A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘thyme’

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

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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

 

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!

Macro Monday from A Round Rock Garden

There’s certainly no shortage of interesting blooms to keep me fascinated for this week’s Macro Monday.

White salvia greggii

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culinary sage flower

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poppy bloom

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a close up view of poppy

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Indigo Spires salvia

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Indigo Spires salvia

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Morning dew - captured by my daughter

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Copper Canyon Daisies

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Not a hairy green strawberry, but a poppy.

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German thyme flowers

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A different looking poppy with a lot of contrast

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metallic looking bug

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My daughter found it odd that a poppy’s petals were stuck together.  As she tried to pull them apart, this little guy came running out to see what interesting lunch was headed his way.  They both locked eyes for a minute as if measuring one another up.  My daughter caught this great pic of the spider looking back at her.  I came in from a different angle to see what his web tunnel looked like from the other end . . .

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taken by my daughter

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Spider making a tent out of a poppy

Thank you for viewing my Macro Monday post.  For more macro posts involving all sorts of subject (not just plants), go to LisasChaos.com, or click on the image below:


Herbiliciousness

The herb garden is going crazy!

Herb garden 4/3/10: German Thyme, Greek Oregano, Mexican Oregano, Curry, Sage, Chives, Marjoram

The Herb Garden: June 6, '09 (left), Sept. 6, '09 (center), and April 3, '10 (right).

Looking back at early pictures of the garden, it is clear that they are thriving.  There isn’t much room for the basil plants anymore, but I’m going to put them in anyway.  They could use the competition.  In the center picture, you can also see the broccoli seedlings – of which we are still enjoying harvests.  The mint cuttings there were put in the ground and have taken over the corner of the yard.  Also pictured are rosemary cuttings, which are also pictured below.

The sage plants have certainly rebounded from just a couple of weeks ago.  They didn’t care much for the wet winter, but the warm, sunny weather we’ve enjoyed lately have really turned them on.  🙂  As you can see, they’re preparing to flower:

The culinary sage getting ready to flower

You can see by these pictures how dense the garden has become.  Look at how prolific the oregano is – there’s no stopping it.  It snakes in and around the other plants, finding more sunshine towards the edge of the bed.

Sage, Curry and Thyme (oh, and oregano poking through)

Marjoram bush and sage

Thyme, Sage, Oregano and Chives

The parsley is taking over and needs a trim.

Spearmint and peppermint

The lavender is finally blooming as well!  It is a fantastic sight to see the lavender stalks shoot up, then two little “bunny ears” stick out the top before the entire bud bursts forth with dark purple blooms filled with yellow pollen.

Spanish lavender blooming

Lavender bloom up close and personal

Can't get too much lavender

My daughter took this of a bug sitting on the lavender

Last fall I took rosemary cuttings and planted them. They've got lots of growth now.

I heart herbs, and my kitchen herb garden

Herb garden 3/12/10

The herbs have been enlivened by the warmer, sunny weather, offering up a whiff of fresh aroma as I sit on the stones and pick out the few weeds that managed their way in.   The oregano has become quite a thick blanket of ground cover for the bed, entirely flanking the thyme plants in front of them.  The edge of the bed doesn’t seem to deter it either, as it snakes its way over the edges of the retaining wall towards the afternoon sun.  In the enlarged photo you can see just how dense it has become and how it is now threatening to engulf one of the chives.  The great thing about oregano is that it roots easily along its snaking arms, and it is rather easy to propagate because of this.  Just snipping off a section that has rooted is enough to grow an entirely new plant.  I’m going to cut a few off this weekend if I can make the time – I told my mother in law that I was going to provide some more herbs.

Greek Oregano

Mexican oregano

One of the strongest scents I encounter sitting on the stones is that of the curry plants, which are strictly there for their ornamental and olfactory presence.  I love Indian food, and the smell of the curry plant reminds me of warm curry dishes.   Indian curries are made using a variety of spices and, although they do not use curry powder as is traditionally sold in stores, they use many of the same spices that are contained in the premixed version.   The curry plant smells just like that blend.  Makes me want a plate of steaming  veggie samosas and peshwari naan.  Although the plant looks like it has rigid needles, it is a very soft plant, and the slightest touch releases that warm aroma.

Curry plant #1 is purely an ornamental that smells like the popular spice blend.

Curry plant #2

The English thyme is also rebounding nicely from its winter hibernation.  There for awhile, I was wondering if they were doing okay because they looked brown and, frankly, kinda’ dead.  Not so.  As you can see, they are covered with bright green growth.

English thyme plant #1

Thyme plant #2

The sage plants were also having a lot of trouble maintaining their foliage over the winter.  I’m not sure if that’s normal, or if it was attributed to the increased rainfall.  They are starting to show their true color again, too, with tender young leaves all over.    I’m sure they’ll be full, bushy plants again soon.

The sage got really wet over the winter and didn't like it.

Sage plant #2 making a comeback

The chives have erupted in a fury of green tentacles rising out of brown, shriveled leaves.  I have over twenty more seeds that have sprouted and are temporarily growing in paper pots under lights until I can transplant them.  Chive germination is somewhat unique in that one tiny, slender little blade of grass pokes out then sort of unfolds outward.

Chive plant #1

Chive plant #2

Chive plant #3

Four chive seeds that have germinated

The marjoram is another strongly perfumed herb and one of my favorite to brush up against.  It has become a well-rounded plant since it doesn’t have to compete with the basil plants – currently.  I’ll be putting at least one basil plant in the herb garden this year – two last year was way more than I needed.  I still have a lot of dried leaves that have lasted me since the other two plants met their demise at the first frost.

Marjoram

Parsley has taken over half a row that I allotted to grow lettuce.  There are still two heads under there managing to mature, but I’m going to have to do some trimming on the front side of the plants to get them back towards their space.    Again, overkill on the parsley – at least for my uses; however, parsley attracts a few species of beneficial insects, including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies.   Those are added bonuses, I really want to keep all of the parsley because it is a food for black swallowtail butterflies.

The parsley is surely not growing sparsely.

The several rosemary plants that I have are doing okay.  A couple of them have some dark leaves due to being too wet in their containers.  Some cuttings got pummeled by thunderstorms, but they’re doing okay now.  And the cuttings I planted late last fall are filling out in their pot.   I pulled the mother out of the ground as it was almost gone.  The corner of the house is not a good place for the rosemary – too much rain spills off the roof and rosemary hates wet feet.  I dried what was left and have a good salsa-sized jar of dried leaves for cooking – something I use just about everyday.

Transplanted rosemary cuttings from last fall, now well-established.

We can’t forget the two mint plants that I bought last summer and then cloned a zillion of them.  Well, not really a zillion, but maybe ten, which have multiplied to about a zillion now.  🙂  The spearmint is definitely the more aggressive of the two, while the peppermint struggles.

Mint spreading by runners

Spearmint abounds

Peppermint again. These were planted the same time as the spearmint.

Peppermint is very slow growing compared to spearmint.

For nostalgia’s sake, here is the freshly planted garden:

Herb garden 06/07/09

I have several Mexican mint marigold plants that I’ll add to the herb mix in the coming weeks.  I have three or four that I grew from seed and a couple other plants I picked up at a local nursery.  I’ve not tried growing it before, but it is a Texas Native, and can be used just like french tarragon in recipes.  I have a rich, creamy mushroom, caper and tarragon sauce I like to make to put over pasta and I’m sure this will be a great, homegrown substitute.

Bountiful herbs!

IMG_6156

There's nothing like the smell of fresh herbs!

I harvested sage, basil, Greek and Mexican oregano, marjoram and thyme this weekend.  For those of you growing herbs for the first time, check out my three latest blogs about how to harvest these wonderful culinary delights!