A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘Herb Garden’

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!

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

 

Fall is Coming

I took a much-needed leave of absence for the last month or so.  The hottest month of the year in Central Texas is August, so there was little I could do in the garden besides try to save a few plants that burned up in the hot, dry weather.  Now that the hottest weather has passed, I’ve managed to get outside the last couple of weekends to survey the damage, pull up unwanted plants and do a little maintenance.

The veggie garden is all but finished for the summer, but I still have some peppers and tomatoes that should be producing through the fall.  I have some broccoli in the ground now for the fall/winter garden.  I do have plans yet to get spinach, carrots and lettuce in the ground as well.  I can’t believe it’s that time of year again.  Last spring we were lamenting the fact that we would have no more fresh spinach and lettuce for awhile and now it seems it’s come around so quickly that I’m a little behind.

yellow and green bell peppers and cayenne in the back (not visible)

broccoli!

I certainly intended to be ahead of the game at this point, and indeed I was a month ago.  I sowed several broccoli and spinach seeds inside, but – due to neglect – they suffered and I decided to let them die off.  I bought broccoli transplants instead.  I made sure to put them in a different bed this season as it is recommended to plant them in the same place every three years.  The spinach I’ll sow directly as soon as this week – the time is right now.  The carrots will soon follow and then I’ll do successive plantings of lettuce through the winter.  I can’t wait until I get them on my plate!

The herb garden suffered a bit through my neglecting it the past month.  Then we received such a torrential downpour from the leftover tropical depression that the plants just looked downright ugly.  I harvested what I wanted, then ripped up the remaining plants and threw them onto the compost pile.  Fire ants had moved into the bed, no doubt relocating from some other spot due to all of the rain.  Having the garden bare was a good time to kill them off using several pots of boiling water.  I think I succeeded in killing most of them off, as is evident by the piles of red carcasses!

flat parsley, chives and oregano

In the meantime, I have more chives, parsley and oregano going, but I need to find some thyme as well.  I don’t plan to grow any more sage in the herb garden, and instead have expanded on the chives and oregano – and hopefully thyme (all the local nurseries were out).  I use those three herbs more than anything  – well, those and rosemary, but I have the rosemary planted elsewhere.  The basil plant grew so large due to my continuing to trim off the flowers that the weight of it finally tipped it over following the heavy rain.  I pulled a good six cups of firmly packed leaves off of the one plant and made pesto.  I have a tub of fresh pesto in the fridge that we’re eating on (we put it on some homemade pizza the other day and it was outstanding!) and another tub frozen in the freezer for later use.  I still have so many dried basil and sage that I can seriously provide for our needs for the next year or two, provided they stay fresh.

Butterfly garden

The butterfly garden is not disappointing me.  In early March I landscaped the area and dropped several plants in.  Now they have taken over the spot and are putting on a good show.  The verbena didn’t suffer at all through the summer and I’ve had to trim it several times to maintain a nice, compact bush.  The Texas lantana is sprawling out everywhere, especially now that I’ve cut back all of the fennel (which, by the way, is now growing back!).  The fall aster is gearing up for its fall show, with a beautiful display of lavender flowers.  The black-eyed susans look like they’re done for the year, but I’m still hoping they’ll come back this fall.  There are a couple of new flowers, but the foliage looks pretty bad.  The trailing lantana continues to push outward across the gravel walkway and will need to be cut back … again!  It has not stopped flowering since March.  The far end of the butterfly garden is in desperate need of re-spacing.  I’ll have to transplant the salvia greggii and the zexmenia, which has been overcome by the indigo spires and copper canyon daisies.  I’ll most likely have to move the rosemary, as well.  Since the tarragon didn’t make it through the summer, I now have room to move it over.  I’ll wait another couple of weeks to do that.

blooming milkweed (from cuttings) and verbena

indigo spires salvia and copper canyon daisies (right)

trailing lantana and four-nerve daisies (foreground)

whirling butterfly gauras

fall aster staring its fall show

zexmenia with a couple of blooms

Texas lantana and fall aster

thyme walkway

And the milkweed is doing well, too.  The largest suffered through the heat and dropped most of its leaves, but it has since rebounded.  The other cuttings are really flowering now.  Those that I started from seed are getting larger.  I was worried about them for awhile.  I had to water them literally every day to keep them alive through August.  The ground was so dry that a huge crack opened up along the entire length of the bed.  I lost a handful of the forty plants I had because they fell into the crack!  I put down some fresh dirt, mulched with compost and that seemed to work, but it wasn’t until all of the rain the past few weeks that the crack has filled in and the plants have taken off.  It’s almost time for the monarch migration.  I don’t know if they’re far enough along to generate much interest from them as they migrate, but there is always next year!  I was shocked to discover a couple baby monarch cats on them today, … so, we’ll see!  Despite my expectations, it looks like they ARE going to flower this year, even though they typically do not the first year from seed (which surprises me since I planted them in July!).    I have also harvested a hundred or so seeds from the cuttings that produced pods.  Perhaps I can get them going next spring …

milkweed bed grown from seed

milkweed plant

the cluster at the top indicates they will bloom soon

baby Monarch caterpillar!

I also ripped out all of the spearmint.  I wanted them to flower, which they did, and because of their invasive tendency, I decided to do away with them.  I pulled them up a couple of weeks ago, which was no easy task – they’re roots and runners sprawled in all direction.  Yet, after two weeks, there were no signs of them coming back to life, so I decided to plant a couple Turk’s Cap plants as well as Autumn Joy Sedum.  We needed more red in the garden anyway.

Turk's Cap (rear) and Autumn Joy Sedum

That’s all the updating I have for now.  I’m off to the nurseries to see what I can find, then I have a day cut out for me.  I’ll be brewing some more compost tea and doing some transplanting and trimming.  I’ll be back with some updates in the next few days, so thanks, in advance, for checking back.  I’m sorry, once again, for my absence the last month or so!

If you don’t mind, leave me a comment and let me know what you’re up to in your garden!

Basil Growing Tip

Basil is a wonderfully aromatic and flavorful herb that can be used in a variety of recipes and dishes.  Unlike many other herbs, however, it is not cold-hardy, so it has to be replanted every year.  Luckily, basil grows very fast and thrives in warmer climates such as ours.  It is also very easy to grow, and, if it is maintained properly, can continue to yield great-tasting, fresh basil leaves into October and even November in our area.  The trick to growing basil is to keep it from flowering.  This can be achieved quite easily by pinching off the top growth of the basil plant every few days.

Look at the photo below.  This photo was taken looking directly down at the top of one of our basil plants.  You can tell that it is attempting to flower by the cross-like pattern of leaves forming at the top.   To keep it from flowering, simply pinch the top growth off down to the stem, right above the first set of leaves.

By pinching the basil in this manner, you disrupt its flowering phase and the plant begins vegetating again.   Keeping your basil in the vegetative state will produce a wider, bushier plant.   Just look at the two plants above!

If you do nothing to maintain your basil plants, it will not take long for them to start flowering, especially considering the heat here in Central Texas.  When they start flowering, they will no longer produce abundant leaves for harvesting.  Instead, all of the plant’s energy will be used to produce flowers and then seed.  Also during this time, the plant will stop producing the oils which gives basil leaves their flavor.  Plants that have begun flowering simply do not taste as good.  Keep them pinched back and you’ll be awarded with an abundant basil harvest this year!

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Did you know …

Basil originated in Iran.  It has been cultivated there for over 5,000 years.

The Greek word for basil, basileus, translates as “king”.   Basil is often called the “king of herbs” for this reason.

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Tips:

Basil quickly loses its flavor when cooked.  For strongest flavor, add at the end of cooking and serve.

Basil leaves taste great whole in a mixed salad.

Basil leaves can be stored in the freezer for months when prepared in pesto.

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Basic Pesto Recipe:

2 cups chopped, fresh basil

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 pine nuts, lightly toasted

1 T. sliced almonds, lightly crushed

1/3 cup grated parmesean cheese

1 T. garlic

Dash of salt

Optional: red pepper flakes

Directions: Put chopped basil in food processor and add a tablespoon of oil.  Chop well until it turns into a paste.  Slowly add the additional ingredients with a little oil each time and continue to process until all items have been added and the mixture is thick, but smooth. If you want a little more texture, add the nuts last and don’t chop as much.  Try this on some toasted bruschetta,  or slather it on chicken breasts before baking.

Look How They’ve Grown

The cup of Life is full and runneth over.  The Spirit of creation abounds at every level, constructing – in no small way – the world you see, the air you breathe, the soil beneath your feet, the beating of your heart.

You are intimately bound up in Creation, eternally connected to the unfolding of Life Itself, just as a new leaf extends in the embrace of the sun and sends its roots deep into the soil.   Look at the natural world around you.  There is no death, only change.  Spirit, like matter, is neither created nor destroyed.  It merely changes form.  There is peace in the whisperings of Spirit.  Quiet your soul and listen well.   The wellspring of Life cascades through you.  You are Its expression.

What started as a hobby has turned into a full-time fascination.  I enjoy looking at my plants on a daily basis, tending to them, assisting them in their growth.  Day-to-day, it’s difficult to notice the big changes, although I catch little details in photographs.  When I look back on pics taken months or even just weeks ago, I am amazed at how much they have grown.  I look forward with great anticipation to the coming months when many of these plants should be much larger and producing lots of flowers.

Take the Texas Lantana.  I bought them in small 1/2 gallon pots and planted them in mid-March.  Now they’ve established themselves and are beginning to spread out and bloom.  This variety can grow to be 4′ x 4′, so I should have a very large mound of lantana with two plants side by side.

Texas Lantana

The two Purple Moss Verbena plants were purchased in a similar size pot and transplanted at the same time as the lantana.  They have grown incredibly and delight the butterflies with their numerous purple blooms.   These plants should each get a couple feet tall and wide.

Purple moss verbena

The Fall Aster was purchased last year in a small 4″ pot.  I transplanted it, but it didn’t do much last fall but put out two or three blooms.  Over the winter, I cut it entirely back.  Then it started to produce more leaves as you see below.  I transplanted it again with the others in March and now it is three times as large and covered with flowers.  Shhh, don’t tell it that it is late Spring…

Fall aster

An amazingly fast grower, the Indigo Spires salvia is a truly gorgeous addition to the garden.  I bought in two plants in 1/2 gallon containers and transplanted with the others.  In just two months it has grown incredibly and is covered with those beautiful indigo spires.   These can get pretty large at 4′ x 4′.

Indigo spires salvia

The Trailing Lantana, like the others, was purchased in 1/2 gallon container and transplanted in March.  It has really begun to spread out now, and after a few weeks of not blooming, has really turned on the flowers the past week.  It should spread out 3-4′ in diameter.

Trailing lantana

And the wildflower bed is just a sea of yellow right now thanks to the Coreopsis and Mexican Hats.  Below you can see the beginning stages of the wildflower bed followed by a close-up of a section of Coreopsis and a long-view of the bed as of yesterday.   The dark coreopsis is the first I’ve seen in the bed, but may be the first of many more.

The Straight Eight cucumber vines are really starting to take off.  I’ve had to tie them a few times in the past couple of weeks as they stretch up.  I’ve included a close-up of the end of the cucumber vine, as well as one of a cucumber flower.

And, remember my landscaping project?  I installed some flagstones and planted some Mother of Thyme and Yellow Thyme between the stones.  They are filling in nicely, though I really think the Yellow Thyme is doing what I want it to.  The Mother of Thyme is growing taller than I expected.  The first image below is right after transplanting the thyme, followed by pictures taken yesterday.  They should start flowering in mid-summer.

The mammoth sunflowers have sprung up, growing inches everyday.  I can’t wait to see those dinner-sized plates of yellow happiness!  The flowers are forming already and soon will start unfolding!

Mammoth sunflowers in the morning shade

And, finally, the herb garden.  The first picture below was taken September of last year.  Eight months later, the garden scarcely has a bare spot.

September 9, 2009

What’s growing up in your garden?

Harvesting and Drying Herbs: Lavender, Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram

The gorgeous lavender flowers kept the bees very busy the past couple of weeks, but I noticed that the majority of the blooms had faded and the bees were absent Saturday morning.  According to some sources, lavender flowers should be cut when the flowers first start blooming, in order to have the highest level of oil retained in the dried flowers.  I couldn’t take the lavender away from the bees, though.  So, I waited until most of the flowers were spent, then cut them down in the morning when the oil is at its highest.   I bundled the flower stalks up using some rubber bands, then hung them to dry upside-down so that the oil  drains down from the stem, concentrating in the dried flowers.  All-bloomed-out, they still smelled wonderfully pungent!

Spanish lavender blooming

The above picture was the lavender in bloom just a couple weeks ago – it was such a gorgeous, deep shade of purple.  Each one of the flower stalks run down to the plant, where I cut each one right above the green foliage.  This is what it looks like now:

Lavender after a trim, 4/25

Hopefully this will urge her to send up some more blooms later in the season.  Here’s what the bundles of dried lavender looked like:

In the meantime, the herb garden was just overflowing.  I needed to make room for a couple new plants, but first, I seriously needed to do some harvesting!  If you will remember, last year I had two basil plants in the back.  They produced so much basil that I still have several ziploc bags full of dried leaves.  Basil is best fresh.  It’s OK dried, but it loses a lot of flavor.  I won’t ever eat all of the dried, especially not now until November when this new plant dies.   With two plants, however, we just had too much for the three of us to consume. So, I only bought one this time around …  In the place of where the other plant was last year,  I put a dill transplant.  I saw it at the nursery and thought, why not?  We eat dill at least a few times a month, so that makes sense.  Plus, it attracts butterflies as well.

Herb garden 4.25.10, before its cut

another view ...

Harvesting is a little time-consuming lately!  At least, more so than last fall.   There was so much to cut, it took me two hours to cut, sort and bundle to dry.  The sage was pretty buggy, especially the one that was flowering.  Every one had sugar ants, fire ants, green loopers – that probably took me the longest just to rid the blooms of bugs.  I wanted to hang them upside down and see how they dry.  But yeah – bugs galore.  Obviously everyone is very happy, as the sage didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear.  Needless to say, I didn’t harvest any sage.  That’s okay, too.  I have a large jar full of dried leaves from last fall.  The oregano was probably nearly 12″ tall in some areas.  I cut it back as much as 8-10″ in most places, especially near the back where the chives are trying to get more light.  I had a full bowl of two types of oregano.  They smelled outstanding.  The marjoram was just harvested a couple of weeks ago, so I only cut a small bundle of that.  And, I had the largest thyme harvest I’ve had to date!

one of two bowls (10" wide) of oregano

this gets covered with a bag and hung in a dark closet until dried - 7-10 days

Herb garden 4.25.10 - after!