How’d It Grow? Dara, Wild Carrot

This plant was the biggest happy surprise of last season for me. Many thanks to the grower at Holly Hill Farm who sold me on it at their annual seedling sale.

Dara is an ornamental also known as False Queen Anne’s lace, ornamental carrot, and wild carrot. In my garden, some of the initial flowers on this plant opened up into broad 5-inch blooms, ranging from white to purple-pink to dark purple. Flowers that bloomed later in the season tended to be smaller, though still around 3 inches in diameter.DSC_0203

 

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It’s not a fussy, formal flower. Here it is, mingling with some orange cosmos. I get a bit of shade in my garden, so the Dara grew on the tall side of the standard 36-50.”

Pollinators of all shapes and sizes loved the blooms, and I enjoyed the buzz they brought to the garden so much, I cut only a few of them for bouquets.

Generally, they are a long-lasting cut flower, but some of them drooped right away in the vase and never revived. I learned later from the book Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden (which by the way, for locals is currently available through Old Colony Library and Hoopla) that it’s best harvested “when flowers are fully opened and are lying flat.” Older blooms begin to curl up, like umbrellas caught in the wind. DSC_0231

I’ve read dueling information about whether this plant is a garden thug, perhaps because Queen Anne’s Lace, the white flower often seen growing in meadow’s ditches, and scrubby patches, is listed as a noxious weed in some states (not in MA). It might also be worth noting that Johnny’s Selected Seeds specifically calls this plant False Queen Anne’s Lace.

Expert gardener Ken Druse discusses his experience with Dara on the podcast A Way to Garden. Ken–who enjoys this flower, but does take care to contain it– says his self-sown Dara seeds sprout in summer in NJ, overwinter, and then flower the following summer.

Here in New England, Johnny’s Select Seeds calls them an annual and recommends direct-sowing them. I can vouch that the ones I purchased as seedlings sown in a six-cell pack in the spring established themselves fine in my garden and bloomed the same summer. Is it a thug here? I’ll find out this summer.

A few takeaways…

  1. This flower fits in beautifully in casual gardens.
  2. Pollinators love them.
  3. Johnny’s recommends direct-sowing the seeds, but starting them indoors for later transplant also works.
  4. Plant them in groupings for greater effect.
  5. If you’re concerned about them taking over your garden, take efforts to contain them until you see how they behave in your area.
  6. Give them some kind of support to help keep them upright. I used twine and garden stakes.
  7. Dara is not a cut-and-come again flower like zinnias. You’ll get more than one flower per plant (7-15 stems per plant, according to Johnny’s), but it won’t keep producing all season. Still, its season extends a month or more, and multiple, staggered plantings can achieve a longer period of bloom. You may also get a longer blooming period if you keep them cut. I just didn’t have the heart to take them all from the bees.
  8. For best longevity in floral arrangements, cut them after they’ve fully opened. And once they begin to curl up, they’re on their way to seed.

 

How’d It Grow? The Cucamelon

After hearing a few gardening friends from different circles talk about cucamelons , I decided to give them a try this year for the first time.

Cucamelons–also called Mexican Sour Gherkins and Mouse Melons–resemble tiny watermelons. “Vines start growing slowly,” notes Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and, “Not particularly high-yielding.”

After planting the seeds in early June, I waited for a few weeks and assumed they’d washed away before I saw any sign of them. The emerging seedlings remained tiny for another few weeks. Some just disappeared, likely eaten as a snack by a couple of flea beetles. The vines that survived grew so slowly that all nearby plants outpaced them, shading them and further hindering their growth.

Around early August or so, I finally started seeing tiny yellow flowers.

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And by the time the fruit appeared, something else had already happened in my garden.

A cucumber explosion.

Evidently it was a banner year for cucumbers here in our area, based on the number of people at the garden talking about their great cucumber harvest. Which is great, of course. Only by the time the cucamelons finally made their entrance, I was already on the third act of cucumbers: canning and preserving.

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But here they are, like fairy watermelons, alongside a cherry tomato and a scarlet runner bean for comparison.

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Per Johnny’s instructions, I picked them when they were small, a little less than one inch. (Longer ones get seedy). Once the plants built up steam, they stretched out, clambering up the trellis and across the tops of my tall flowers. Cucamelons were tucked in all corners, though not in high numbers and not obvious among the foliage. I had to forage for them.

Their flavor? Like a slightly sour cucumber, lemony. Nicely crunchy. Their skin is a little thick. Sliced in half lengthwise, they’d probably make a nice addition to a fresh salad that I’ll be craving mid-winter. Or if I’d had enough at once, they might have made a nice jar of pickles.

A few takeaways…

  1. Given the slow start of summer in zone 6, I wouldn’t plant them any earlier here than I did, in the beginning of June. Even then, nights can still be quite chilly.
  2. I recommend protecting them under a row cover or cloche for a little extra warmth and insect defense.
  3. Just in time (hello, Frost), I’ve learned that cucamelons produce tubers that can be overwintered, which hopefully will mean a more vigorous start next season.
  4. Think carefully about space planning. The rest of your garden will travel into the future while your cucamelons stall in their own space-time dimension. They won’t grow well in the shade of other quickly-maturing plants.
  5. The cucamelon is no way to pad your harvest. It’s not like a hybrid cherry tomato, cheerfully producing early, across the full season, and in spite of disease pressure while you’re waiting for your heirlooms to come in. You may very well be weary of anything cucurbit-y by the time these guys produce.
  6. Is the novelty worth it? Maybe, and I’m willing to give it another try now that I understand more about its growing habit. I could see this plant working well in a garden where there’s not enough space for a full-sized cucumber beast. The cucamelon’s leaves and fruit are small and lightweight, unlikely to overwhelm surrounding plants if you don’t mind a little disarray and let a couple of vines ramble and find their way in the sun. Keep some sunshine carved out for it among your other plants,  and it may perform better than mine did.