Thursday, July 31, 2014

Funny Summer!

The summer progresses - quickly, as we're now about 2/3 of the way through.  I'm glad the blasts of hot humid weather are lasting only a few days so far.  I can take it for a few days when relief comes after in the form of really nice summer days with blue skies, lots of sun and low humidity.  It's also good for the herbs that I harvest from the gardens and dry.  In humid weather, the herbs and flowers will re-absorb moisture from the air.  Unless thoroughly dry, they should not be stored away in jars or plastic bags because mold can develop, making them unusable.

It's a funny year, plant-wise.  Some things are going like gang-busters and others are just limping along.  In the vegetable garden, we had a huge crop of sugar peas earlier in the season.  Our first batch of beans were good, then they petered out with the how weather, now I see more blossoms, so I think they'll pick up again.  We've picked a few tomatoes, but peppers are really slow.  Perhaps not enough hot weather for them.  Same with basil - all of mine are finally growing and looking good except for the patch of Genovese.  Did have enough tomato and basil for one batch of tomatoes and mozzarella with basil - one of my summertime favorites.  Next up, bruschetta.

Culantro, a heat tolerant substitute for cilantro, is another one that looks pretty much the same as when I planted it. (My sister reports the same.) This is the first year we've had culantro, so I don't know if it's not hot enough for substantial growth or it just takes longer to get established.  And of the four hyaconth bean vines we have planted in front of the shop, the two in the middle are doing well and the two at the ends are not.  Our helper asked why.  I told him plants are like people - some are stronger than others.

After talking to a customer recently, it reminded me to encourage people to cut back perennials after blooming.  She mentioned the overgrown look in her garden,  Many perennials decline in appearance after flowering.  Cutting them back hard encourages the growth of new foliage, giving them a neater appearance.  Some, like hyssop, catmint, lavender and Jupiter's beard will produce a second, usually lighter batch of blooms.

Flowers in the Herb Garden

Owning an herb farm, I guess it's obvious I love herbs.  I was attracted to them for both their fragrance and the fact that they are useful plants.  I love to use herbs in cooking and I also appreciate the ornamental qualities.  In fact, I love flowers in general - on herbs and also on plants grown solely for ornamental purposes.

Flowers have so much to recommend them.  Though they may be missing one trait, they have another to appreciate.  I think I can find something to admire in each one.  First, I just adore fragrant flowers.  Fragrance is such a beautiful, but ephemeral quality.  Some of my favorites include dianthus - with its spicy yet sweet scent, lily-of-the-valley (how can such a tiny flower smell so divine,) dame's rocket, stocks and moonflower.

Sometimes it's just the actual beauty of the flower - like the big, pink oriental poppies that bloom in the spring.  They're so delicate, with pale petals like tissue surrounding the blue-black center.  When they're blooming, I sometimes stand and admire them.  And there are a whole host of what I would call the cheerful slowers.  Bright orange and yellow calendula flowers also cheer me up.  Ditto for Mexican sunflower with its yellow center and bright orange ray petals.  I include pansies and johnny-jump-ups in this group - who can resist a flower with a face?

Some blooms have a nice textural quality, like the fuzzy orange-red blooms of emilia or tassel flower and the red, chenille-like tails of love-lies-bleeding.  Some flowers are delicately lovely - like bleeding heart, blue flax and tiny black and white nemophila.

I like flowers like calendula, lavender, anise hyssop, joe-pye weed, hyssop and swamp and scarlet milkweeds because they act as host plants and/or nectar sources for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

I like flowers produced by summer bulbs, but I don't goow any except calla lily, since you must dig the bulbs each year.  I make an exception for callas, because of their simple, almost architectural quality.  So simple and so beautiful.

Mid Summer

I'm still seeing the effects of the harsh winter in the harden.  The hydrangeas in front of our house are usually covered in beautiful blue flowers in June-early July.  Like so many other people, we had to cut them back hard - to about 18-20" due to die-back.  The only one we didn't cut back, the smallest one at the corner of the house has five flowers!  That seems to be it for this year. However, the remaining plants look quite healthy, so hopefully will bloom again next year.

Butterfly bushes were another plant with significant die-back - on ours, the roots survived and pushed out new growth from the base, but everything above ground from last year died.  They will bloom this year - mine have buds although no open flowers yet.  The funny thing is how short they are.  In the bed in front of the greenhouse, we have joe-pye weed, which is about seven feet tall at this point.  Next to it is a butterfly bush which is actually shorter.  Haven't seen that sonce the first year or two when we planted the butterfly bush.

Some things were extremely happy with the cooler spring weather and all that ground water from melting snow.  My St. John's wort was huge - probably twice as big as last year.  It bloomed prolifically at the end of June - around the feast for St. John, which is how it got its common name.  We don't have much shade, but in our side border near the neighbor's tree, I have pink anemone.  They will not bloom until later this summer, into fall, but the planys are really big and full.  And the sugar pea vines in our vegetable garden were actually taller than me.  We never had that before!

But the heat loving plants like basil and peppers were really on hold until we got the first blast of hot weather before July 4.  They had taken hold, because we had good rainfall after planting, but they weren't really growing.  Finally, with this hot weather and the recent rain, I'm finally seeing some growth.  Next problem, some basils got eaten by Japanese beetles, so I had to pinch then back.  It's always something!

June Happenings

Written in mid June (Poster is lax!):

Like everyone else, we got a late start in planting this year.  After several days of marathon planting, we finally got everything in before the spell of rainy weather saved us the effort of watering it all.  Timing meant a lot, because some things got a good start and really look great - tomatoes look excellent and all our plants have flowers.  A baptisia that was unhappily transplanted looks settled in.  Calendulas are already blooming and parsley has made a nice clump.  However, pepper plants look the same as when we planted them and the basil is just sitting there waiting for some warm weather.  You have to take what you get with the weather, and luckily, something is usually happy.

With the slow start to spring, I barely got done planting and boom - it was time to start harvesting and drying.  All of a sudden there were roses and lavender to dry.  Also harvested a round of the early culinary herbs - tarragon, lemon balm, some mints, oregano and savory.  Of course, right after I put them in the racks to dry, we got all the wet, humid weather.  No sense in even checking for dryness.  In humid weather, things reabsorb moisture from the air.  On a dry, less humid day I'll give everything a little time in the dehydrator to remove the last of the moisture and then store the thoroughly dry herbs.

Most of the lavender I'm drying for bunches this year.  With all the cutting back I did to revive my lavender, I figured I wouldn't have a lot of flowers, but I've been pleasantly surprised at how productive they are.  Should have enough to make some lavender wands too.  Don't forget to pick lavender in bud, before the individual florets open.

Poppies were beautiful this year - especially "Coral Reef" which has big flowers with pale pink petals and the bark, blue-black center.  Poppies go dormant (go away) after they bloom, but cut back other blooming perennials like Jupiter's Neard, some salvias, catmint and hyssop for a second round of blooms.

Coming soon to dry - yarrow, red gomphrena and love-in-a-mist seed pods.

Winter Damage

Written in mid June (poster is lax!):

It's always interesting talking with customers about their gardening experiences and that's certainly the case this year.  The awful winter really had an impact on yards and gardens.We have heard lots of tales of the "Big 3" this year.

First - butterfly bushes.  Most people had the same experience as we did - the roots survived, but everything above ground dies.  John had to take the chainsaw to cut off the dead limbs at the ground.  Our biggest one was 15 years old and well established.

Second - Hydrangeas.  Several people asked what happened to the hydrangeas in front of our house, thinking we had taken them out.  Just had to cut them back substantially - to about 18" - which is way more than we ever did before.  The plants themselves look pretty good.  I'm pretty sure they will survive although I doubt thay will bloom much at all this year.

Third - Crape Myrtle.  We don't have any, but everyone that does is concerned.  I talked to folks during the first week of June who didn't have any new growth on them yet.  Others said theirs' had just begun to push out.  The ones in protected locations seemed to suffer less than those out in the open.

Another casualty for us was one of the four jasmines we have on the sides of the pergola.  Three survived, although with substantial die-back, including one with new growth only at the base.  The ones on the protected side of the pergola did better.

On the other hand, all the rain and relatively cool temperatures this spring were a boon to other plants.  Herbaceous perennials like salvias, black-eyed Susan, coneflowers, rose campion, plumbago and poppies came back lush and full.  Some woody-stemmed herbs like savory, hyssop and most of my thymes came back well after some hard pruning.  Lavenders really seemed to take a hit this winter.  A couple I ripped out and most I had to cut back very hard - more than usual, but with the top dead and new growth at the base, that's about the only choice.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chomping at the bit!

I’m beginning to feel that a severe winter will make people even more anxious for spring.  That’s certainly how I feel!  Snow is one thing.  I must admit, although I don’t like to shovel it, the snow does look very pretty.  Hides a lot of blemishes in the winter landscape, also.

What I don’t enjoy at all are the brutally cold temps and an ice storm.  All day during the ice storm I kept saying how lucky we were to have electricity.  Our luck ran out the night after the storm.  It went off during the night and was out until noon the following day.  Again, we’re luckier than most folks since we have a generator.  We use it mainly for two things - to keep the heat on in the house and to keep the greenhouses inflated.  Without the fans running, they deflate.  Once that happens, it takes a long time to reinflate them.  If it is windy, the plastic can easily tear and have to be replaced.  So we were lucky in that respect too.

Not so lucky with trees, though.  Our big white pine took quite a beating and lost 5 or 6 big branches.  At least none of the branches hit the house.  And we don’t have any trees in the vicinity of where we park the cars.  W did have a number of branches down or lee stuck up in the trees along the side property line.  That will be some big clean up come spring.

So when I’m sick of looking at winter, I go down to the basement and gaze at the baby seedlings coming along.  I have a couple of batches germinated now - pansies and early perennials.  The latest ones are tiny and hard to identify by sight, since most plants have similar leaves when they first germinate.  The earlier batches look like full-grown plants reduced down to miniature.  I also have some stock plants and topiaries inside, so the basement looks quite spring-like.  Thank heavens!

This week, we get our shipment of soil, pots, etc. which is another sign of impending spring.  Soon, I’ll begin filling pots so that they’re ready when it comes time to transplant.  It’s really a treat to work in the greenhouse on a cold, but sunny day.  As long as the sun’s shining, it warms up quickly.  It’s like a trip to Florida, at least briefly!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Real Winter - Good and Bad

Ah, winter -- real winter, which has been uncommon in the last few years.  I read an article in which a climate scientist  said he was glad we were having a real winter so that people didn't forget what that's like.  So let's see, what's good about it?

Well, the snow is pretty.  I love to look out on the yard and see big swaths of undisturbed snowy blanket on the yard.  And of course, the trees, particularly evergreens, look so nice with a dusting of snow.

Snow is actually a good insulator for outdoor plants.  Which brings us to the bad side of this winter -- the frigid temperatures.  During the first really cold snap, my totally dead car battery had to be replaced.  That wasn't too bad.  Below zero temperatures are hard on plants.

During a warm spell, I checked my outside rosemarys.  Not too encouraging.  My large, three-year-old plant in the 4-square garden looks dead.  The "Paris" variety, supposed to be more winter hardy, looks dead.  I'll give them a chance to come around this spring, but I'm not holding out much hope.  Last spring, someone asked for the rosemary guaranteed to survive the winter.  I laughed -- I've never read and source that calls any variety of rosemary to be definitely hardy here in zone 6.  I always tell customer that I believe it depends more on the winter than the type of rosemary.  Winters like this, with sub-zero temperatures and drying winds, really lessen the chances of any rosemary surviving outside.

Even on the worst winter days, I can check on my little seedlings and realize that spring is coming.  Right now, it's just a few flats of pansies and early perennials, but it's enough to see little green plants pojing through the soil.  The tiny lavender seedlings even have the wonderful scent we associate with large plants.  I'll be starting seeds every week this month and starting to fill pots.  Then I feel like spring is right around the corner!

Lucy likes to play in the snow -- particularly chasing snowballs.  It also seems like animal smells are better in the cold and snow.  Some mornings, she just takes off to run in the back corner and smell what was in the yard.  On the really cold days, she's more content to stay snuggled up inside - who can blame her!