Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Herbal Harvest

Midsummer and the herbal harvest continues. I'm constantly harvesting mints since they recover so fast. By now, annuals are well established so I've been harvesting all basils. Cutting back also removes flowers and encourages the plant to branch out and produce more foliage. Chamomile flowers are winding down, but plenty have been dried for tea. Bright, cheery calendula petals are useful in all sorts of skin preparations. Annual statice, probably the best dried flower for holding color, is at its peak. If you grow catnip for your cats, dry some to have for winter use.

I knew it was just a matter of time before Lucy had a nasty run-in with a bee. Well, she tried to eat one and got stung on the tip of her tongue-ouch! Of course, it was after office hours for the vet, so it was an emergency call. But the dr. did get the stinger out plus gave her benedryl which put her to sleep for awhile. About two days later, I was yelling "No bees" again, so I guess she'll never learn. We have a bumper crop of rabbits this year, so she has fun chasing them, usually early in the morning. She's very fast, so we don't let her chase the small ones. I had to capture one little bunny that hopped into greenhouse 2 and settled in between stacks of empty flats. I put him out at the fence line and hope he doesn't find his way back.

Several people have asked me about drying hydrangeas. I do dry a lot lot from our bushes out front. Unfortunately, I've never found a way to dry them at the peak of color and - have them hold both the color and form you want. I wait till later in the season- late August into September. The flowers begin to dry on the stalk. You can feel the getting papery. Then I cut them, stand them in a vase - no water - and put them in a closet away from the light. The color is often darker or more muted than the brilliant summer color. Right now, I'm cutting off blooms that have turned really brown. This will encourage some reblooming and these later flowers will hold a better blue color.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seasons in the Garden

I must be an "in the moment" type of person. When spring begins, I'm infatuated with all spring bloomers. Forsythia, then spring bulbs, flowering trees and shrubs, followed by fragrant lilac and dianthus, the clear white of candytuft, delicate columbine and bleeding heart, dame's rocket and tall valerian and oriental poppies. I think nothing can beat these beautiful spring blooms.

The season progresses, and now I'm admiring summer flowers that are equally impressive. Big stands of coneflower (purple or the equally attractive white) are colorful, showy, yet natural looking. St. John's wort, named for blooming around St. John's day is a pretty yellow mass attracting bees. Even though we thinned the russian sage this spring, it is a huge,mass with light stems and tall, long-lasting purple flowers. Calendula, nasturtiums and little gem marigolds are covered in masses of colorful blooms. Huge, fragrant white oriental lilies are almost ready to open. High summer can be bright and beautiful in the garden. In six weeks, I'll be admiring the end of season plants.

There are close to 1,000 varieties of salvia and so many of them are great garden plants. Flowers are long-lasting and many of them have colorful bracts which look good even when blooming is done. Some perennial varieties are good rebloomers if cut back after first flowering. Clary sage is the world's easiest biennial and a wonderfully sturdy plant.

Our plant sale is still going on and we have REALLY good prices now. So, if you have any holes in your garden or a container to fill, stop by and visit. It's also a good time to walk through the gardens-everything is lush and pretty.

I've been seeing a few large butterflies-monarchs and swallow-tails. Saw one monarch caterpillar on the wild milkweed along the fencerow. Don't squash any caterpillars you find on milk-weeds or parley, dill, fennel, rue since they will become butterflies.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Garden Musings

Some garden projects take time and patience. Our pergola is an example. John built it several years ago. We planted vines, changing some over time, and waited for them to grow. We're finally seeing results this year. Sweet autumn clematis at the ends and jasmine on the sides have grown and created a nicely shaded spot. The jasmine started blooming in mid-June and smells wonderful. And I finally got to put out the metal table and chairs I've been hanging onto to create a shaded retreat.

Someone came last week, looked down through the pergola and said, "I'll take one of those." Patience has paid off.

I was getting very concerned about the small number of honeybees I've seen this year. Bee populations are being greatly reduced by the mysterious colony collapse disorder. Finally, this week, I've seen bees. We worked on cleaning up the thyme walk and bees were busy working the thyme blossoms. I've also seen them on lavender, hyssop and catmint. Perhaps the sunny, warm weather brought out more bees. Bumblebees are around too, and more plentiful than honeybees. They're pollinators too, but not as important as honeybees.

Since the bees have shown up, now I can worry about the lack of butterflies. I know they are more plentiful on warm, sunny days, but even in this sunny, dry stretch I haven't seen many. Most I've seen are small (like cabbage loopers) or medium (like red admirals). I've only seen one caterpillar which will become a swallowtail butterfly. It was munching on the rue, but. none on parsley, dill or fennel which are also host plants for the caterpillars. And I see no signs of any caterpillars on either the swamp milkweed or the wild milkweed which serve as hosts for monarch caterpillars. I think butterflies are like lots of animals-reduced habitat and more chemicals seem to be reducing their numbers. if you find big black, white and green striped caterpillars on your dill, parsley, fennel, rue, etc. don't smush them. In a bit, you'll be rewarded with a black or yellow and black swallowtail.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's Happening in the Garden?

Now that we've finally gotten a break from every day rain, I've been very busy in the gardens. Here are some things I've been working on:

Harvesting - culinary herbs like oregano, tarragon, mints, savory, <<< vigorous="" ones="" have="" been="" harvested="" at="" least="" cut="" small="" or="" unattractive="" off="" to="" concentrate="" oil="" production="" prevent="" also="" calendula="" great="" skin="" care="" chamomile="" flowers="" tea="" rose="" petals="" for="" start="" harvesting="" annuals="" herbs="" after="" they="" are="" established="" and="" actively="">

Cutting back perennials -
to neaten up after flowering and prevent reseeding (like valerian, hyssop, & comfrey >>>>)
to encourage rebloom - catmint, ornamental salvias, Jupiter's beard
deadheading to extend flowering-removing individual spent looms like zinnia or stems of spent blooms like emilia

I let some seeds stay on the pIant - for poppies, columbine and dianthus, I'll cut off seed stalks when ripe and save for next spring.

Others, like blue flax and sweet Cicely, I let stay on the plant to encourage reseeding in place.

After I have cut and dried lavender flowers, and after the bees have worked it, I cut stems off. After flowering is the time to trim lavender for shaping. The plant will have plenty of time to push out new growth before fall.

Now that it's not raining every day, keep annual vines like moonflower, hyacinth bean and mina well watered. They like lots of moisture, especially in the beginning.

Flowers I've been drying-yarrow, bee balm, lavender & nigella pods.