Fabulous Friday: Growing Herbs

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One of the nicest things about summer is the garden filled with fresh herbs.  Most herbs prove very easy to grow.  They enjoy full sun, can stand a little dry weather, naturally repel pests, and smell delicious.

Herbs have such beautiful and interesting foliage, that I enjoy using them in containers and in the perennial garden. They also add an interesting touch in a vase.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows with parsley and fennel.

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Evergreen perennial herbs, like rosemary, often maintain a presence through the winter.  Even when frost damaged, most will begin to recover and grow again by early spring. Although many Mediterranean herbs are marginally hardy in our climate, we’ve had enough success overwintering them that it is well worth making the effort.

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Overwintered Lavender and Artemesia. Artemesia propagates easily from stem cuttings in early spring.

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Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Artemesia, culinary sage, Santolina, germander, oregano, chocolate mint and many varieties of Lavender remain evergreen in our garden.  Other herbs, like comphrey, dill and fennel, return with fresh growth once the weather warms.

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Comphrey is one of our earliest herbs to bloom each spring.

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We’ve had mixed experience in overwintering one of my favorite herbs, scented Pelargoniums.   I’m always thrilled to see tiny leaves emerge in early spring where one has survived the winter.  Perennials, they aren’t fond of winter indoors, unless you have a spot to keep them in bright light.

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Thyme provides lots of early nectar for pollinators. It grows into an attractive edging for perennial beds and borders.

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Scented Pelargoniums rank high on my spring shopping list, as I scout out choice varieties wherever herbs are sold.  P. ‘Citronella,’ sold to ward off mosquitoes, can be found in many garden centers and big box plant departments.  But I am always watching for the rose scented varieties and an especially pretty plant called P. ‘Chocolate Mint.’ 

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Pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ has the scent of roses

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Basil grows particularly well for us here in coastal Virginia.  It really takes off quickly in our late spring and summer heat.  Sometimes I begin with seeds, but most often watch for my favorite varieties at herb sales.  Some varieties, like African Blue Basil, are hybrids and can’t be grown true from seeds.

African Blue and Thai Basil quickly grow into small, fragrant shrubs.   I let them flower, and then enjoy the many pollinators they attract all summer.  Their seeds attract goldfinches and usually stand in my garden until after the holidays, when I finally pull the plants once the seeds are gone.

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Basil gone to seed, delighted our goldfinches and other small birds last September.

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Our garden is filling up again with growing herbs, now that we are into mid-May.  Taking some time to enjoy our herbs makes this rainy Friday fabulous.  The perennial herbs are into active growth now, and I’m finding and planting choice varieties of Basil, Salvia and Pelargonium.

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Newly planted Santolina and purple Basil will grow in quickly.

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We experimented with a relatively new Lavender cultivar last year:  L. ‘Phenomenal.’  This very hardy (Zones 5-9) and disease resistant cultivar was introduced by Peace Tree Farms in 2012. Hybrid ‘Phenomenal’ can take our muggy summers, so long as it has reasonably good drainage, and doesn’t die back during the winter.  It will eventually grow to a little more than 2 feet high and wide.  I was curious to see how it would grow for us, and bought a few plugs through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last spring.

I was so pleased with how fresh they looked all winter, that I ordered new plugs this spring.   The plugs are still growing on in pots, but I look forward to planting them out before the end of May.

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Culinary purple sage grows well with German Iris and other perennials.

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If you have faced challenges in past years overwintering your Lavender, or losing them during a muggy summer; you might want to give L. ‘Phenomenal’ a try.  These will work nicely in a good sized pot if your space is limited.  Add a little lime to the potting mix or garden soil, and try mulching around newly planted Lavender plants with light colored gravel to reflect the heat and protect the foliage from splattered soil.

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Spanish Lavender also proves very hardy and overwinters in our garden.  This is my favorite Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast.’

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Herbs prove such useful plants.  They nourish, they heal, they repel pests, and they thrive in challenging garden conditions.  Their unique leaves and healing scents add beauty to our lives.

Do you rely on herbs in your garden?  Wild at heart, they simply want a place to grow.  Why not try one this summer you’ve not grown before?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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August herbs in a vase

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Herb Garden

Garlic chives come into bloom beside Thyme and a Muscadine grape vine.

Garlic chives come into bloom beside Thyme and a Muscadine grape vine.

“My love affair with nature is so deep

that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker, or nature tourist.

I crave a more real and meaningful relationship.

The spicy teas and tasty delicacies I prepare from wild ingredients

are the bread and wine

in which I have communion and fellowship with nature,

and with the Author of that nature.”

Euell Gibbons

 

 

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Garlic chives remain one of the easiest of herbs to grow.  Plant in full sun, keep them moist, and they will grow indefinitely.  A perennial herb, the stand of chives grows a bit larger each season.  All parts of the plant are edible, and leaves can be snipped year round to season in cooking.  Chives are especially nice mixed with cream cheese or sour cream.  Their flowers may be cut for arrangements, cut and used as a garnish, or left to delight the bees.

Thyme grows as another spreading, perennial herb which enjoys full sun.  It blooms sometimes in summer, and it is a favorite for cooking.  A good cheese spread may bee made with chives, thyme leaves, and perhaps a little garlic, minced Rosemary, and freshly ground pepper.  Mix these into any combination of soft cream or goat cheeses.

Grape leaves make tasty wraps for various fillings.  Our favorite are Greek dolmades, which are stuffed with a mixture of rice and herbs, then steamed.  Grape leaves may be eaten raw in salad or added to sandwiches.

 

Basil grows here beside scented Pelargonium.

Basil grows here beside scented Pelargonium.

Basil leaves remain our favorite summer herb.  Eaten raw on a sandwich, pureed into pesto, or cooked with tomatoes, their distinctive flavor sings “summer,” even when enjoyed in February.  Their flowers are edible and may be enjoyed as cut flowers or as a garnish.  Stems of  Basil, mixed in with other flowers in a vase, perfumes the entire room.

Basil

Basil

Scented Pelargoniums are not only edible, they dry beautifully.  Lemon, orange, or rose scented geraniums, as they are called, may be added to home made mixes for tea, used as flavor in baked goods, or may be dried and preserved for their fragrance. Their flowers are edible and may be used to garnish cupcakes.  Some Pelargoniums survive the winter for us in Zone 7B.  They die back to the ground, but will sometimes come back from their roots in late spring.  They are happiest in full sun with moist soil.

Chocolate mint in bloom

Chocolate mint in bloom

Plant all of the mints in full sun.  They prefer moist soil, and will spread madly over a summer.  Every part of the plant may be eaten fresh or dried.  Used mainly to flavor beverages, mints are wonderful fresh or dried in tea.  A stand of mint in bloom remains busy with every sort of bee and wasp enjoying the feast of nectar.  This chocolate mint has beautiful, distinctive foliage and smells like minty chocolate candy.

Pineapple Sage, Pineapple Mint, and Rosemary enjoy this end of the butterfly garden where they get sun.  All appreciate moist soil, and will return each spring.

Pineapple Sage, Pineapple Mint, and Rosemary enjoy this end of the butterfly garden where they get sun.   All appreciate moist soil, and will return each spring.

A garden may be appreciated by all of our senses, including taste and smell.  These wonderfully fragrant herbs contain healing oils and compounds, in addition to their delicious flavors.

Although not a traditional vegetable garden, an herb garden allows us to consume a bit of what we grow and use the plants in many different ways.

Salvia officinalis, 'Tricolor' is delicious.  This perennial culinary herb is added to many savory dishes.  Individual leaves may also be fried in butter or olive oil  and used as a tasty garnish.

Salvia officinalis, ‘Tricolor’ is delicious. This perennial culinary herb is added to many savory dishes. Individual leaves may also be fried in butter or olive oil and used as a tasty garnish.

Whether bringing cut herbs and flowers indoors to enjoy, making sachet packets to keep moths out of our drawers,   blending our own tea, or cutting herbs to add to our food; we come to know these beautiful plants better through frequent use.

Salvia officinalis, 'Berggarten'

Salvia officinalis, ‘Berggarten’

Perennial herbs generously offer themselves up season after season, and once planted, remain with us so long as we tend the garden.

Rose scented Pelargonium with Pineapple Sage and Rose

Rose scented Pelargonium with Pineapple Sage and Rose

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Lavender Lovers

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When Jennifer issued her One Word Photo Challenge: Lavender this morning, I headed out between showers to capture a few photos of our lavender flowers in the garden.

We have been admiring the lavender Rose of Sharon from the living room windows.

 

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

In fact the hummingbirds have been hovering near them them all morning between the showers, and we enjoy watching them come and go.

But I suspected there might be other lavender flowers blooming this morning, if only I’d go out and notice them.

Chocolate mint in bloom

Chocolate mint in bloom

How does one draw a firm line between what is lavender and what is blue or pink?

There are so many shades, and all shine differently depending on the light.

Salvia nemerosa with Artemesia

Salvia nemerosa with Artemesia

 

Soon I was straying off the patio and into the wet grass, following the trail of lavender flowers through the garden.

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And despite the wet, overcast weather, the garden was still buzzing with hungry creatures flying from flower to flower.

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Perhaps moving a bit more slowly today, they seemed not to mind  me closing in with the camera to capture their portraits.

I wonder how these flowers appear to our bees, and to our dragonflies.

Bumblebee on Joe Pye Weed

Bumblebee on Joe Pye Weed

 

Do their compound eyes see these colors even more intensely than ours?

Can they see flowers in ways we can only dream them?

A butterfly shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee.

A moth shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee.

What must it be like to spend one’s entire lifetime in pursuit of flowers, and the sweet nectar and pollen they hold?  Might bees, like whales and dolphins, have a level of intelligence in advance of our own?

We have learned much about bees, and their language of dance, in recent years.  

Now scientists have learned they can be trained, even more quickly than dogs, to sniff out certain odors.

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New technologies are in development which use trained bees to sniff out drugs and other substances.  It is all quite amazing to realize that bees can communicate with us in so many ways.

The low hum of their contented buzzing filled our garden this morning, much like the hum of a cat’s purr.

Hearing from friends across the country that bees are scarce in some gardens this summer, we feel special appreciation for the bees who choose to visit ours.

 

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Another vital link in the web of life which brings food to our own table, we  appreciate the lives of bees;

and all of the other small creatures who spend their lives in pursuit of nectar, moving from flower to flower in the garden.

 

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

One Word Photo Challenge: Lavender… Forest Garden

More One Word Photo Challenge: Lavender photos

 

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