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

 

 

August 19, 2014 lavender 032

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

*

 Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Which Herb Is It?

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 027

Do you know this herb?

I knew it only from books on herbs until I purchased a start and began growing it three years ago.

A lovely plant, it is drought tolerant, shrugs off the full summer sun, is never touched by deer, blooms with lovely purpley pink flowers, and is a powerful tool for healing.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 030

This herb is very useful in an organic garden.  Perennial, it develops extremely deep roots.  The roots “mine” the minerals of the soil well below the depth most roots will penetrate.  These minerals  are deposited in the leaves.  The leaves may be cut, on established plants, several times each season and used for healing or to improve the soil.

Left to steep in rainwater for a few weeks, the leaves  make a nutritious organic fertilizer tea.  Added to compost, they activate the microbial action and speed the “cooking” of the compost.  Used as mulch directly on the soil, they feed the plant they are mulching as they decompose.

May 5 2014 garden 044

Common names for this plant include “bone knit” and “bruise heal.”

The powerful healing compounds speed cell repair and healing when applied topically.  This herb is a frequent ingredient in herbal healing ointments, and may be simply wrapped around an injured area of the body to heal a cut, bruise,  burn, or other injury.

Although there are medicinal  uses which include ingesting parts of this plant, these are somewhat controversial and must be prepared by a qualified herbal healer.  As with many medicines, a little helps, a lot can do significant harm.  Please consult a good herbal medical practitioner or manual before using this herb medicinally.

Also, wear gloves when harvesting this herb as the hairs on leaves and stems can irritate the skin.

Plant in spring in a well prepared bed with moist soil.  Ammend the soil with plenty of nitrogen, including manure, to keep this herb happy.  Don’t harvest until the second year.

This plant spreads with underground rhizomes, and will take a large area of the garden when allowed.  I dug up many divisions this year to establish it in new ares.  It is a hardy herb, and needs little care after the first year.

Do you know this herb?

May 5 2014 garden 041

It is Comfrey, Symphytum officinale.  Please remember this is a medicinal herb, but is never intended to be eaten.  It can be poisonous if eaten in quantity.  Which is one reason I’m spreading it around the sunny areas of our garden.

This is another plant that deer, rabbits, voles, and other hungry creatures will not touch.

Bees love it, and it attracts butterflies and beautiful moths.  It is an entertaining plant to grow where you can watch the constant traffic to its flowers.

This is an herb generally only available from herbal nurseries.  It can be difficult to find a start to establish in your garden.  The more popular cultivars aren’t available as seed because they are hybrids, and may only be produced from divisions.

But it is an herb well worth growing for its beauty, hardiness, and its healing properties.  If you grow herbs, please get to know the beautiful Comfrey plant.

 

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 072

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Doing Little Bits

VAriegated Lemon Thyme will hold part of the bank with its dense foliage and roots.

Variegated Lemon Thyme will hold part of the bank with its dense foliage and roots.

Today has been another day of weeding, spreading compost, planting, and delighting in bits of perennial poking up through the warming soil.

Each newly emerging Echinacea, Monarda, and Comfrey merits a quiet celebration that winter is behind us now, and spring unfolding.

Comfrey leaves emerge from an herb bed.  Their leaves are medicinal, and their flowers area great favorite with both bees and butterflies.  Several of these will be transplanted soon.  Comfrey spreads with underground stems.

Comfrey leaves emerge from an herb bed. Their leaves are medicinal, and their flowers area great favorite with both bees and butterflies. Several of these will be transplanted soon. Comfrey spreads with underground stems.

Finding a dead looking stick poking out of the Earth, with a small cluster of dark green leaves emerging at its base, brings quiet satisfaction that another hardy plant has survived to grow for another summer.

Once these little bits of green emerge, they grow so very quickly.  The change is apparent from day to day, as they grow, branch, and set buds for another season.

I worked today on some informal herb and perennial beds terraced on the slope behind our butterfly and hummingbird garden.  Several large Lilac shrubs, just opening their flowers, anchor these long narrow beds.

Our Josee lilacs rebloom several times during the summer.  This potted one will move out to the garden after it blooms.  Several others just like it anchor the beds on our hillside.

Our Josee lilacs rebloom several times during the summer.   This potted one will move out to the garden after it blooms. Several others just like it anchor the beds on our hillside.

I’ve been digging them into the hillside bit by bit over the last few years, planting sturdy shrubs, iris, and herbs whose roots will hold this hillside in place and whose blooms will attract every butterfly in the county.

Now I’m hoping to find some milkweed plants to work into this area as hosts for Monarch butterflies.  There is already bronze fennel growing.

Bronze fennel is an important host plant for swallowtail butterflies.  This newly emerged herb will grow to 4' or more tall by lae summer.

Bronze fennel is an important host plant for swallowtail butterflies. This newly emerged herb will grow to 4′ or more tall by late summer.

I’ve planted additional parsley this year, and I broadcast dill seeds last year.  Although many butterflies lay their eggs on hardwood trees, like the Tulip Poplar, parsley, dill,and fennel host the swallowtail butterflies which animate our garden for months each summer.

Parsley for the butterflies.

Parsley for the butterflies.

Host plants are a very important part of any butterfly garden and help insure that our butterfly populations are maintained or increased year to year.

Now, as we are adding plants for the new season, is an important time to consider how our  choice of plants can  contribute to the health of our environment.

This catmint can be divided into several clumps and replanted on the hillside.  A hardy perennial, like any mint, it will spread to cover large areas.  Bees love its blue flowers.

This catmint can be divided into several clumps and replanted on the hillside. A hardy perennial, like any mint, it will spread to cover large areas. Bees love its blue flowers.

My partner and I have been keenly interested in the data on climate change released by the UN over this past weekend.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe is higher now than it has ever been in the last 800,000 years.

Carbon in the atmosphere contributes to our planet’s rising surface temperature.  An increase of only two degrees Celsius will re-shape our landmasses as coastal areas flood.

Another culinary sage, or Salvial officinalis.  This purple cultivar is especially hardy and easy to grow.

Another culinary sage, or Salvial officinalis. This purple cultivar is especially hardy and easy to grow.

Although the problem is vast, and will take planet wide cooperation to fully address, each of us can do a little bit to help.  If all of us will do a little bit, then all of us together can make a tremendous positive difference.

All plant life, from algae growing in a pond to the beautiful Cedars of Lebanon, continuously draw carbon out of the air.

I found this patch of Monarda emerging today.  Its flowers will be covered in bees and butterflies for several months this summer.

I found this patch of Monarda emerging today. Its flowers will be covered in bees and butterflies for several months this summer.

The basic process of creating food from sunlight requires carbon dioxide and water.  Plants convert these compounds into sugar, storing the sugar in each and every cell.  The  products of this process are pure oxygen and water vapor.

This means that everything we plant, whether a tree  or a marigold flower, will help scrub carbon dioxide out of the air;while producing pure oxygen for us to breathe.  Isn’t this an elegant plan?

Lanbs Ears, another hardy perennial, brightens the garden from late winter through autumn.  When it blooms, its purple flowers will be alive with hungry bees.

Lambs Ears, another hardy perennial, brightens the garden from late winter through autumn.  I love its silvery foliage throughout the season.  When it blooms, its purple flowers will be alive with hungry bees.

We lose so many large trees each year.  Some are lost to logging or to clearing land for new shopping centers, roads, neighborhoods, and agriculture.

A male cardinal surveys his garden.

A male cardinal surveys his garden.

Other trees are lost to storms or disease.  If each of us can counterbalance this by planting even one tree each year, it can make a tremendous difference or our environment.

Not only do trees scrub huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they offer cool shade.  Their roots hold the soil against erosion.

April 9 2014 buds 015

Those of us fortunate enough to have land where we can plant trees can certainly add a tree to our yards.  Those without space to plant can contribute to organizations dedicated to rebuilding forests around the world.

Every little action from each of us adds up to a mighty effort towards healing our planet. 

The trees have finally begun to open their leaves in our garden.

The trees have finally begun to open their leaves in our garden.

There are many organizations involved in reforestation.  One particularly interesting one is the  Eden Reforestation Projects.

But today, I wasn’t doing anything so grand as planting a tree.  Rather, I was pulling weeds, building the soil with compost, and planting herbs.

Artemesia is another silvery perennial important in the garden.  Another drought tolerant herb, it shines at twilight.

Artemesia is another silvery perennial important in the garden. Another drought tolerant herb, it shines at twilight.

I planted parsley, sage  and thyme today, and some marigolds.  Every little bit we do makes a difference.

The garden is still looking rather unimpressive.

The little lemon thyme now grows at the base of a fig tree, partnered with a culinary sage,  Salvia officinalis"Berggarten."  The sage will grow to

The little lemon thyme now grows at the base of a fig tree, partnered with a culinary sage, Salvia officinalis”Berggarten.” The sage will grow to about 2′ by late summer.

There are still leaves lying about, and the little wild strawberries would gladly re-take our hillside given the chance.  Their dense mats hold the soil.

The little strawberries they produce feed our birds.  And yes, even the little weedy wild strawberries filter carbon out of the air, and do their little bit to make our planet a better place to live.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

This hypertufa stepping stone made its debut in the garden today.

This hypertufa stepping stone made its debut in the garden today.

 

First Signs of Spring

January 16 new growth 023

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly beginning its winter bloom.

It began snowing this morning soon after I “got up for good.” 

Yesterday sunrise brought fog and gentle rain, but no snow.  Today the sun hid behind thick clouds as curtains of snow fell across the garden.

Yesterday sunrise brought fog and gentle rain, but no snow. Today the sun hid behind thick clouds as curtains of snow fell across the garden.

It was our first snow of the season, although promises and hints have lingered in our weather forecasts for weeks now.

Lichens growing on a budding Azalea branch.

Lichens growing on a budding Azalea branch.

When I couldn’t sleep in the wee dark early hours, there was no trace of snow yet.  But it looked really cold outside.  The cat didn’t mind; and he ran out, given the opportunity; not suspecting that I was going to fall back to sleep on the couch, leaving him out in the cold.

Heuchera

Heuchera sprouting new leaves

Sure enough, when next I awoke, it was brighter, but a thin mix of snow and rain had begun.  Ollie was parked at the back door, huddled as close to the house as possible, trying desperately to speak loudly enough to summon me.  He shot inside as soon as the door opened a crack, with all the force a very large, frosty cat can muster.

I couldn’t be sure whether the ensuing mewing was in appreciation or complaint.  He eventually settled in sullen silence in his current favorite spot under the table, and pretended to ignore any further conversation about the snow.

Lamb's Ears have begun to grow

Lamb’s Ears have begun to grow

Our first snow of the season soon filled the sky and the garden with beautiful plump snowflakes.

Fingers of Daffodil leaves have begun to push up through the mud.

Fingers of Daffodil leaves have begun to push up through the mud.

It only gathered here and there on leaves, branches, and porch furniture, since it wasn’t frosty enough this morning for snow to stick to the ground or street…  But, it kept falling  in generous curtains as I made coffee and cooked oatmeal, answered phone calls and got dressed for the day.

Buds have finally appeared on the Hellebore.

Buds have finally appeared on the Hellebores.

And in honor of our first snow, we went out to search for signs of spring. 

It is only fitting.  Now that we are deeply into our Virginia winter, past the holidays, and settled into a run of cold damp days and colder nights; I knew that signs of spring had to be lurking for anyone in search of them.

Hellebore

Hellebore

Snowflakes were still falling here and there, much more slowly than they had been, when we finally ventured out.  The snow had already passed us according to the satellite maps on TV, but the truth of it fluttered down around us in brilliant, white puffy flakes.

Buds have appeared on the stalks of last summer's daisy.

Buds have appeared on the stalks of last summer’s daisy.

I’ve been keeping a close eye out looking for Hellebores buds to poke up through the cold Earth, and watching for the first probing green fingers of  green to rise out of the mud where I remember bulbs are planted.

And so I began my rounds of the garden to see what I could see.

Hellebore coming into bud.

Hellebore coming into bud.

It takes a degree of discipline to overlook the stubby chewed off foliage of a savaged Viola, root ball lying exposed on the soil, to rejoice in the bit of Daffodil leaf poking out of the ground nearby.  But I was determined to find and record new beginnings today.

Apple mint begins to grow in its pot.

Apple mint begins to grow in its pot.

Today is a new beginning for our first granddaughter, born last night a little after 7 PM Pacific time.  She came into the world happy, healthy, and absolutely beautiful.  She has an engaging smile right from the beginning.  Her face carries  the contented wisdom of the very very young,  and the very old.   A safe and timely birth, happy parents, loving families; we are so appreciative for all the blessings that come with our newest member of the family.

Mahonia blossoms begin to open their bright yellow flowers.

Mahonia blossoms begin to open their bright yellow flowers.

And in her honor, we are convinced, the sky opened  this morning and greeted us with a fresh snowfall.

Melted snowflakes cling to the lavender.

Melted snowflakes cling to the lavender.

As a new life begins in our family, I went in search of the beginnings of new life in the garden.  And I was greeted with an unexpected richness of beauty.

January 16 new growth 027

Buds are swelling; bulbs are making their appearance; new leaves uncurling here and there; and even Forsythia is tentatively opening a bright yellow flower.  Forsythia blooming in mid-January… imagine that!  Even the moss and lichens, always winter companions, are vibrantly green and alive.  They have been enjoying all the rain.

The first Forsythia blossoms of spring time open tentatively along bare branches.

The first Forsythia blossoms of spring time open tentatively along bare branches.

And so it begins.  The first signs of spring from the depths of winter. 

New leaves sprout on a Heuchera munched by the deer around Christmas time.

New leaves sprout on a Heuchera munched by the deer around Christmas time.

I tucked the root balls of Viola back into the bed, bringing moist Earth up around them.  I covered the exposed Iris rhizomes, with their tiny green leaves poking out around the edges, and made a mental note to bring some garlic cloves out to guard the tiny plants for the rest of winter.  So far garlic cloves are working where I’ve left them in the pots near the house, grazed by deer over the holidays.

A young Hellebore, too young to blooms, thrives in this bed of fern and Daffodils.

A young Hellebore, still too young to bloom, thrives in this bed of fern and Daffodils.

The Violas look like they are beginning to recover, although flowers won’t appear again for another several weeks.  They will be lovely again by March, when spring will be firmly settled all across the garden.

Shelf fungi

Shelf fungi look like sculpture growing in the edge of the ravine.

It is wise to honor and take notice of the beginnings of things.  The more we watch, the more we learn.  The more we know, the more we can appreciate the wonder and magic of it all.

Moss, ivy, and lichens grow at the base of an old Beech tree.

Moss, ivy, and lichens grow at the base of an old Beech tree.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

January 16 new growth 032

Do the difficult things while they are easy
and do the great things while they are small.
A journey of a thousand miles
must begin with a single step.
Lao Tzu

Surprises

July 11 2013 garden 020Every walk through the garden brings surprises.

Munched parsley looks like its dying back.

Munched parsley looks like it’s dying back.

A mystery vine growing out of the fern garden.  Look like some kind of squash- a surprise volunteer.

A mystery vine growing out of the fern garden. Look like some kind of squash- a surprise volunteer.

Sometimes the surprises are good ones:  ripe figs to pick, a rose bloom opened, an unusual butterfly, a damaged shrub sending out new growth.  Sometimes the surprises are disappointing:  a sage plant turned brown from too much rain, a whole network of new vole holes to crush, a fig tree bending over double from the weight of its crop, a bed full of grass and weeds that need pulling- again.

A blue dragonfly resting on a faded Buddleia blossom.

A blue dragonfly resting on a faded Buddleia blossom.

A beautiful caterpillar has been munching the parsley.  He will soon join the butterflies living in the garden.

A beautiful caterpillar has been munching the parsley. He will soon join the butterflies living in the garden.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana.

Gardeners learn to celebrate the happy surprises,  fix the disappointing ones, and move on.  Our world is in continual flux.

The Dharma, or path in Buddhism, is based in  realization of impermanence.  As we tend our gardens, we see the nature of impermanence and change every day.  An attitude of  non- attachment, as difficult as that tends to be, allows us to appreciate the beautiful while letting the disappoints go.  We eventually understand that the degree of suffering we experience from our disappointments is based on our attachment to what is lost, or damaged.

Sometimes transforming a disappointment into a joy comes with looking more closely.

Deer grazed all of the leaves from this jalapeno pepper plant, but left the peppers and the ocra growing behind it.

Deer grazed all of the leaves from this jalapeno pepper plant, but left the peppers and the okra growing behind it.

Sometimes, it only asks us to see a problem as an opportunity for growth.

Three massive oaks went down in a storm this June.

Three massive oaks went down in a storm this June.

This season has been a particularly hard one for many.  We have week upon week of record rainfall, floods, wind, and oppressive heat in some areas; drought, wildfires, hail, and late snowfall in others.  So many have lost everything in the wild weather patterns wracking our planet.

I remember those who sustain themselves and their families on what they grow.  I remember those who have lost the beauty of their gardens and the harvest of their fields and greenhouses in a single storm, and hope they have the heart and the means to clean it up, replant, and continue along their path.

butterfly bush

Butterfly bush, planted last spring and then lost in the fencing and assumed dead, survived and offers up its very first bloom.

As gardeners we continue to walk in beauty, to appreciate the gifts of our gardens, to fix what can be fixed, tend what must be tended, and share our love with those around us.   And, above all, we continue to believe that more beautiful and happy surprises await, on our next walk through our garden.

A fig tree, crushed by an oak and nearly destroyed in Hurricane Irene has recovered and is bearing figs again.

A fig tree, crushed by an oak and nearly destroyed in Hurricane Irene has recovered and is bearing a plentiful crop this season.

Coleus, a gift from a friend last summer, survived winter in the garage and is thriving again.

Coleus, a gift from a friend last summer, survived winter in the garage and is thriving again.

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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