Every year, as I work on my plans, I’m picturing a lush, green, productive garden. But reality is that every winter I see that elusive mirage of a garden, with its high-yield tomatoes, powdery-mildew-free cucumbers, catalog-inspired annuals, and it has yet to materialize in my small backyard.
But as I’ve become more experienced as a gardener, I find that every year is an experiment where I learn more about what works in this Colorado climate and what doesn’t work. I’ve finally reached the point where, if I see an interesting variety or plant that I’ve never tried before, I give it a try. It’s not like I’m putting in a swimming pool. It’s a $3 investment in garden know-how, and succeed or not, I've come to realize there's grace in my garden -- it's all good.
So, I’ve added artichokes to my list this year: Colorado Star variety for short growing seasons as an annual. I like artichokes, and hope I manage the careful cold-temp prep the seeds/seedlings need. But what I’m really hoping for is big, fat, purple blossoms for visual interest and for my bees. Because I tend to choose flowers according to bee affinity.
Which is why I put Phacelia tanacetifolia, aka Lacy Phacelia, aka Purple Tansy, aka Fiddleneck, on my list last year. I’d never heard of it, and the flowers are an interesting octopus-like unfurling finger of small blue lacy flowerets. It’s in the same family as borage, and given how my bees go crazy for that blue-flowered easy grower, it’s perhaps no surprise to see it high on lists of nectar producers. I ordered the seeds from Hudson Valley Seeds, started a handful indoors, then tossed some seeds alongside the newly transplanted seedlings. I remember thinking I’d get a few blooms.
In fact, it thrived. Each plant was covered in blooms. And the bees were practically frantic as they worked and foraged over it. As it bloomed, it would slowly unfurl, with new blooms surfacing and the old ones going to seed. It bloomed and bloomed and bloomed. In October, I collected the seeds and scattered them in areas where I want them to naturalize. We’ll see if that works. As a back up, I saved some for this spring's seed starting trays.
Reflecting on its success and reading more about it I found two reasons why it did well in my garden: It’s fairly drought tolerant and it likes a more alkaline soil. Check, and check. I didn’t realize that it’s also considered a cover crop. Positives all around – good results for an experimental planting.
Johnny's Select Seeds
Hudson Valley Seed Company
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
High Mowing Seeds
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply