Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: June

This little Acer Plamatum germinated in my parents' garden this spring.  I brought it home to grow on, here in a large pot with ferns and Caladiums.

This little Acer Palmatum germinated in my parents’ garden this spring. I brought it home to grow on, here in a large pot with ferns and Caladiums.

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Our world is leafy green this month; a thousand shades of green.  Yet there are many more colors found glowing on leaves in our garden.

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Coleus

Coleus

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Layer upon layer of leaves extend themselves to catch the sun’s rays.

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Canna lilies have reached about half their final height.  Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

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From the Oaks’ canopies down to the tiny chartreuse leaves of creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, which blanket parts of our garden; leaves bask in summer’s brilliant sunshine.

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June 20, 2015 garden 001

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I ventured into new territory last summer when planting a border of tall Canna lilies, given by a friend, and elephant ear Colocasia.  Both are well up now with the Cannas bursting into bloom.

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June 16, 2015 blooming in June 022

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They will continue growing for a few weeks, topping out above head high with blooms through the summer.

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June 16, 2015 blooming in June 017~

Tall, perennial Hibiscus join these tropical looking, large plants in the front border.  I’ve extended the grouping to a new area in the lower garden where growth has been slow.

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Colocasia 'Mojito'

Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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There is less light here, and the Cannas were purchased as roots just this spring.  I hope they will catch up in the summer heat and make a good show by mid-summer.

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June 20, 2015 garden 012~

They border the new bog garden, filled now with pitcher plants, Sarraceniaceae, which are native to the mid-Atlantic coast; with the African rose Hibiscus; Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ and Coleus.  Two pots of milkweed grow here, too, in our hope to draw in Monarch butterflies.

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Oxalis triangularis has struggled here because deer frequently graze these beautiful burgundy leaves.

Oxalis triangularis has struggled here because deer frequently graze these beautiful burgundy leaves.

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The border of Oxalis I planted with such confidence in May is nearly gone, grazed by rogue deer who have somehow snuck into the garden through our fences.  I’ve sprayed what remains with deer repellent and hope they will re-grow from the tubers.

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This Oxalis has been protected with a clove of garlic grown here since fall.  In more shade, there are no flowers and darker leaves.  A division of hardy Begonia can be seen at the top of the photo, and a division of fern to the far right.  These will fill in fairly quickly.

This Oxalis has been protected with a clove of garlic grown here since fall.  In more shade, there are no flowers and darker leaves. A division of hardy Begonia can be seen at the top of the photo, and a division of fern to the far right. These will fill in fairly quickly.

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Oxalis is supposed to be ‘deer resistant,’ but anyone who gardens near deer understands the humor of that phrase.

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Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia 'China Pink' grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.  Rudbeckia, to the right, will bloom golden in July.  I just love these spotted stems!

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Our collection of poisonous plants has grown this summer to include the “Voodoo Lily,” Sauromatum venosum, bought at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in April; and a hardy Calla lily, just ordered from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.

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June 14, 2015 calla lily 2 004~

I was pleased to learn that Calla, native to South Africa, is in fact poisonous.  The poisonous leaves have more staying power in our garden, and do no harm to those who aren’t grazing them!

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Helebores, also poisonous, protects this pot from grazing.  The Heuchera would be munched if unprotected.

Hellebore, also poisonous, protects this pot from grazing. The Heuchera would be munched if unprotected.

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There are many more leaves to share, but you’ll see them as the summer unfolds.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 012~

We continue to plant ferns, and we’ve added several new cultivars this year.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 002

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We have also found several interesting cultivars of scented Pelargonium.  This rose scented Pelargonium grows in a pot with Ajuga.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 007~

Herbs smell wonderful on hot sunny days, and have such beautiful foliage.

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June 18, 2015 bees 002

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 I appreciate Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides,  for hosting this Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day meme on the 22nd of each month. She challenges us to focus on the foliage in our gardens; not just the flowers.

Please visit her and follow as many links as you can to enjoy beautiful foliage posts photographed in a variety of different gardens.

But, before you do, we will end with a few more photos of my beloved Begonias:

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There will be another Begonia post soon.  These beauties continue growing better each week.

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June 14, 2015 garden 017~

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme….

Culinary Sage

Culinary  Purple Sage, Salvia officinalis purpurascens

A familiar refrain all of us knew, back in the day, when we sang folk songs together and strummed our guitars.  I’m not sure any of us quite got what the song was about, beyond love found, love lost, and love fondly remembered.  It was so pretty to play and sing, especially when friends sang in harmony and remembered most of the words.

Tri-color Sage

Tri-color Sage

A traditional folk song from the north of England and Scotland, most of us learned Scarborough Fair from Simon and Garfunkle’s album in the mid-60s.  It is one of those songs which plays as background music in the psyche, never quite fading away; its longing and simple beauty a reminder of what stays the same generation to generation, century to century.

Pineapple Sage, an herbaceous perennial, dies back to the ground each winter.  Its sweet leaves taste like pineapple and can be used for cooking.  It blooms in late summer and is much loved by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Pineapple Sage, an herbaceous perennial, dies back to the ground each winter. Its sweet leaves taste like pineapple and can be used for cooking. It blooms in late summer and is much loved by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

And so it is as fresh today as it was back when. Its lyrics offer a bit of insight into how much we continue to rely on the companionship of our simple herbs, even through the changes and frustrations of our life circumstance and relationships.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme:  our companions as we tend our gardens and as we cook our meals.  They are beautiful, promote good health, and are hardy and easy to grow.  These are the herbs you can still snip outside on a wintery day and bring in for the soup pot, whether you are making soup for your love, your extended family, or just for yourself.

Rosemary can grow into a nice sized evergreen shrub over several years.

Rosemary can grow into a nice sized evergreen shrub over several years.

All they really need to be happy is Earth for their roots, full sun for their leaves, and a bit of water to keep them going.  They grow deep roots to sustain themselves and demand little from the gardener.

Parsley is the only biennial in the group; growing this year, blooming next, setting seed, and then dying back.  It must be renewed with fresh plants each year, but will sow its own seeds far and wide to produce them.

Sage is perennial in my garden.  Some forms are herbaceous perennials; others make small, woody shrubs.  When planted in a spot it likes, it spreads and thrives.  If it’s not happy, it fails to thrive and dies out after a season or two.  It doesn’t like too much water or dampness, and loves the sun.

Rosemary growing with an ornamental sage.

Rosemary growing with an ornamental sage.

Sage has been used by our indigenous people for centuries as a “smudge”.  It is dried in bundles, kindled, and its smoke used to clear, clean, and heal.  It also makes a lovely tea and helps sore throats, especially with honey dissolved in the tea.  Its leaves are delicious fried in a little butter or olive oil as used as a garnish.

Rosemary forms a beautiful shrub, blooming in winter with clear blue flowers.  It is evergreen and grows more lush each year.  It responds well to trimming back, has many medicinal uses, and has strong anti-bacterial properties.  It is the herb of remembrance, and so is a good plant to grow near the main path of our comings and goings from our home.  It is delicious baked into bread; or with potatoes, carrots, and onions.  It can be used as a skewer on the grill and to flavor a marinade.

A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly rests on a parsley plant already grazed by caterpillars.

A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly rests on a parsley plant already grazed by caterpillars.

Thyme is the smallest, lowest growing of these herbs.  It makes a wonderful ground cover, and can be grown on the edges of paths, in rock gardens, pots, and as edging for garden beds.  It comes in many different colors and fragrances, and blooms beautifully in early summer.  I like Lemon Thyme the best.  Thyme is drought tolerant, and can tolerate partial shade better than other herbs.  It responds well to cutting back, and needs to be cut back at least once a year to keep it growing fresh leaves.

Rosemary blooms with tiny blooms much loved by bees.

Rosemary blooms with tiny blooms much loved by bees.

Thyme can be enjoyed raw minced into green salads or vinaigrette salad dressings.  It is also good mixed into cream cheese and/or goat cheese, with some garlic, chives, freshly ground pepper and a little sea salt for a savory cheese spread on toast or crackers.  Thyme is a delicious addition to marinades.  Mix into lemon juice and olive oil with garlic, freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and a little Rosemary.  Toss with hunks of potato, carrot, onion, and mushrooms before roasting the vegetables.  This marinade can be used similarly for vegetable kabobs and grilled chicken.

If you have never grown herbs, these are the four with which to begin.  They grow happily in a pot beside your door, as long as that pot sits in the sun and gets water.  When you have a bit of sunny land, plant these reliable friends and clip them often for your cooking.

Parsley growing with Violas.

Parsley growing with Violas.

Sage and Rosemary help to deter deer, and so make good companions for plants which need protection.  Parsley is a wonderful host plant for butterflies, so plant enough to freely share.  It looks beautiful planted among Violas and will stay green all winter in Zone 7B and warmer.

Golden Sage in April growing with violas.

Golden Sage in April growing with violas.

Bees love to visit all of these herbs for nectar.  They can all be dried and kept in jars, if you must.  They can be infused into olive oil or wine vinegar for cooking and salads.  Add Sage and Rosemary to your Christmas wreath or swag, plant thyme in pots over your spring bulbs.  The possibilities go on and on.

Growing herbs links us to a very long tradition of gardeners.  These plants have changed little, if at all, from the herbs our distant ancestors grew.  We join a timeless community of gardeners and cooks when we make them a part of our everyday lives.

Thyme plants form a shaggy border for this bed.

Thyme plants form a shaggy border for this bed.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Bountiful Basil

African Blue basil

African Blue Basil

Basil, an annual herb, is beautiful, delicious, and very easy to grow.  It grows very quickly and can give a huge harvest of leaves over the season.  It is a favorite herb for all nectar loving insects, and goldfinches love its seeds.  Deer and rabbits avoid it because of its strong scent and flavor.

Basil growing beside a tomato plant.

Basil growing beside a tomato plant.

A sport of

A sport of Dark Opal Basil, mostly green with highlights of purple.

Basil, like tomatoes, enjoys warmth and sunshine.  It grows extremely well in Zone 7b once the weather has settled in spring and the nights stay above about 50F.  Like tomatoes, it is often offered in big box garden centers weeks before it can successfully grow outside.  It is better to be patient and plant tomatoes, Basil, peppers, squash, and other warmth loving annuals after spring has given way to summer.

A banded Tussock moth caterpillar is exploring the basil.  He prefers the leaves of trees, and will leave the basil intact.

A banded Tussock moth caterpillar is exploring the basil. He prefers the leaves of trees, and will leave the basil intact.

This year I started my seeds in early April, as usual, and was disappointed to watch the seedlings languishing week after week while waiting for the weather to warm.  They just refused to grow until the nights stayed warm, and our long cold spring set them back.  Eventually I gave in and bought beautifully grown basil plants at the garden center, but they also just sat and sulked until the weather was consistently warm.  Most years I find volunteer basil plants from seeds dropped during the previous summer, but not this year.

Because the seeds are so small, several seedlings generally grow in the same pot.  It is a good idea to gently pull them apart and space them out when transplanting, because each seedling has the potential to grow quite large and develop a big root system over the summer.  If left crowded together, none of the plants will fully develop.

Sweet Basil is commonly found in garden centers.  With a medium size leaf, it is a good to harvest for cooking.

Sweet Basil is commonly found in garden centers. With a medium size leaf, it is a good to harvest for cooking.

Basil is a fast grower. It should be planted in rich soil and then kept evenly moist.  Prepare the soil with a good dose of Espoma Tomato Tone whether growing in a pot or out in the garden.  Topdress Basil with a layer of finished compost, or even with coffee grounds, which are rich in nitrogen.  Tomatoes and basil both appreciate a handful of Epson salts (magnesium sulfide) sprinkled around their drip line when planted, and again every 6 weeks or so through the season.

African Blue basil is planted in a mixed bed of herbs and vegetables.

African Blue Basil is planted in a mixed bed of herbs and vegetables.

Basil roots easily along its stems, but should be planted at the same level, or only slightly deeper than it was growing in its nursery pot.  Seedlings can be planted a little deeper at transplant to develop a stronger root system.   Plants of most varieties should be at least 6 inches apart.  A single plant can easily fill out a 10” pot, and will appreciate the space.

Basil needs at least 6-8 hours of direct sun each day to grow well.  If the soil dries out too much, the Basil will begin to droop.  When this happens, water well.  The plant will generally recover.  It is smart to grow basil in a large enough pot that it will survive a day in the hot summer sun without needing an afternoon watering.

Basil can be grown alone, as a companion to tomatoes and other vegetables, or as a companion to flowers.  It has a beneficial relationship with tomatoes and peppers.  If allowed to flower, the tiny flowers draw a variety of carnivorous insects, including tiny wasps which will eat insects feeding on other vegetable plants.  The insects visiting the basil will also stop over to help pollinate the tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, and other vegetable plants nearby.  Basil will grow well planted around the stem of a tomato plant, and will cover its “bare legs” to make the pot or bed more attractive.

Basil with heliotrope

Basil with heliotrope

Most people grow basil for its leaves, although the flowers are beautiful.  All parts of the plant are edible and fragrant.  Basil flowers are pretty enough to use as cut flowers in little arrangements with roses, Cosmos, Zinnias, and other summer flowers.  Many varieties of basil have gorgeous leaves which make great filler foliage in flower arrangements.  A gift of such an arrangement is a gift that keeps on giving.  Remind the recipient to keep the water fresh long enough for the basil to root, cut off the flowers once they fade, and then plant the stem.

Basil is a good filler in flower arrangements.  Its interesting flowers and foliage work well with other garden flowers.

Basil is a good filler in flower arrangements. Its interesting flowers and foliage work well with other garden flowers.

A Basil plant will of course channel most of its energy into the flowers, and then into seed production.   It is wise to remove the flower stalks frequently to keep the plant producing leaves.

A newly planted Purple Ruffles Basil grows beside a rose and white sage.  Basil grows well beside roses.

A newly planted Purple Ruffles Basil grows beside a rose and white sage. Basil grows well beside roses.

When harvesting basil, cut of an entire stem back to just above a leaf node.  New stems and leaves will grow from the main stem above that leaf.  If you remove all but the top few leaves from the stem you harvest, you can put it into a jar of water and expect roots to form within a week or so.  This new basil plant is ready to pot up and will mature in just a few weeks.  By harvesting frequently, and cutting to just above a pair of leaves, a plant will stay productive for months.

The flowers have faded and seeds are beginning to form on this Basil.  The goldfinches have already found it and visit to harvest the seeds.

The flowers have faded and seeds are beginning to form on this Basil. The goldfinches have already found it and visit to harvest the seeds.

By the end of summer most basil plants will have grown some flower stalks and set seed.  Goldfinches love basil seeds, and I often see them landing on the flowers stalks and eating the tiny seeds right out of their cases.  Before the birds get all of the seed, make sure to harvest some yourself to start plants next year.  Choose your favorite plants, and watch the flower stalk carefully after the flowers fade.  You’ll see the casings darken when the seeds are ripe.  You can sprinkle these on the ground where you want plants next year, or take the seeds inside and keep them in a labeled envelope in a cool place until next spring.

Basil with Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

Basil with Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.  More views here.

 

Basil is a culinary herb used most frequently in cooking Italian dishes.  It is delicious fresh, dried or frozen.  Different cultivars have slightly different flavors.  There is Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, and a whole range of regular Basils from mild to very pungent.

My favorite way to prepare Basil is in pesto.  This requires at least 2 cups of basil leaves.  I tend to grow the large leaved varieties, like Genovese, because it offers enough leaves to make pesto frequently.

This little Genovese basil, started from seed, is finally taking off in early July.  It is planted here with thyme and parsley.

This little Genovese Basil, started from seed, is finally taking off in early July. It is planted here with thyme and parsley.

Pick the leaves off of the cut stems, wash them, pat dry, and pack into the bowl of a food processor along with 1 or more large cloves of garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheese (about ½ c. to 2 c. leaves), 1/4 c. of toasted pine nuts or walnuts, 1 tsp. of salt, and about ½ c. of extra virgin light olive oil.  Puree, streaming in more oil until the pesto reaches the consistency you prefer.  Good additions to this pesto are dried tomatoes, capers, or oil cured olives.  This is a very personal recipe, and the amounts should be adjusted to suit your taste and purpose.

African Blue basil grows into a large shrub which holds its own with Zinnias and Rosemary.

African Blue Basil grows into a large shrub which holds its own with Zinnias and Rosemary.

Pesto is wonderful spread on crostini, mixed with freshly cooked pasta; spread on pizza dough and topped with cheese; used as a dip; or spread on a sandwich. It is especially good spread on the bun of a veggie burger, mixed with a little mayo.  It is also a delicious garnish for soups.  Any extra can be stored in a small jar in the refrigerator topped with ¼ of olive oil to prevent the basil from browning.  It can also be spooned into cupcake papers, frozen, and then the frozen portions moved to a zip top bag for long term freezing.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A simpler way to freeze Basil is similar.  Prepare the leaves and puree with only salt and olive oil.  Transfer to a gallon size freezer bag, zip the bag nearly shut, and lay the bag flat on a counter.  Gently flatten the pureed Basil into a layer ½ ” thick or less, press the air out of the bag, seal, and freeze lying flat.  When you’re ready to use the basil, open the bag and break off the portion you need for cooking, returning the remainder to the freezer.

Large basil leaves are also excellent on sandwiches.  A good sandwich starts with a sliced baguette  spread with mayonnaise or cream cheese.  Cover one side of the bread with Basil leaves, and the other with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.  Lay large slices of fresh tomato on the basil leaves, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy.

This basil grew from a seed dropped the summer before.

This Lettuce Leaf Basil grew from a seed dropped the summer before.

Basil leaves can be dried, crumbled, and stored in an air tight container for use all winter.  Leaves can be added to herbal tea mixtures, and you can make Basil vinegar.  There are complex vinegar recipes out there, but I simply buy store brand red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar) at the grocery store, remove the top, add several branches of Basil, reseal the jar, and allow the basil to steep in the dark pantry for several weeks.  You can remove the Basil and replace with a fresh sprig for gift-giving, or simply remove the herb, label the bottle, and keep it in your pantry for use in salad dressing and cooking.  Basil vinegar makes a wonderful Greek style dressing mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little sugar.  I often add one or two peeled cloves of garlic to the bottle along with the basil.

There are many more ways to cook with Basil.  Citrus scented basil can be added to lemonade, hot or iced tea, steeped in fruit juice and then frozen into sorbet, or steeped in warm milk to flavor ice cream.  Please share your favorite uses for basil as a comment to this post.

Herbalists will tell you that Basil can be used medicinally to calm the nerves and settle the stomach.  Maybe that is why it is so popular as a culinary herb!  Many of the wisest physicians advise that that good food is the best medicine.  Basil is certainly good food for all of the senses.

Dark opal basil

Dark Opal Basil

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