Time in the Garden with Siberian Miner’s Lettuce

True confession:  I am a lousy gardener.  Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE spending time in the garden!  Sitting.  Or strolling about, holding a glass of wine.  Lucky for me, Brian likes working in the yard, even though he does a lot of that for a living.  Lately, while strolling in the garden, I’ve been admiring our lush patches of Siberian Miner’s Lettuce.  They look like a field of stars! 

 Siberian Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia sibirica) is a cute little edible wildflower, good in salads or as an accompaniment to a glass of Pinot gris.  It is a perennial, but each individual plant seems to live for just two or three years, seeding itself around liberally in light shade.   I notice that at home, where the soil is dense and clay-ey, they are very upright, each clump is very dense and their stems are dark green.  In the little garden by the nursery office, the soil is much sandier, and the plants are more spreading, their succulent leaves intertwining with those of their neighbors.  Their leaves are bright green.  If a plant is in an exposed area, it will be very stout and low-growing and dark, almost turning deep red.  The flowers are white to pink, with tiny stripes of pink on the petals.  It is native along the west coast from Alaska to northern California and throughout the Northwest.  And in Russia—hence the name.  It’s also known as Candyflower and Siberian Springbeauty.

 At the Spring Garden Fair last month, a neighboring vendor made fun of my Miner’s Lettuce – “I rip that stuff out,” he wise-cracked.  I refrained from being rude, but maybe I should have made fun of HIM – here he has a beautiful, easy-care, tasty, native groundcover and he is silly enough to think of it as a weed!  Why would you rip it out?  Why wouldn’t you at least give it a patch of shade where it can cavort freely?  You may want to redirect its energies a bit, pulling up volunteers that pop up next to perennials that haven’t gotten fully established yet, but wherever you can, I say let it go!  Wherever you have bare ground, SOMETHING will grow, so Siberian Miner’s Lettuce is a pretty alternative to some pesky, non-native weed. 

 A clump of Siberian Miner’s Lettuce will get larger, spreading out using short rhizomes, its main method of spreading is by seed.  Now is a good time to plant some in your garden (if you are not already blessed by its presence) so it can settle in before fall and go to seed, ensuring a good supply next year.  It’s an ideal plant for a lousy gardener. 

Spend some time in your garden!   😉

In Pursuit of the Piggy-back

I have been forced to get out into the woods this week – what a hardship – to look at our family’s forest area adjacent to the nursery.  My daughter and I are enrolled in WSU Extension’s Forest Stewardship Coached Planning course, which is helping us create a forest plan.  So we need to traipse around the property, identifying different stands of vegetation, checking on tree health, figuring out what wildlife features we have – snags, downed logs, etc.  Even if you have only a couple of acres, this class is a terrific way to gain knowledge of trees, ecosystems and forest resources.  And it potentially qualifies your property for a tax break.

 I love the trees, but my eyes are always drawn to the little understory plants.  Everything is finally popping up, and one of the plants I see frequently is Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii).  The Piggy-back Plants that are in the nursery waiting for homes are descendants of our forest’s Piggy-backs.

Piggy-back Plant has ardent fans: one customer first came to Tadpole Haven in pursuit of the Piggy-back.  She had fallen in love with them in California when they were popular houseplants in the 60s, and while living in southern Oregon, visited the Puget Sound area and was amazed to see them growing wild and lush in the forests here.  So when she retired to this area, she was excited to take home two plants for her small yard.  Now she has a rock wall that is populated with Piggy-backs.

 Piggy-back Plant’s appeal is in its lush growth and playful appearance: tiny leaves perch on large older leaves – riding piggy-back.  It is also called “Youth-on-Age”.  As the new leaf grows at the base of the old, their collective weight eventually causes the pair to settle onto the ground.  The new leaf has already sprouted anticipatory roots and as its host decomposes, forms a brand new plant.  The purply-brown flowers are not showy, but have a graceful feathery look, stretching above the foliage, up to 3’ tall.  In the fall, as the spent flower stalks collapse, they too will often sprout piggy-back leaves and roots at the nodes.  You may often see Piggy-back in quite wet spots in the forest, but it does fine in drier shady spots where the soil retains moisture.