Pat’s Wildways: New Gardening Mishaps

By Pat Foster-Turley
March 17, 2023

Both of my garden beds.

I’ve been gardening in my backyard for 20-some years here but each year I never fail to make new mistakes. I’ve learned that rabbits eat almost every plant or flower I’ve tried at ground level and fences and repellents didn’t work so we’ve installed elevated garden beds. But then, one year, cutworms ate my crop of sweet peas anyway—I guess the moths laid their eggs in the soil. And squirrels can climb up to take what they want anyway. But all in all most years now I am able to have a spring crop of sweet pea flowers and a summer crop of zinnias to brighten my home and to give to friends.

I thought I made every mistake possible with these elevated beds. This fall I expanded my sweet pea planting repertoire and I planted one bed with two kinds of sweet peas—vining and bush types—and planted snapdragons (another cooler-season flower) in the second one. We got the sprinkler system running to keep these seeds and seedlings properly watered, and I weeded them diligently.

So what could go wrong? You’d be amazed. First off, I was too late in the season buying Ferry-Morse seeds from garden centers here so I bought a few packets of sweet pea seeds from online vendors via Amazon. The little plastic bags of seeds were hand-labeled and sealed—no commercial vendor here. I dutifully soaked the seeds overnight and planted the bush ones in one section of the bed and the vining tall ones along a trellis at the other end. When they sprouted, the bush sweet peas seedlings looked perfect, but what the heck is going on with the vining ones? They sprouted into entirely unexpected plants that I still can’t identify, but they are definitely not pea plants. I am curious, though, so I have kept some going to see what they turned into and I just planted some Ferry-Morse vining sweet pea seeds along the trellis. We will see.

Mystery plant, growing beside normal bush-type sweet pea plants, with new vining sweet pea seedlings growing beside it along with a volunteer zinnia.

If that isn’t confusing enough, there’s the second elevated bed where I planted a couple of packs of Ferry-Morse snapdragon seeds. I’d never planted these before, so I didn’t really know what the seedlings look like, but I dutifully watched the seeds sprout and pulled out all the weeds I identified that were growing in the bed.

Sticky mouse-eared chickweed has tiny white flowers.

Over the course of weeks, these seedlings prospered in the fertile soil. They started spreading like a ground cover, but, I thought, maybe the flower-bearing part of the plant would rise up. And then, some stalks did rise, but did they have snapdragon flowers on them? No! What they had were tiny little white flowers, not much bigger than a pencil eraser. Not snapdragons! I posted photos on The Bartram Garden Club Facebook site and Irene Woodworth, past president and current trustee of the Jacksonville Garden Club, identified it and sent me documentation that it’s “sticky mouse-eared chickweed.” In other words, it’s a great crop of organic weeds I just wasted my elevated bed on this season. I weeded out the wrong seedlings!

But, hey, eating weeds is a thing now, right? I found lots of information on the internet about eating different varieties of chickweed, but not this species. What the heck? I yanked out a few plants and cooked them like spinach. Actually not bad at all, very mild taste, like lettuce. And I didn’t die—that’s a good thing.

When life gives you weeds, eat them! Chickweed pesto veggies anyone?
My planting of snapdragon seeds turned into an elevated bed full of healthy chickweed.

So I have harvested the whole crop and threw it into a food processor along with some basil (to get more flavor), olive oil, pecans, garlic and parmesan and I have “chickweed pesto.” I’ve already used some on a homemade pizza and mixed more with cooked carrots, and it’s a great addition. Because I have so much of it, I left out the parmesan (which doesn’t freeze well) and froze a lot of it into ice cube trays for later use, with parmesan to be added later. I have no idea how Bucko and I will eat all this but at least I made my lemons into lemonade so to speak.

With the unflagging exuberance of a spring gardener, I have now replanted this bed with zinnias, my old faithful that I know what to look for. It will be a while before I get any zinnia flowers, but soon I hope for some sweet peas from the bush type, and who knows what from the other mystery plant in the second bed.

Gardening for me is always an adventure.

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Anne Dworetzky
Anne Dworetzky (@guest_67694)
6 months ago

I think that the mystery plant is lettuce. I love your articles

Carol (@guest_67697)
6 months ago

May the zinnias attract a huge supply of butterflies.