Saturday, November 27, 2010

I Grow Thistles on Purpose!

I'll never forget the summer I decided to wage war on the crop of thistles in our vegetable garden. I wasn't a real gardener back then; we just grew some vegetables every summer. Corn, green beans, carrots...the usual. Part of the garden was even left unplanted and that's where the thistles grew.

I knew enough about thistles to know that you'd better get the entire thistle out - tap root and all - or that nasty thing was going to grow right back, probably bigger and badder than it was in the first place. So, I got my trowel and set to work.

So intent was I on getting those nasty things out that I didn't realize what was happening as I plunged the trowel again and again into the hard clay soil, excavating each prickly plant out and tossing it onto a growing heap of them. Then all of a sudden, I stopped. I looked at the palm of my hand and there was the biggest blister I've ever had in my life, broken and bleeding. Silly me, I'd not worn gloves. The thistles had gotten the better of me and without even using their prickly defenses.

I want you to know, though - I never had a problem with thistles in the garden after that. I'm serious. But I grow them on purpose. I'm serious about that, too.

Cleveland Botanical Garden Herb Garden - May 2009

Milk thistle in CBG Herb Garden
The last time I visited the Cleveland Botanical Garden, I saw milk thistle (Silybum sp.) growing there and I fell in love with it. It was in their beautiful herb garden. The patterns on its glossy leaves captivated me and even the prickly edges just added to its handsomeness. I didn't even know such a thing existed. I took pictures and filed it away in my mind as something to grow the next year.

As I was window shopping online for seeds last winter, I came across those milk thistle seeds at Nature's Crossroads. I ordered them and planted them. They grew and I loved this plant as much in my garden as I did in CBG's. We've had some really cold temperatures and my milk thistle plants still look good. They're a biennial and not all the plants bloomed this year, but I collected enough seed heads to assure that I'll have seed for planting it again next year, just in case none of it returns.

Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)
Why would people grow milk thistle in the first place? I mean, it's a thistle, for crying out loud. But people grow globe thistle (Echinops ritro) too, so there's room for ornamental thistles in a garden. Milk thistle is also an herb, with extract from the seeds used for treating liver diseases. All parts of milk thistle are edible and when its prickly parts are trimmed off, it makes a good substitute for spinach in salads.

I just think it's pretty.

Milk thistle in my garden - October 2010

Milk Thistle

Botanical name:  Silybum marianum
Hardiness:  Zone 5-9
Bloom time:  Early summer to late fall
Other:  Listed as a noxious weed in Arkansas. Self-seeds. Annual/biennial, depending on location.


Donna said...

I also grow tall gorgeous thistles in my meadow..they showed up one day and they were too pretty to take out..besides the birds loved them now I removve them to keep their numbers down at the end of the season but I know they will come back in all their 7-8 ft glory

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I think they are pretty too but I am a big chicken about growing them.

Joseph said...

Oooh... I love this plant. I'm a big fan of thistles and spiny plants in general. I adore scotch thistles.

frazzledsugarplummum said...

I grow thistles too finding that the plants around them seem to grow better for the proximity. I also use the leaves as mulch and in thistle tea. I love them as well and so do the bees. I also grow clover through the garden and lawn.

Gail said...

I remember the first time I saw a field of thistles, I wanted to stop and get a husband thought I was's thistle, he said.

We were "lucky" to get some thistle laiden hay one year and it has been a constant battle. I go with feed sack, scissors and gloves and clip the flowers before they seed. I chop the bases and pour table sale on them...seems to be working...but I love those flowers!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Kylee,
I've never heard of milk thistle. I like those leaves, too. I do like my globe thistles, and have to be careful not to let them self sow too many plants.

Unknown said...

I like thistles. We have a big patch of them down by the pond, they do their wild thing, I avoid that area when wearing shorts, and all is well. They haven't tried to take over the more cultivated areas of our gardens, so I leave them to the attention of the birds. But then, I also have a patch of nettles off to one part of the wild areas, for the sake of the butterfly caterpillars that use them as a larval food...but I don't want THEM in the garden even more so. Lovely post, Kylee.

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