card selections and for a chance to see your idea featured in a future issue.

3 things I love in the March/April 2018 issue:

1. Stephanie Tourles’ comparison of body oils for every skin type; I didn’t know that tamanu oil is bright green.

2. The adaptogenic Rhodiola and Rooibos Latte recipe, which is naturally energizing yet caffeine-free.

3. The tips for growing and processing luffa; I can’t get over the fact that you can so easily grow your household’s supply of sponges!

  • Published on Feb 13, 2018
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