Welcoming strangers in our garden to learn what they have to share


As I’ve said many times, “You have to grow a plant to know a plant.” So when something shows up in my garden I’ve never seen before, I’m quite apt to let it grow and learn what I might from it, and then decide if it’s a permanent guest or someone who just paid a visit and I learned all I could while it was here. Thus my summer learning all about mullein, for example. Also, there was my discovery of borage, which continues to blossom on its own and I still treasure.

The story of this year’s unexpected guest begins in my neighbor’s yard, across the street. The house, owned by a gardener, was sold last year to a young busy couple, rarely at home and lo and behold I one day, to my dismay, discovered a prickly plant growing upright in front of their house. It had not come to blossom yet, but I was pretty darn sure it was a thistle. And I was, quite honestly, kind of piqued. Oh, yes. Had you read my mind you would have found over the weeks such unlofty thoughts as, “Don’t they realize this plant will go to seed and we will be pulling up thistles??” You get the picture. My gardening self was self righteously annoyed and let me know. Haha.

Eventually the plant did blossom and confirmed my suspicions, and then one day it was simply gone. They cut it down. Good.

Meanwhile, and this will sound like a wide diversion, my elderly Border Collie was beginning to fail, and missed the one we lost last summer (I told myself) so I reached into my Border Collie history and was immediately told of two litters of puppies, and given two phone numbers. One didn’t answer and the second one did. One little boy, ready for a new home. The breeder shared his background. Scottish roots she said. She’d given him a temporary name, as breeders do, which I will not reveal here (the past is past), but I will say that I endeavored somewhat to find a name that would be akin. And then I discovered that the national flower of Scotland is a thistle. Voila! And so Thistle came to live with us and here he is. Adorable, right? Love, love, love him.

And then a funny thing happened. Very near where I discovered my first mullein, along the fence, emerged a prickly plant low to the ground, which a gardener ID’d for me as common thistle. Oh course now the reframe fell in place. The one in my neighbor’s yard had been a harbinger of what was to come. (It could happen.) And so I decided immediately to let it grow and honor it as a tribute to my new love and see what it was about. Since I watered it continually (it grew among hollyhocks) it thrived! And I loved it. So pretty. And the bees love it. And then one day I looked out the window and this had happened!

And that’s when I learned that thistles have a very efficient way of propagating themselves. They EXPLODE! And if you are not there when it happens, or shortly thereafter, those feathery lovely seed carriers filter down into prickly land where you do not want to go. Handy. Smart. And not how you want to spend your gardening time, right? So I rushed out the door, plastic bag and clippers in hand, and got every single one of those white puffies in the plastic bag and they are gone. You have to admit to their being both fascinating and beautiful…

I continue to indulge in the beauty of those purple flowers. It is really hard for me to dispose of anything the bees like, bless them. But I will be watching carefully for any more explosions. And this will be my single adventure into growing this plant, which I have enjoyed immensely.

What plants have shown up in your garden you allowed to grow that you learned from?

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book Notes: Good news. Awareness Magazine will be excerpting a story from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in an upcoming issue. And I have begun doing author Meet and Greets again and was hosted by Copperfield’s Books in Healdsburg recently which was a joy, and for which I am grateful.

6 Responses to “Welcoming strangers in our garden to learn what they have to share”

  1. What a great capture with that exploding thistle. They’re so pretty. Pity they become unmanageable.

  2. Right? Thanks, Antonia! It’s fun, though! As long as I keep paying close attention! Which I will! Love, Mom xoxo

  3. Two discoveries we have found as we have been cutting back the Forest thet was our backyard thanks to birds and squirrels. We have several buckeye trees now big enough to bloom. We also have several native alternate leafed dogwood which my landscaper and I have never seen growing before. Who knows where those seeds came from.
    The fennel I planted out buy the street for pollinators is hosting a swallowtail cattarpiller. So excited, the plantings worked.

  4. Hi, Julie and welcome this morning! What a joy to be revamping and reclaiming your garden and finding such a treasure as dogwood trees! And how exciting to have found a swallowtail caterpillar in your fennel! I hope it does well! Good for you for planting for the pollinators and to have had them find your garden! Kathryn xoxo

  5. Oh your new boy is handsome. His fur looks quite short. Is that typical of the breed? So much fun to have a youngster in the home. Good going! Now I’m about to go to your link on Mullein. Think that is the fuzzy plant I put in by the fence next to the creek.

  6. Thanks, Carol! He’s a smooth coat Border Collie. The furry ones are rough coats. 🙂 He’s so easy to take care of! Lucky me! Dries off in seconds, which is handy as he spends time in his wading pool every day! Mullein is fuzzy and soft. When I first saw it I thought it was lamb’s ear. 🙂 Kathryn xoxo

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