Project “Let’s Not Kill the Corsican Mint” is well underway and so far so good. You see, I tried to grow one in my community garden plot last year and failed. If I can manage to move from not-killing the plant to encouraging it to grow lush an over the sides of it’s pot I will be very happy indeed.
Looking back I have a few theories around that failure that I am testing on plant number two, the sequel. I was naive and a bit lazy with plant #1. I just shoved it into the part of my garden where the other mints grow and called it a day.
Done and done. Literally.
But Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) is not the same as tough as-nails mint. It is very diminutive, spreading plant — more like a moss than a mint. It has delicate roots, while regular mint can bust through all sort of barricades.
- Good Drainage: Corsican mint is the sort of creeping plant that grows well between paving stones. It is sometimes used as a ground cover and can take a bit of foot traffic. This leaves me with the impression that it requires very good drainage. Regular mints like good drainage too, but they are less picky. I have worked hard on the soil at my community garden and it is good. However, I lost a thyme (also requires good drainage) in that exact spot so I think the drainage may not be as good as other parts of the plot where thyme has survived. Although, wild strawberries live there now and they have overwintered and happily spread themselves about. Go figure.
My strategy with Corsican mint #2 is to grow it in a pot in which I have added a bit of sand and grit for extra drainage.
- Dappled Light: Mistake number 2 was planting the Lilliputian Corsican mint (they don’t grow more than an inch tall) nearby much taller mints. Over the course of the summer, the monster mints grew and took over the space as mints are want to do. Corsican mint likes dappled light, but I do not believe it likes to be shaded out completely. I am currently keeping plant #2 on this shelf, which resides in the partial shade portion of my roof. So far it looks happy and is growing. Life on the roof is hot but it is protected in that spot and I can check on the plant daily. I only visit the community garden plot weekly or twice weekly. The most fruitful observations are made when you can check on a plant every single day.
- Soil Moisture: This was the one thing I did right, but without the proper drainage. Corsican mint likes to be kept moist, but not too moist. It should never dry out. In a word, it is finicky. It likes things just so. The trick is to figure out what that means exactly and keep doing it.
I’m still a little bit obsessed with the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars, so please forgive the focus on a singular topic.
Pictured above is the second, larger caterpillar displaying his/her osmeterium, a self-protective scent gland that is released when the caterpillar feels threatened. This one released its osmeterium when Davin picked up the container the dill is growing in to get a closer look. Apparently they omit a foul smell the ward off predators but I haven’t noticed anything yet.
I look forward to locating them every morning when I go out to check the plants. So far they are always on the same stems but I suspect they will move soon since you can see this one is overeating the stem it is currently attached to. It’s growing larger with every passing day, too. Right now neither are eating enough to decimate a plant but we’ll see what happens as they grow.
Last year we had the mantids, this year its swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
Over the weekend I discovered that we’ve been hosting a Black Swallowtail buttery caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) on a patch of dill I have growing in a pot on the roof. We have so much dill, losing a plant or two to this little guy/gal is not a burden. I worried the caterpillar might transfer over to the ‘Red Malabar’ spinach growing nearby and start eating that, but thankfully this species only has eyes (or mouth parts) for Umbelliferae family plants such as dill, parsley, ‘Bronze’ fennel, and Queen Anne’s lace.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and see our caterpillar through to the chrysalis stage. We’ll play this song for it when it emerges.
I love these unexpected educations in nature that come from growing a garden. Even a pot on a roof can bring about these sorts of surprises.
UPDATE: Make that two! I just found a second, bigger caterpillar in another pot of dill. I think they need names.
Since announcing a new obsession with oxalis late last year, my devotion to this genus of small, clover-like plants has expanded. I failed to grow a package of bulbs given to me by a friend but have since purchased three new plants that are all doing well. So far I can keep oxalis alive with little effort — even under lights — the tricky part is bringing the bulbs out of dormancy.
Try, try again. Eventually I will get this right.
My first ever Japanese Maple (Acer)!!!
I have always wanted one, but it was one of those plants I stayed clear of under the condition that I would get one eventually, but only when I got rich and/or became a homeowner. I bought a Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria) instead; the poor man’s Japanese maple. Nearly ten years later, the Purple Smoke Bush is a monster [ed: I just checked and it turns out I bought the smoke bush in 2003, although i wanted a Japanese Maple long before.] and I am still gazing longingly at other peoples’ Japanese maples.
Looking back, it comes as no surprise that I would still be pining for one. Chances were pretty good that I would never meet the ridiculous self-imposed conditions required.
And so I decided that this was the year we would get one and grow it in a pot rather than waiting for the magical moment that may never come. You see, way back then, I was under the mistaken impression that Japanese Maples are uber expensive. And it is true. A single, mature tree can cost hundreds of dollars. But seedlings are affordable, and growing your own from seed costs nothing but patience and time. What’s more, every seedling is unique, offering you the chance to grow a few and then select the one you like best to grow on.
In the end we got ourselves a little 10″ tree, but it’s not a store-bought tree. Our tree comes with a story and a personal history. A friend collected the seed and another friend (Barry) grew the subsequent seedlings on for three years. It’s a special tree and a strange step forward in my gardening life.
Now all I have to do is keep it alive!