A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Archive for the ‘Herb Garden’ Category

The Only Color I See Outside Is In My Own Backyard.

The butterfly garden is doing well, with my help.  I water it a couple of times a week and that seems to help the plants keep flowering.  The rudbeckia have been covered with blooms for the past couple of months now, while the homestead verbena continues to really branch out into a nice ground cover.  The lantana is fine with the heat and is a big attraction to butterflies.  On the left below, the Spanish lavender is getting ready for a second show of blooms this year.

While the milkweed I planted almost all died, spontaneous plants from last year’s seeds have popped up everywhere around the yard.   They, too, have attracted quite a few Queen butterflies and fritillaries.  Below is the stone path with pillars of milkweed growing between as well as sweet alyssum, which, to my surprise, continues to live and flower despite the heat.  I planted them in March, I believe, and I expect them to last through to the frost.

The chives are putting on quite a show of flowers and a buffet for the honeybees, wasps and gray hairstreaks.

I keep the feathered guests happy with daily offerings of seed and fresh water.  The finches and cardinals really love coming by, as well as doves and blackbirds.  And the anoles have their run of the place since the birds are well fed.  They, too, love the sun.

I have started the fall garden in hopes that the weather doesn’t kill off everything.  I have several tomato and pepper plants, as well as a couple rows of bush beans sowed.  I’ll be starting the carrots, spinach and broccoli in the coming month and then lettuce for the winter garden.  I can’t wait for cooler weather…

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Basil Loves Texas Heat

It’s true, basil thrives in hot, dry conditions that make other plants – even heat- and drought-resistant plants wilt.

It’s going to be 109 degrees tomorrow – what I think is our 70th day above 100 degrees and a new all-time record.  The grass looks like hay.  The spring veggie garden is long-perished.   The bare bones of milkweed plants stand in clumps along the fence.  Huge black cracks are forming in the ground, with small sections giving way to darkness below.   It is a terrible sight out there.

cracks in the ground...

Yet the two basil plants I have are loving life. As you can see, they’re bushy and full of aromatic, delectable basil leaves.  There’s enough for us to use fresh throughout the season without worrying about hurting the plants.  In fact, the more we use, the more it grows.  I continue to pick the top leaves off of the plants.  By doing so, I keep the plant from flowering and going to seed.  This ensures that the plant will continue to focus energy on producing more leaves and keeps the oils in the leaves at a higher concentration.  I water this box every few days and the marjoram really prefers the shade offered by the basil bushes.

Walking in the Garden and Enjoying Life

We have a small yard and a small garden, but I love to take walks through the garden and take close looks at the plants I have growing there.  There’s always something new that keeps me interested and reminds me why I started gardening in the first place – I enjoy growing things!  Yeah, there’s never a lot going on in the garden and what ever does happen does so at the pace of flowers, bees and snails, but that’s another reason for the garden.  It has become a quiet, meditative spot to reconnect with nature.    Slowly, the garden has grown from an herb garden to a few flowering plants, to a vegetable garden, a butterfly garden and I keep adding plants.  My wife jokes with me saying that I’m addicted to planting stuff.  I can think of a thousand other things that are more harmfully addictive, so I  don’t think (and really, SHE doesn’t either) that that’s a bad thing!

I thought I’d share some of the garden with you today.   Tomorrow, I’ll share a little bit more.  There’s just too much to write about and photos to share to put it all in one post!

Starting at the veggie bed, the continued growth is easy to see.  The cantaloupe is working its way up the trellis I made a week and a half ago.  Every morning, a new batch of bright yellow flowers open up, which brings in the bees and wasps.  If you can believe it, all of these vines (except for the little bit on the far left of the photograph – that is cucumber) are from one cantaloupe plant.  I’m having a hard time believing it myself!

the cantaloupe a week and a half ago

cantaloupe trellis Sunday - click to enlarge

Walking around the corner of the house to the back door, the few flagstones I put by the back stoop have sweet alyssum and yellow thyme between them.  The dainty white flowers just keep going and going.  I’m not sure how long alyssum will last in the coming months, but they make a lovely addition to the garden – one that the bees really like.  The stones keep us from trampling the grass and making a dirty/muddy mess.  If I had my way, I’d put a lot more down and maybe add some stepping stones, too, around the yard.

flagstones and alyssum - click to enlarge

sweet alyssum - click to enlarge

Right past the back stoop, the herb garden is overflowing with chives, oregano and parsley.  If you look really closely, you can even see some thyme sticking out between the chives.  In the pot on the right is some spearmint and the pot on the left, against the wall, is peppermint.  In the other pot on the left, I have stevia growing.  I take a leaf of peppermint and a small piece of stevia and chew them together for a peppermint candy-tasting treat.  They are wonderful steeped together in tea and do not require any sugar.  In fact, as I write this, I have a little indigestion and that sounds like a great calming tonic.

herb garden 5/1/11 - click to enlarge

The parsley is over three feet tall and blooming crazily.  It attracts myriad flying insects including flies, wasps, bees, yellow jackets and more.  They all love its sweet nectar, which is why I leave it there.  The black swallowtails do not seem very interested in it so far this year.

parsley flowering - click to enlarge

The Greek oregano is standing about 18″ tall now and the first flower clusters have started to open.  They will also be a welcome treat for winged friends of the garden.  I’ll let them flower until they’ve had enough, then trim them back to within several inches of the ground.  Oregano leaves are great when dried – even stronger than fresh – so I’ll be sure to hang the leaves to dry and bottle them for later use.

Greek oregano flowering - click to enlarge

Last year, I had only three chive plants and I used them so much that they really didn’t get very big.  This year, I decided to plant six of them.  I still use them regularly, but they are so prolific that they far surpass my needs!  They do, however, make a nice border and I should send up bright pink flowers as we get further into the warmer months.  I’m anxious about that.  The flying insects really love chive blossoms, and they’re also wonderful to eat.  I’m going to make chive blossom vinegar with some of them when the time is right and I’ll be sure to share that with my readers on the blog.  Suffice it to say for now that the wonderful pink color of the blossoms bleeds out into the vinegar and imparts its characteristically mild, garlicky-onion flavor.   This is a great base to make homemade dressing or as a splash of flavor in chicken marinades.

garlic chives - click to enlarge

stevia (a.k.a. sweet leaf) - click to enlarge

The rosemary bushes are getting so big.  Now that the farmer’s market is going here in Round Rock, maybe I should trim them back and share some with the community.  There really is so much to go around!  It is such an easy plant to maintain, it grows year round and is one of my favorite herbs for flavoring!   Pictured here is the prostrate rosemary bush, not the typical variety for cooking … the one I use for cooking is the Tuscan Blue cultivar (rosemary officinalis).  The rosemary bushes are part of my herb garden, but I have them planted right in the middle of the butterfly garden.  Where they’re located, the wind constantly whips through them, stirring up the delightful smell of rosemary and wafts it through the yard.

prostrate rosemary - click to enlarge

Come back to the garden tomorrow for updates on the butterfly garden!

Insect Life in the Garden

We are thankful for the bit of rain we received!  I must admit, however, that the prediction of large hail and super strong winds had me just a tad bit worried.  I was awakened at 4:15 Monday morning by thunder and wind.  As I lay in bed, I thought about my poor plants  and imagined them being shredded by hail.  Luckily, we didn’t get any hail.  I still kept myself awake for about forty-five minutes worrying about them, though!  The plants will just be stronger for all the wind, I concluded.  In the morning, I did a quick check of the garden plants and everything looked alright.  I was relieved.

Now let me go back a few days.

My milkweed cuttings arrived last Thursday and I put them in the ground Saturday morning.  I was so busy working in the garden that I entirely forgot an appointment I had scheduled at 9AM.  Oh well, it was more important to get those cuttings in some dirt, right?  Besides, I was able to reschedule the appointment, so no harm done.  🙂   Back to the milkweed.  I have ten plants (of thirty-two) that made it through the winter.   With these new cuttings, I have thirty plants that are well on their way.  In addition to these plants, I have eighteen of nineteen milkweed seeds that germinated, so I have almost fifty milkweed plants this year for the monarchs in my butterfly garden.  Most of the seedlings I germinated have at least two true leaves right now, but I’ll let them mature another couple of weeks before putting them into the ground.  I doubt anyone can say that I’m not doing my part to help the monarch population back from their severe loss in 2002!  (80% of the monarchs overwintering in Mexico died that year due to freezing temperatures.)

Milkweed cuttings awaiting transplant

While I haven’t seen any monarchs yet, I did see quite a few pearl crescent, cloudless sulphur, skipper and buckeye butterflies over the weekend.  The pearl crescent butterflies seemed to enjoy the yellow flowers of wild oxalis that I dodged with my mower.  I’m glad that I left them.  (As an aside, yellow oxalis is an edible, herbaceous plant that is very high in Vitamin C and has tangy flavor.)  The sulphur and skipper butterflies danced through the yard, landing on the Four Nerve Daisies and verbena.   The buckeye was content just to warm itself on the rocks.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get any good photos.  It was also VERY windy, so the few that I did take just didn’t come out sharp enough for my liking.   In addition to these guests, an unseen visitor left her traces for me on the dill plants.  I found a couple of first or second instar Black Swallowtail caterpillars feasting away, as well as a couple of unhatched eggs.

I was successful taking photos of honey bees, flies, bumble bees and even a lady beetle.  The honey bees were really loving the thyme flowers, while the bumble bees seemed to dine exclusively on the salvia greggii.  I chased a honey bee to the gaura bushes before it flew off.  At that precise moment, however, lady beetle flew by and landed on the gaura bush.  She kept me distracted for awhile.  I watched her feed on the nectar of the gaura flowers.  Then she hunted down and devoured several aphids before she suddenly became aware of me and darted down into the dense leaves at the base of the plant.  Here are some of those photos.

Click on the photos to view them in a larger size (1500×1000 pixels):

fly on Four-Nerve daisy

baby Black Swallowtail caterpillar

Black Swallowtail butterfly egg on dill plant

European honey bee on thyme

bumble bee on salvia greggii - love his eyes!!

Lady Beetle on faded bloom of Whirling Butterfly gaura

suckin' down some aphid

holding an aphid corpse in her legs

death comes swiftly to these little aphids

a second after the previous shot - walking over the aphids lifeless body

It was a beautiful weekend – even despite the high winds – and I not only got a lot of work done in the garden, I actually had time to sit down and enjoy it for awhile, too.  That’s something I don’t do often enough.  I’m too busy working and running around with a camera!  🙂   My wife, daughter and dog joined me and we sat out there until the sun went down.  It was very relaxing.

my dog soaking up the last rays of Saturday

sunset through the fence

In the Garden 3.26.11

I have finished transplanting all of the veggies for the spring garden.  In my little plot, I have 2 tomatoes (celebrity and early girl), 2 bell pepper (green, cal wonder), 2 jalapeno, 2 habanero, 2 cucumber, 1 squash (yellow crookneck), 1 zucchini, 1 watermelon (crimson) and 1 cantaloupe.   Right now there is quite a bit of space between the plants in the 4′ x 8′ plot, but I’m sure space will be a premium in a couple short months.  I totally forgot to take photos, so I’ll have to update the blog later this week with pictures.

The herb garden is also expanded this year.  Throughout the garden, I now have:  1 culinary sage, 5 parsley, 2 dill, 2 fennel, 2 tarragon, 3 oregano, 4 thyme, 6 chives, 2 rosemary and 2 basil plants.    Sadly, my marjoram plant from last fall died, so I’ll have to get another one.  I’ve found that growing herbs is a very worthwhile investment.  We use a lot of herbs.  In fact, we use one or more of these herbs on a daily basis, so having them at our fingertips is quite helpful.  From a cost perspective, organic herbs at the grocery store can run between $4 and $6/jar.   If I buy fresh, organic herbs cost about $3 for a small handful.  By the time they reach the store, they aren’t always in the best condition either.  Having our own garden means we have our own fresh herbs whenever we need them.  If we want, we can also dry sprigs to put in jars for later use.  Most of the plants cost less than $3 each, and will produce many harvests – many will produce over a number of seasons because they are very hardy.   They are also very low maintenance plants that are fairly drought resistant.  If you are new to gardening, I really recommend starting an herb garden.

I’m happy to report that the lantana plant, which I feared dead, has sprouted some nubs of green growth.  Thanks, Carolyn, for urging me to give it more time.  It’s a few weeks behind the other bush right next to it, but should catch up quickly.

I have a few milkweed seeds that have germinated.  The rest of them should be coming up soon, too.  I’ll let them grow for about four weeks before I transplant them in their final destination along the northern fence line.  It looks like I have about ten that made it through the winter and have another twenty cuttings on order, so I should have a total of about forty to fifty total plants in bloom by mid-summer.

The four-nerve daisy plant is going crazy!  I can tell it’s ecstatic that spring has arrived!  Can you?

My wife has a pot of amaryllis bulbs we’ve been meaning to separate into different pots for some time now.  She got them from her grandmother in Houston, who’s been holding on to them for years.  Before that, they came from my wife’s great-grandmother’s garden.  (If we have a girl in May, we’ll give the baby my wife’s great-grandmother’s name, Eve, as well as my mother’s maiden name, Rose.)  Although we haven’t separated the bulbs, we are happy to say that one of them has started blooming this spring.   Is this her way of saying she approves??  We’d love to think so!  I still hold out hope for a boy … 🙂

There’s really not much else to report.  I had some fun photographing a hoverfly that seemed to really enjoy the euryops flowers, spending the better part of an hour flitting from flower to flower.  He was wary of me and often hovered just above me as I readjusted myself to take photos.  I sure wish I had a macro lens to get in really close and capture more detail.  These are the best I could come up with!


Out of the Old Comes the New

It is hard to believe that it has been four months since my last post.  Life has been really busy.  The holidays, the loss of my grandfather, getting ready for the baby who’s scheduled to arrive at the end of May … so many things and very little time for gardening.  Good thing there’s not much to do over the winter in the garden!

The past two weekends I have spent a considerable amount of time in the yard straightening up after the winter, getting things ready for spring planting and installing a new garden bed.   We had such a dry fall and winter that the yard really was in poor shape.  I lost a crop of broccoli as well as lettuce due to the hard freezes.   I should have covered them and mulched better, but I really thought they’d do alright.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Luckily, the spinach fared alright through it all as did the carrots and we enjoyed the harvests.  The spinach is finishing up now – literally going to seed as I write this.

Bloomsdale spinach going to seed

This spring, I have Celebrity and Early Girl tomatoes in the ground, along with bell peppers, habaneros, cucumbers and zucchini.  My wife also wanted to try watermelon and cantaloupe, a first for us, but we’re going to give them a go.   Looking back at the garden’s performance last year, I made the decision to put together another garden box – this time on the north side of the house where it will be in full sun all day long.  The other boxes just didn’t allow for enough exposure to the sun because of how the shade falls in the afternoon.  They only received – at most – six hours of direct sun, but most vegetables need at least eight hours to be really productive.  The new garden box measures eight feet by four feet and is a lower profile (half the height of the others).  This may prove to be small for the watermelon and cantaloupe, but time will tell!

The dry fall and winter also made for a very disappointing wildflower bed.  As the year before, I sowed the seeds in October, but they just never came up.  I made sure to keep the ground moist, but stopped after about thirty days when it was apparent that they weren’t going to germinate.  Instead of letting it sit there completely bare and taunting me with weeds, I worked it over and bought some transplants as additions to the butterfly garden.   Those include:  two Texas Lantana, two Trailing Lantana, two Fern Leaf Lavender, two Mexican Mint Marigold (tarragon), two scarlet verbena, two Mexican Heather (cuphea), and two Euryops.  I also sowed Maximillian Sunflower seeds in the northeast corner of the yard (down at the very end of the photo immediately below).

What was once the wildflower bed is now a home for flowering natives

Scarlet verbena flowers

Euryops flowers - "African bush daisy" - part of the Plants for Texas program

Trailing lantana - these two new transplants makes a total of three in the garden - I love them!

Fern Leaf Lavender- a new addition this year and part of the Plants for Texas program

Fern Leaf lavender flower - BEAUTIFUL!

Tarragon - I think this is Mexican Mint Marigold

Spontaneous primrose almost ready to flower (reseeded all over the yard from last year's wildflower bed)

Despite the dry spring thus far (I think our last significant rain was back in September), the perennial flowering plants are coming back to life.  Out of the old, comes the new – as they say.   Already, I have about ten milkweed plants coming back to life.  There are still about twenty that haven’t come back yet.  I’ll give them more time and hopefully they will.  In the meantime, I’ve sown another twenty seeds as replacements if they don’t come back.  If they do, well – the more the merrier (at least for the Queen and Monarch butterflies!).

Milkweed is coming along already!

It seems I’ve lost one of the Texas Lantana.  It has yet to sprout any new growth, but the other plant just a few feet away is already rebounded.

Texas Lantana

The Black-Eyed Susans have come back up, and it seems they’ve also reseeded around the original plants.  I left enough room for them to fill in!

Black-Eyed Susans

One of the purple prairie verbena is starting to make its way back, but the other is still lifeless.   They bloomed all the way from March through winter until we received snow.  I sure hope they do so again this year – the butterflies loved them.  In preparation, I pruned them back several weeks ago.  I’ll give them a couple more weeks to see if they made it through the freeze.

Purple prairie verbena starting to come back on one side

The fall aster has also spread its growth outwards, creating a larger diameter of new growth.  It is such a pretty plant once it begins flowering, so I’m already anxious to see how big it will grow over the summer and how spectacular it’s fall show will be.

Fall aster

The Four Nerve Daisies are a wonderful part of the garden.  The foliage is evergreen, unlike most of the plants in the garden.  It was lonely in its little corner of the bed while everything else retreated for the winter, but it continued sending up yellow flowers through the fall and early winter.  Now that spring has arrived, it has grown considerably and has a multitude of new flower stalks ready to open up!

Four Nerve Daisies

The rosemary bushes are also evergreen and unscathed from the winter months.  Here you see both plants, the prostrate rosemary and the Tuscan Blue.  The prostrate put on a show of blue flowers late in the fall.  I prefer the flavor of the Tuscan Blue, though both are highly aromatic.  I love to run my hands through them and take a deep breath!  MMmmmm!

Prostrate rosemary (foreground) and Tuscan Blue

Another evergreen plant is the Double Knockout rose bush.  It is covered with new buds and soon will be adding some great red hues to the garden.  I can’t wait!

Double Knockout Rose Bush

Both Copper Canyon Daisy plants are sending up new growth, too.  In the fall they were absolutely covered with yellow blooms.

Copper Canyon Daisy

I was worried about the Zexmenia, but it has surprised me.  Just in the past few days alone, it has sent up a lot of green leaves…

Zexmenia

Salvia greggii was also green throughout the winter, and with the onset of warmer weather, has really bushed out (these were taken after I pruned it back a bit).  I have two different colors: white (foreground) and red (behind).

Salvia greggii

One of my favorite plants in the garden is the Indigo Spires salvia.  It died back completely to the ground over the winter, but it is going strong now that spring has arrived.  It grew to over four feet tall by four feet wide last year, covered in eight inch long spires of purple flowers that were a favorite of bumble bees and honey bees.

Indigo Spires salvia (two plants)

The Autumn Joy sedum was a late addition last fall, but it turned out to be beautiful with pink flowers that darkened to red.  It died back to the ground over winter, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at it today.  Also, Turk’s Cap has just started popping up over the past few days.

Autumn Joy sedum

 

the other sedum plant, up close

Turk's Cap growth (all within the past three days)

Whirling Butterfly Gaura bushes also died back completely during the winter.  Judging from the growth they’ve put on the past couple of weeks, they could easily be twice the size that they were last year.  These were also a hit with the honey bees last year and added a whimsical feel to the southern side of the garden as the flower stalks twirled and whirled around in the breeze.

two Whirling Butterfly Gauras

new buds on the Gaura bush

this Gaura bud already shows signs of additional life ... not quite sure what these little guys are

The Spanish lavender is looking a little lean, but it is still managing to form flower buds.  These were very popular with the honey bees, too.  After it flowers, I will prune it back by a third and hope that it bushes out again.

Spanish lavender

Since I use so much thyme in cooking, I have a total of four plants now.  This one is easily a foot in diameter and is starting to flower.  My favorite chicken marinade uses a couple teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, a tablespoon each of fresh rosemary and oregano leaves, 1/2 cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of sea salt and the juice of two lemons.  GREAT on the grill!

English thyme

thyme flowers

And, FINALLY, the herb garden.  In the pots, I have peppermint from two years ago.  Due to neglect, it mostly died (yes, you CAN kill mint!), but it’s coming back again.  In the bed below are chives (which should be flowering soon)(6 plants), oregano (3), thyme (2), and Italian parsley (3).  Two of the parsley plants almost succumbed to the freeze, but, with a little pruning and care, they have put on more leaves and soon will be huge bushes that will threaten to crowd out the other plants.   I plan to add a couple of basil plants as well to the garden, which I’ll probably pick up tomorrow.  They will have to go elsewhere in the garden as they won’t fit in here.  Also, in the bed behind the lantana, I have two fennel plants, two Italian parsley plants, and three dill plants (all of which are host plants for swallowtail butterflies – Yes, I love those big black beauties and will be raising a few more broods this year!).  They will all go to flower and be a good nectar source for all of those beneficial insects that are welcome guests in the garden.

Herb garden, 3.19.11

Oh, I almost forgot.  I put a new bed in the front yard, outside our bedroom window.  I have two Desperado sage bushes in there (planted last fall) and have just recently placed about fifteen blue lobelia plants and about twenty red pillar salvias.  They are remarkably colorful (like most salvias) and should attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  Take a look at this striking, scarlet beauty!

Red Pillar Salvia

 

In the Garden 11/21/10

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been in the garden for any length of time.  Life has been busy.  We received news that we are expecting and will be having a baby at the end of May!  We’re very excited.  Needless to say, we’ve been visiting family as well as getting our third bedroom ready to receive the little one.  I don’t expect to be spending too much time in the garden this winter, but I do have a few things going.  I have sown my wildflower seeds, but have yet to see anything sprout yet.  I planted cornflowers, poppies, echinacea, black-eyed susans, blackfoot daisies and scarlet flax.  I also have a bed of spinach going and it’s doing well.  The broccoli plants are quite large – much further along than they were last year at this time.  The pepper plants are still producing.  Carrots are getting tall.  And lettuce seeds have sprouted.

Spinach bed

More spinach

broccoli

A few bell peppers

cayenne peppers

More cayenne peppers

harvested and dried cayenne peppers

red bell pepper

carrot tops

new herb garden (chives x 6, thyme x 2, oregano x 3, parsley x 3)

Also, the Copper Canyon daisies are in bloom, the indigo spires are still going strong, as well as the verbena, Four-Nerve daisies and trailing lantana. This is a shot of the Copper Canyon, Indigo Spires and Tuscan Blue rosemary: