Kansas isn’t California …

… or Chile, or South Africa. A plant that flourishes in a west coast desert or mountain meadow is not necessarily going to be happy on the prairie. Some will adapt, others won’t, and the best way to determine which ones will thrive here is to grow them.1 These are the results of this year’s experiments so far. Please note that I am not an expert gardener, and someone more experienced might have had more success than I did.

From out west:

Gilia tricolor — each flower is about three-eighths of an inch in diameter

Gilia tricolor — Germination was near 100% outdoors. The plants grew quickly and bloomed freely, both those that received extra water and those that only got rainwater. The flowers are small, but there are a lot of them. All bloomed for at least a month starting in the middle of May. Those that received regular watering kept going on into July. Not the most brilliantly colorful plant, perhaps, but it rewards a close look, and it is easy to grow. I might try other species of Gilia next year.

Layia platyglossa

Layia platyglossa — Seeds germinated well indoors, and the plants grew quickly. They bloomed well for about a month, but they faded away when daily highs hit the 90°s. They were noticeably unhappy in hot, dry wind and needed daily watering. The plants are pungently aromatic when the leaves are touched, smelling something like crushed chrysanthemum leaves or santolina. Layia is good for late spring-early summer color, provided it gets regular watering. It might do better directly seeded in the ground.

Limnanthes douglasii — Seed planted indoors didn’t germinate. That sown outdoors came up well, but the seedlings grew slowly and disappeared when the weather started getting hot. Not recommended for Kansas.

Nemophilia menziesii — Never came up, indoors or out. Bad seed, maybe, or perhaps the seed was planted too late, when conditions were too warm for germination.

Phacelia tanacetifolia on a humid morning

Phacelia tanacetifolia — Poor germination outdoors. The few seedlings grew and bloomed well, surviving into July. The finely-divided foliage is nice, but the flowers are small and pale blue, and are nowhere near as eye-catching as P. campanularia. Grow the latter if you like intense shades of blue.

Tithonia rotundifolia — slightly more reddish than the actual color, a vivid orange-red

Tithonia rotundifolia — Supposedly an old garden favorite, though I have never seen it grown anywhere. Directly seeded, it grows roughly half as fast as a sunflower, which is still very fast. The plants currently are six feet tall and blooming profusely. They tolerate dry conditions, though they wilt in the afternoon heat. Unfortunately, the leaves are red spider magnets.

From Chile:

Calandrinia grandiflora

Calandrinia grandiflora — Germination indoors was close to 100%, and the seedlings grew steadily. After transplanting outdoors, they plants just sat there for a few weeks, then suddenly started growing, branching out from the base of the plant and throwing up a few flowering stems in May. When the weather got hot, all activity stopped, and they have since all died. Not recommended for Kansas.

From the Mediterranean regions:

Anagallis monelli — Germination indoors was poor. The surviving plant displayed some intense blue flowers for a couple weeks at the beginning of summer, but it stopped blooming with the heat and is now just sitting there. Perhaps it will bloom again when the weather starts to cool, but I can’t recommend it for Kansas.

Ismelia carinata [Chrysanthemum carinatum] — Germinated easily indoors, though it probably would have done just as well seeded in place. It grew strongly until it got hot. It needs daily water, and even so the flowers are smaller than advertised and often misshapen. Not recommended for Kansas.

Nigella hispanica — cross your eyes to see this in three dimensions

Nigella damascena did well for me last year, so I tried a couple of other species. N. hispanica “The Bride” has nicely intricate flowers, but they didn’t much look like the pictures. Germination outdoors was poor. N. bucharica also has complicated flowers. The seeds germinated well, but the plants are much smaller and frailer than the other two Nigellas, and were mostly wiped out by a mole. It’s possible that they might have done better in another spot in the yard, but I can’t recommend either for Kansas.

Nigella bucharica, much enlarged — it is less than an inch in diameter

From southern Africa

Berkheya purpurea — cross your eyes to see it in three dimensions

Berkheya purpurea — Every seed germinated indoors, even though it initially looked like they were all going to rot away (you might want to use a fungicide like Consan 20 with the initial watering). Although the mature plants are supposed to be drought-resistant, the young plants do not like dry conditions at all, and need daily watering when the flower stalks appear. Berkheya is closely related to thistles, and the spines are every bit as sharp as they look. It should be winter-hardy in Kansas; if it indeed is (check back next year), it might be worth growing if you have the right spot for it. Berkheya makes a lousy cut flower; perhaps it would last longer if you sear the cut end with a flame, sealing in the latex.

Notes

  1. The local botanical garden ought to be doing this sort of thing, but the management is more interested in fundraising schemes than horticulture these days.

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