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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 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

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

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

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

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

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

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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