Round Robin: Fun Plants for Spring Gardening

Notes from regional herb gardeners

| February/March 2000

NEWBERG, Oregon— The fun of ordering plants and seeds from nursery catalogs is almost exhausted, and I am fast approaching my perennial state of gardener’s limbo, a state of boredom heightened by the incessant rainy, cold weather and my eagerness to get out into garden to start the whole cycle over again.

Should I go out and weed between rainstorms and enjoy the brief sunshine while it lasts or continue to putter in my greenhouse? A quick look toward the horizon, and I see that one huge black weather front is fast approaching. Question answered. I putter.

I’ve been admiring some of my new plants. Most striking is my variegated Japanese ginger, Zingiber mioga ‘Dancing Crane’, which flashes a brilliant white splash of radiating streaks in the center of every dark green leaf. This cultivar is not as large as the species (Z. mioga), which grows about 5 feet tall outside. The rhizome, known as green ginger, can be used fresh or dried in cooking. Even the fresh leaves, stems, and flowers are edible, either raw or cooked. The leaves of ‘Dancing Crane’ would make a stunning garnish for any Asian dish ­containing ginger.

Interesting in another way is kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix), also known as Mauritius papeda or leech lime, whose fresh or dried crushed leaves emit a delicious lemon scent and taste in Thai and Indonesian dishes.

My kaffir lime grew ­slowly until two stalks covered with huge single leaves shot from the main stem. I thought they represented some sort of steroid growth until I ­realized that the kaffir lime had been grafted onto a citrus understock that was now trying to gain dominance. I cut off the shoots carefully as they were armed with inch-long spines, which are characteristic of some species of Citrus. Unlike rose or blackberry thorns, which merely prick you, these woody barbs—like those of hawthorns—can really stab you.

More peaceful is a specimen of Salvia divinorum, which a friend gave me to overwinter in the greenhouse. This South American species is extremely hard to find in the trade and prohibitively expensive if you do find it. It is a fast grower; I have had to repot it twice. Its huge square stems are typical of the mint family (Lamiaceae) but have unusual wings at the corners that run the entire length of the stem.

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