Be on the lookout for the fall-winter edition of our newsletter which will be coming out soon. Included are lots of herbal gifts for your holiday shopping, a yummy recipe (one of John's favorites,) and plant and craft articles. Also, info on our holiday open house which will be held December 6 & 7.
The first frost wiped out all the basil in the gardens (always the first to go) along with some of the annuals. The more cold-tolerant or half-hardy annuals survived until the recent hard freeze. Before the frost, I gathered a large bunch of stems from our Greek columnar basil. This is a very upright variety, with excellent flavor and long stems full of foliage. I keep it in a vase with water on the kitchen counter and harvest the leaves as needed for cooking. Since basil is in the mint family, most varieties root easily in water. So some stems will develop roots and I can pot them up if I want some plants to go throughout the winter.
Speaking of plants for the winter, we now have a few varieties of potted culinary herbs available. We will have them up until Christmas. If you want some herbs for the kitchen windowsill this winter, the holiday season is the time to get them. Usually, a few people stop during the winter months, looking for plants. However, we do not heat the greenhouse during the winter, because of the expense. We start them up again usually in March as we prepare for the spring season.
I was wondering about our greenhouse toad residents. With the warm weather in October, I didn't see them in the regular spot, the back corner, where they dig themselves into the dirt to hibernate for the winter. But, at least one has returned with the colder weather setting in. I saw one out of the dirt - they often dig out on sunny days when the greenhouse gets quite warm. So I know at least one is still there, although there are several holes dug in the dirt, so there may be a pair there. I guess I'll find out for sure next spring. It sure is easy living for a toad, compared to surviving outside for 3-4 months.
Friday, November 15, 2013
(Written around Oct 20, 2013)
I’ve been making a conscious effort to enjoy and appreciate all that remains in the garden before the season ends with the first frost, which may come tonight or almost certainly, this week. Today I ate a couple red blossoms from my pineapple sage plant. Very nicely sweet, although not pineapple flavor in the flowers to my taste. The profusion zinnias are still clouds of color. Fall anemones are still blooming, along with some perennial salvia, lavender, cockscomb and celosia, late roses, nasturtiums, sedum, marigolds and love-lies-bleeding. That’s a lot for late October. I let my basil plants flower at the end, when I’m done harvesting. Both cinnamon and purple varieties look particularly pretty with their pink blooms.
Annual vines look spectacular at the end of the season. Hyacinth bean vine is loaded with its shiny, purple pods. Last year, due to weather vagaries, I didn’t save any seed/ This year, I’ve been able to save plenty. Another beauty is mina or firecracker vine. We plant two on an obelisk in our entrance bed. It is absolutely covered with sprays of red, orange and yellow flowers. I’ve saved these seeds, but they don’t seem to germinate very well, not as well as the seeds I purchase.
I’ve had a few people ask for small pots of culinary herbs. We have a small selection - about a half dozen varieties - for sale during the holiday season. They[‘re usually ready about mid-November. That gives you something green and herby to get you through the winter months until spring rolls around again.
I’ve been very busy working in the shop, getting it all spruced up. I have been working on some holiday items, but I’m not putting them out until after Halloween. Also working on the fall newsletter which comes out in November.
After we clean up the gardens, the last big chore is burying all the stock plants in the vegetable garden to overwinter. Then I know the growing season is done.
Posted by Maryanne at 12:12 PM
Monday, October 14, 2013
I've been enjoying the last bit of summer as it winds down. Although I'm many years removed from school, I still feel a little of the end of summer back to school feeling as summer slides into fall.
I love the fall with its clear blue skies, cool, crisp mornings and of course the beautiful colors. As I‘m outside, I try to appreciate the patches of summer remaining~jewel tone nasturtium flowers still blooming, shiny, purple pods on the annual hyacinth bean vine in all its glory, red pineapple sage flowers,(no blooms on mine until September this year) the fuzzy purple flowers of mexican bush sage and the pretty fall blooming anemones and late roses.
I’m still cutting some culinary and tea herbs to dry, but that‘s also winding down. The annual flowers I dry are still going strong-annual statice and gomphrena. Gomphrena or globe amaranth, is a wonderful garden plant, whether or not you dry the papery clover-like blooms. The plants are drought tolerant, bloom from mid-summer until frost, and get very bushy and just covered with flowers by late summer. And the butterflies like them, too. The mixed color variety~purple, pink and white, gets much bigger and bushier than the red form. But I love the red ones for use in holiday decorations
The goldfinch pair are back every day enjoying the coneflower seeds from the big stand in the garden in front of the greenhouse. I’m sure they drop an occasional seed or two-no wonder that patch got so big so fast.
If you have annuals you want to reseed for next year, or you want to save any seeds from a particular plant, make sure you allow some flowers to die on the stalk. They become seedheads. Usually, seeds start out`green (unripe) and darken as they ripen. Shake the mature seedheads so the seed falls, or gather and store either in small glass containers or little seed envelopes. I keep my seeds in the refrigerator. Not necessary for all types, but I think it helps keep them fresh by keeping humidity low.
With the cooler weather, the squirrels are more active. They fascinate, but frustrate, Lucy. She watches them in the trees and would climb up after them if she were able.
Posted by Maryanne at 10:46 AM
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
l'm glad that it‘s not just my imagination. I read an article in the Lancaster paper about the smaller than normal number of monarch butterfly sightings this year. Yesterday, l talked to a friend who is also a master gardener. Although she lives on a larger farm, we both have lots of common milkweed growing on our properties and we both grow more ornamental varieties of asclepias (the host plant for monarch caterpillars). Our numbers tallied -- only a handful of monarch sightings this season. I did not have any caterpillars on our swamp milkweed and didn't notice any on the common milkweed that l could easily see. Same report from various people in different locations in the newspaper article. One fellow with acres of milkweed reported only a handful of caterpillars. The article cited a common problem -- destruction of habitat in Mexico and also the decline in the amount of milkweed in our area. I told my friend that I wish we could get the word out to the monarchs -- we have lots of food for both the caterpillars and butterflies.
|Monarch butterfly on Swamp Milkweed|
Overall, l think the number of butterflies is way down this year and when I compare to the time we moved here, the change is dramatic. Although we had lots of the small whites (loopers, et.al.} and sulfers, the number of different species I saw this year was very small. Not a single buckeye, no commas, one red admiral, one painted lady, no larger fritillarys and dozens, rather than the hundreds of shippers l usually see. It‘s a shame to lose such beautiful garden creatures
One interesting sighting though -- John said he saw an adolescent hawk perched somewhere in the gardens when he was outside. That morning, when Lucy and I were walking early, we heard a bird screeching. I could tell it was a large bird, but it was back in the treeline and high up so I could not get a glimpse. But it surely sounded like a hawk. One day, we saw it sitting on the greenhouse door surveying. I was so glad it didn‘t fly into the greenhouse. I wouldn‘t want to try to get a hawk out! We've rescued mockingbirds, wrens, doves and even a hummingbird from the greenhouses over the years. l imagine a hawk would put up a good fight.
Third sighting of a hummingbird this year. We don‘t get lots of them. It was always a female so I think it was the same one each time. I actually see it most often in the back of the property by the woods where they nest. This time though it was near the pergola, seemed to he investigating the sweet autumn Clematis, which is starting to bloom. That's another wonderfully fragrant plant. Like jasmine (also on the pergola) and our big patch of clove pink dianthus, when you walk around the corner of the greenhouse, it’s just a cloud of sweet aroma.
|Hyacinth Bean Vine|
Also finally blooming is the hyacinth bean vine. The super hot weather in July postponed bud formation. But with the continued rain and the warm Weather, it’s blooming well and beans are forming too. Last year, it bloomed very late and barely any beans were produced. It's so showy when the vines are covered with the shiny purple bean pods.
The vegetable garden is still wild and productive. I canned tomatoes once and l think the next batch I will dry. I grow mostly amish paste and they‘re perfect for drying, Just wash, cut in half and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. You can season with salt and pepper and some people drizzle with oil, but l just put them in a very low oven (ahout 200) plain and let them go until they get leathery. I store them in bags in the freezer and use them in soups and stews, They can he reconstituted with hot water to use in lots of recipes. The flavor is very concentrated and almost sweet, like tomato paste.
Posted by Maryanne at 5:39 AM
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
I can‘t believe it‘s the tail end of the summer already.
Every year, the summer seems to stretch out endlessly before me, and then suddenly it's Labor Day and fall is fast approaching. So I'm trying to enjoy the temperate weather and continue with the outside summer work as long as possible. l'm continuing to dry both flowers and culinary herbs-annual statice in several colors, strawflowers, two varieties of oregano grown for their flowers, rather than their foliage, and clover-like globe amaranth on the flower side. Culinary herbs include scented geraniums, mints, basils, thyme, savory and rosemary. In September, I decrease the amount I harvest from woody-stemmed herbs like thyme and sage. Don't cut back too far on their woody stems and allow plenty of foliage on the plant to provide protection for the crown of the plant as it goes into winter. My outside rosemary is on its third season (survived two fairly mild winters) and is big and vigorous so I'll continue to harvest stems from that as it's got plenty to spare.
We hosted a very nice group of ladies from the Conestoga Herb Guild recently. Luckily, it was a beautiful evening after a big rain day. We toured the gardens and they seemed quite interested in all the plants. Everyone was so complimentary about the gardens and l was glad everything was looking good, thanks to the good weather and a busy week outside. August can be a dull time in the garden, but we had quite a lot of blooming still and of course, the herb foliage looks good all the time.
They served delicious refreshments in the greenhouse and held their meeting outside. Many of the ladies had not been here before, so it was a chance to show what we offer.
After the ladies were here, we cut back the thyme walk. We cut it back hard-dead flowers and the dead foliage that develops underneath -- a lot is just stubs now. We do it in the spring and before fall. Cutting off the old encourages the new growth to come out. If any don't fill in, we‘1l replace them.
I have noticed that herb groups like to oooh and they make and enjoy good food. You always eat well at an herb group’s meeting.
Two upcoming events to mention:
Conestoga Herb Guild will hold their Herb Fest on September 14 from 9am to 2pm at the Boettcher House off Rt. 501.
The Roots and Wings Fall Fest will take place Saturday, October 19 in Warwick County Park in Chester Co. You can choose 4 classes from about a dozen choices. For more info and to preregister, visit Roots & Wings
I read something in the paper that really surprised me. A master gardener at Landisville during the trial gardens open house said that native plants are the only ones that provide sustenance for wildlife. I thought, I'll have to go out and shoo the birds away from the crabapples and viburnum and hawthorn berries, because none of them are native and the birds certainly enjoy stripping them bare. I've also had people tell me that every plant that isn't native is invasive. That's just silly. There are some plants, like heaths and heathers that have extremely precise requirements for growing well. Not only would they never be invasive here, you‘d be lucky to get them to grow at all. And what about all the culinary herbs? Most are not native, and are definitely not invasive. The only herb you'd consider invasive is mint, and that's because of its growing habit, not its nativity. Mint would be invasive where it is native, too. Don't get me wrong-I think native plants are great. They’re adapted to our climate, many do provide food for wildlife and they're pretty tough plants. But you can make the case for natives without saying things that aren‘t true.
Posted by Maryanne at 7:57 AM
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
We’ve reached the height of the summer, and now that we've gotten a break from the high temps and humidity, it seems like the season is progressing well. Even with really high temperatures, the fact that we've gotten rainfall regularly makes a huge difference. I said to John that things were looking a little stressed in the gardens after the week of 90+ temps, but with rain and the cool-down, everything perked right back up. Many herbs like lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, etc. love the heat. Others like parsley, mints, basils are OK with the heat, but need adequate moisture to thrive during the really hot spells.
One consequence of the heat may not show up until later. Many plants will not set flower buds above certain temperatures. So extended periods of high temps may delay bud formation, which will delay flowering for some end of the season plants. Last year, it happened with our hyacinth bean vines. They flowered late, when the beans should have been developing. Only a handful of beans developed and l didn’t gather any seeds. I know pineapple sage flowered really late, too.
l’ve been seeing some larger butterflies - monarchs and swallowtails, both black and yellow. l’ve seen swallowtail caterpillars on their host plants - dill, parsley, fennel and rue. No signs of monarch caterpillars on the swamp milkweed, but they could be feasting on all the common milkweed that‘s growing out back. This year, l'll be able to harvest seeds from swamp milkweed. Last year, I got no seeds. l purchased some and not a one germinated, so we had no plants for sale this spring. They should be back in the inventory next year.
Our vegetable garden is a jungle! We had a bumper crop of sugar peas. We never get ours in on St. Patrick's Day, like they say, so we often pick until July. But I never remember picking them until the end of July. In fact, we picked sugar peas and our first few tomatoes the same day. Sure that never happened before. The beans have been producing for awhile and our tomato plants are huge.
Part of the vegetable garden is devoted to flowers to dry for the shop, like globe amaranth, that look like clover heads and annual statice. I grow four colors of statice and the funny thing is that it always blooms in the same order - rose, white, lavender and dark blue. This has been true every year since I've grown it. It never ceases to amaze me the survival techniques that plants have developed.
With the lower humidity, it‘s much easier to finish off the flowers and herbs I've been drying. l had a great crop of chamomile flowers for tea. When l*m done harvesting that, I cut back all the old foliage to the ground and allow new foliage to develop. This technique works well on many perennials, herbal and ornamental. They look like they've had a bad haircut for a short time, but cutting back the old encourages the development of new foliage.
No more sightings of our wandering box turtle. The toads (at least two) are in and out of the greenhouse. There's one that spends most of the time in the dirt in the back corner - he seems most comfortable there. There must have been at least one couple, because l've come across a little toad outside. Also been seeing quite a few adolescent praying mantises on various plants, so some of the egg sacs we've come across have survived and been productive.
I have to laugh when l look at Lucy and think of the phrase, “dog days." During the hot weather, she's only active during the early morning and in the evening. In between, she sleeps. l wonder, why is she sleeping in the air conditioning while I'm out working?
Posted by Maryanne at 7:58 AM
Friday, April 26, 2013
We waited and waited - spring has finally sprung - and quickly!
After out-waiting what seemed to be an endless winter, a few really warm days have blasted us into spring.
Both our star magnolia and forsythia went from barely showing any color to fully blooming in about four days! Even John commented on the magnolia~it was like a magician threw a magic scarf over it, repeated a few magic words and when he whipped the scarf off, Ta~Da - a tree in full bloom. The same thing in the gardens. I've been looking for weeks for signs of new growth and saw a few, but coming along very slowly. Then the warm weather and when we starting cleaning up the gardens, all kinds of new growth had emerged.
I finally got our perennial plants moved outside on april 3. That‘s fairly late~usually we try to have them moved outside by the time the greenhouse opens. But since we were still having nighttime temps in the 20's the first week of April, we had to wait. I’m still working on potting the later crops of annuals. The first ones are sizing up nicely and should look good in May.
l'm so impressed with our customers. Those that came during the warm spell all said, "l know it’s too early to plant a lot of things, but” and most picked out a few perennials to have something to get them started. Some customers like to just come, get a plant list and stroll around to give them ideas and tide themselves over till the weather moderates. It used to drive me nuts when I worked in garden centers and they‘d have stuff out for sale 2 months before you could safely plant it.
l caught myself thinking I was behind schedule when the Warm weather hit. Then I remembered it was just the beginning of April, no matter what the temperature said. I thought some of the plants in the greenhouse were small, but all it takes is a few warm and sunny days and everything just pops.
Our Open House will he held Friday & Saturday April 26 and 27 from 9am to 5pm.
Landis Valley Herb Faire is May 10 & 11.
Posted by Maryanne at 8:14 AM