Who could suppress a smile at the sight of the chipper yellow and white flowers of poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)? But poached egg plant is more than just a pretty face. Easy going, irresistible to pollinators and good for the soil, this is a little plant that packs a lot of horticultural punch.
I was first alerted to the all-round usefulness of poached egg plant in the vegetable garden when I read this article, in which Jeremy Dore shared the novel idea of using poached egg plants as an overwintering green manure that can be easily dug under in spring. I promptly purchased a packet of seeds, sowed them, and waited eagerly to see what would happen.
Using Poached Egg Plant in the Vegetable Garden
I wasn’t disappointed. My poached egg plants quickly settled into life in the vegetable garden and, after blooming exuberantly over the summer, self-seeded around. This can become an antisocial habit with some flowers, but with poached egg plant it’s a helpful attribute. Allowing the plants to reproduce actually works in the vegetable gardener’s favour because autumn-sprouting seedlings will help protect soil from erosion and provide competition for weeds, whether on an empty bed or between overwintering vegetables like Brussels sprouts or kale.
If your winters are very cold you might need to cover poached egg plants to keep them going so they’ll flower next year. Or, if you simply want them to act as a soil-preserving green manure, just let them die off and gradually rot down on the soil surface. Dig them in several weeks before planting in spring, or throw them onto the compost heap.
These well-behaved little annuals are polite enough not to elbow out other plants, and are easily hoed off or pulled out if they’ve set up home in an inconvenient spot. They don’t mind being transplanted to somewhere more appropriate either. Even better, the leaves are a very recognizable shape, so you’ll quickly learn to spot them and won’t accidentally hoe off the ones you want to keep!
Volunteer poached egg plants that sprout in autumn will flower the following year earlier than those that germinate in spring, giving a longer season of blooms. And those blooms will pull in helpful bugs like gardeners to a half-price plant sale! That dazzling yellow ‘yolk’ in the centre of the white flowers is like a neon sign to pollinators (Great Food Served Here!) and makes an appealing landing pad for bees and hoverflies.
How to Grow Poached Egg Plant
Poached egg plants like soil to be fertile, well-drained and in a sunny spot – just what most vegetables require too – but they can tolerate a little shade, so are quite happy peeking out from under taller plants like broccoli or tomatoes. Trying growing them between narrow-leaved plants like garlic and onions to keep weeds in check, or sow them along the edges of beds or paths for a strip of sunshine at your feet. The bright green ferny leaves soften hard edges without sprawling too far over them.
They should be grown around 10cm (4in) apart each way, and can be broadcast sown or sown into drills then thinned out later. A succession of spring sowings will give flowers for months from early summer, and a later sowing should provide respectable ground cover over winter. If you don’t want them to seed around, pull up the plants when the blooms start to taper off.
Companion plants don’t get much easier than poached egg plant, and the sight of their bonny blooms beaming back up at the sun can lift even the most despondent spirit. Come on – it’s a flower that looks like a poached egg! Whether you’re eight or eighty, that can’t fail to put a grin on your face.