Sunday, July 14, 2013

Perserverance Wins Out

Some people might say I'm stubborn as a mule.  I might even agree to that.  But there's something to be said for refusing to take no for an answer.

Five years ago we were living in Gibsons, British Columbia.  Renting someone else's home and tending someone else's garden.  During our time there I got hooked on some local salad greens that included a rather unusual looking plant.  I wasn't sure what it was but I remember thinking - one day I'm going to grow that in my own garden.


It wasn't long after when dreams became reality and we moved across the country to Canoe Cove, Prince Edward Island.  I had found my garden at last.  That first summer I decided to put in a vegetable garden and that salad green was on my mind.  It had an unusual leaf, looking something like a fused four leaf clover.  I assumed it wouldn't be hard to figure out what it was and added it to the list of things I wanted to grow.

But when I began seed shopping I ran into a problem.  I looked and looked and nowhere could I find the leaf I so vividly recalled.  I combed through the seed catalogues, searched google and in desperation finally called the produce company long distance in Gibsons.  I felt like a bit of a mad fool asking for the secret ingredient to the Colonel's recipe.  Was it poor etiquette to demand what was in their salad mix?  Perhaps it was but the teenage boy who answered the phone told me the plant I was looking for was Calendula and that was all I cared about.  I had the secret ingredient and no one could stop me now!

Except that wasn't the ingredient.  Not even close.  It didn't look remotely like the plant I was looking for.  What now?  Did I try calling again?  Should I just accept fate and give up?

I procrastinated instead.

Then one day my dear spouse brought me home a book on vegetable gardening.  The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith.  An out of the blue purchase for no reason at all.  Not a book I was thinking of buying, not even one I had heard of before.  The world works in mysterious ways.  As I flipped through the pages of my new book I found it ..... and started yelling.


Needless to say my reaction left Jody somewhat surprised.  There among the vegetable descriptions was one for Claytonia perfoliata, also known as Miner's Lettuce.  It was the plant I had been searching for all this time.  The common name refers to the fact that this west coast native plant was eaten by California gold rush miners for it's Vitamin C content which prevented scurvy.  It has an unusual leaf pattern as the leaves unite together around the stem as the plant grows and appear as one circular leaf.  It was this distinct leaf shape I remembered.


Thrilled I immediately went online to look for seeds.  AND FOUND  NOTHING.  I searched every seed company I could think of and Claytonia wasn't for sale at any of them.  Little wonder I had so much trouble identifying it.  I wasn't going to be dissuaded though.  Someone somewhere had to have those seeds.  Eventually, after a very thorough search, seeds were found and we were in business!

Come spring, seeds went into the ground and I waited patiently for my salad greens to become a reality.  I thought I saw a hint of green at one point, but then it disappeared.  I kept waiting.  I really am stubborn.  But nothing ever happened.

The following spring I wondered what to do.  I still had half the packet of seeds and I wanted to try again but didn't know where I had previously gone wrong.  Lucky for me fellow blogger Niki Jabour had just written her book The Year Round Veggie Gardener and I attended the release party.  Amazingly, Niki also talks about Claytonia in her book so I accosted her on the spot and demanded to know what I was doing wrong.  Niki was a good sport and told me Claytonia prefers cool conditions - her advice was to plant as soon as the snow was gone in April.

Once again I headed back to the garden, determined this was the year I would get my way.  Come April I tucked the seeds into the ground and happy day - we had seedlings!

Smaller than a thumbnail and rather yellow looking
Tiny sickly looking seedlings though.  How could I have gone wrong this time?

A normal person might have thrown in the towel at that point but not me.  Back to the books I went.  Re-reading the plant description I noticed that Claytonia is a spring plant that prefers cool damp conditions.  It is often found in sandy peaty soil in the shade.  Shade, of course.  My veggie garden is in full sun.  Try again.

This spring I had a tiny amount of seed left.  One last chance.  I decided in order to have optimum conditions a container would be the best choice.  A plastic laundry sink that had been basking in the garage was called into duty.  Large, with good drainage it could be filled with loose peaty soil and moved to a shady spot.

My stubbornness perserverance finally paid off.  Little seedlings popped up and grew tall and happy.  Flowers bloomed and we ate as much as we could stand.  Then when we couldn't eat any more the heat struck and the plants faded.

There'll be more next year though.  My seed rack is sitting next to me as I type and I occasionally hear the pop of seed capsules releasing.  Little black seeds dropping onto the newspaper, waiting to be collected and planted next spring so we can do it all over again.

Hundreds of tiny seed pods formed once the heat set in.
If I haven't completely scared you off with this ridiculous tale and you're interested in trying Claytonia for yourself there are a couple places you can find seed.  For those in the US Claytonia is available from Johnny's Seeds in Maine.  Canadian residents will find it at William Dam Seeds.  With the right conditions it grows really easily (I'm laughing as I say this now!) and is a tasty addition to spring salads.

24 comments:

  1. We can all learn from your struggles. I am proud of your for hanging in there to get your much deserved salad fixins.

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    1. Thanks Lisa, it had gotten so utterly ridiculous I had to share the experience. Who knows, maybe somebody else is just dying to learn about claytonia...

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  2. I wonder if it tastes similar to the portulaca we sometimes bought in Switzerland. The same sort of succulent fleshy leaves.

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    1. Hi Diana, the leaves aren't quite that succulent but they are thicker than an average lettuce leaf. I find the taste very mild. It was a nice contrast to other sharper early greens like mustard and arugula.

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  3. What a great success story! This is a great example of try until you succeed, something I tell my children all the time. :)

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    1. Thanks Karin, nice to know this sounds like a positive thing to do rather than just completely crazy :)

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  4. Good for you! Perseverance does indeed win out. Congratulations! (And I bet that miner's lettuce tasted extra good for having played hard to get.) -Jean

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    1. oh Jean, did it ever. Could not wait to pick those first leaves.

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  5. Loved this blog post!!! Your perseverance really paid off and, it was so weird to read as just this morning I had picked up the Vegetable Gardeners Bible (bought in Sidney b.c. at a discount second hand bookstore a few years ago). I was thumbing through re my sulky beans this year and here you wrote about the book the same day. A Storey Published book I might add, as is Niki Jabbour's book Year Round Vegetable Gardener.

    The planter looks magnificent and the tale to be told wonderful. Miners Lettuce, I always think of Bill Miner when I think of this lettuce.

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    1. Funny how handy that old sink proved to be :) Vegetable Gardeners Bible is wonderful isn't it?! Such luck that Jody picked it up. That and Niki's book are ones I will hang on to forever, so much good information there.

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  6. I have never seen this plant before Marguerite .. it is so pretty and what a history it has too! .. with the miners and YOU? LOL
    That is amazing how the seeds are popping out for you as well .. and the whole idea of how to grow it is fantastic.
    Well done you !!
    Joy : )

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    1. It is pretty isn't it? all those tiny wee flowers, they're edible too! Hopefully more people catch on to this plant and it becomes a little more common.

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  7. I am awestruck reading about your perseverance and how carefully you researched, studied, learned from your own mistakes and finally succeeded! This had all the elements of a great quest novel, with food to eat at the end! Loved it.

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    1. Thank goodness there was a reward at the end because this whole process was making me crazy. Never would have thought it would take this many years to get it right!

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  8. I loved your post-such an uplifting tale! I have never seen these salad greens before. I like the shape of the leaves and the tiny flower. Did I miss it-how does it taste? Like regular lettuce?
    I needed to read a post like this right about now. My tomatoes are a disaster this year! They seem to be stuck at a foot and a half. I am beginning to think that I need to rethink using my raised beds for veggies. There is not enough sunny beds for good crop rotation. Like you, I may need to think of another more favourable spot.

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    1. Sorry Jennifer, I don't think I mentioned the taste. It is a very cool green with a mild flavour. The flowers are edible as well. I paired it with mustard and arugula which are also early but have a contrasting sharp flavour. Don't you worry about your tomatoes, they will grow when they're ready. Some of mine were stuck too but a recent bout of heat got them started again.

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  9. I've heard of this plant but have never eaten it. Now I'm intrigued. :o) I'm as stubborn as you are. I think it's a good quality but my husband may disagree! Thanks for the seed source. Excellent post!

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  10. What a great story! I am so happy you finally got your salad leaves, perseverance really pays, I know from own experience :-) I have never heard about this kind of lettuce, they look cute though!

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  11. Well, you have certainly piqued my curiosity now, Marguerite! I'd never heard of this lettuce before, but I would love to try it, just to see what it tastes like. Now that you have done all the hard work and all the research, the seed company may get lots of request for Claytonia next year. A great lesson in perseverance!

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  12. I've never eaten this, but now I'm wishing I could grow some. I doubt it would like my hot weather, though. So glad you were stubborn - I mean persistent - and finally got the right conditions (and the right plant!). What a fun story. The best part is that you're collecting seeds for next year!

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  13. Wow yes perserverence does pay off indeed! I haven't heard of this type of lettuce before but it most definitely looks lovely and tasty :)

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  14. I think I've heard of it but never seen it before - the leaves look as though they are a bit rubbery!

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  15. I love your drive to succeed and that you searched for answers until you found your answers. Your claytonia is lovely in its shady home.

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  16. I have never heard of your claytonia, what a cute little bloom in the middle of the leaf. So glad you found it.

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