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Strange seedpods add spice to summer garden

"Persian Jewels" variety of Love-in-a-Mist includes several pink and purples variations. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Love-in-a-Mist produces pretty flowers and a bonus

Are those pod people in my plot? Space aliens have invaded my garden!

No, it's just the distinctive and decorative seedpods of Love-in-a-Mist.

A member of the buttercup family, Love-in-a-Mist is an old-fashioned favorite, native to Southern Europe and Northern Africa. This annual blooms abundantly in late spring and early summer.

Nigella, its botanical name, was derived from the Latin word for black, "niger," and refers to the plant's intensely black seeds. With an oregano-like flavor, those aromatic seeds are used as a spice in Turkey and the Middle East.

The Victorians fell in love with Love-in-a-Mist as a cut flower and for its decorative striped seedpods, which can be dried and used in arrangements. Its nickname refers to the light green, lacy bracts that surround the flowers, which range from white to dark blue, with several shades of pink or purple in between.

The most common Love-in-a-Mist is brilliant blue. Popular varieties include true blue "Miss Jekyll" and "Oxford Blue.
Love-in-a-Mist was popular with the Victorians.
" "Persian Jewels," which started my Nigella collection, features a mix of pink and lavender shades.

The large seedpods are actually five seedpods fused together. More than 2 inches long, they usually start green with purple, burgundy or bronze stripes. As they mature, the stripes fade.

The seedpods are easy to dry for arrangements. Harvest the pods while the stripes are still strong, leaving stems attached. Tie a paper bag around the pods to contain the seeds, then hang them upside down in a dry, airy place out of direct sunlight (such as a covered porch or a corner of the kitchen). The stems and pods will be dry within a week.
Love-in-a-Mist has distinctive seedpods.

Once you introduce Love-in-a-Mist into your garden, expect it to return year after year. This annual reseeds very easily and likes to spread its love around.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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