Saturday, July 30, 2011


Jasmine has been a very popular plant for us. Every source I've read says it is not hardy here in zone 6. Ours has survived outside on the pergola for at least seven years. It's a vigorous vine that needs a support to climb. The rounded white flowers bloom in early summer and are deliciously fragrant. It's a sweet fragrant scent, but not cloyingly sweet. Many people talk about their fondness for the scent.

As sometimes happens, we lost our supplier for the small jasmine starter plants we got and potted up. So last year I decided to propagate some on my own. I thought cuttings would be easy. Usually, it's easy to root cuttings from a vigorous plant like jasmine. I did get a few to root, but the majority did not and the ones that did root took a long time. Last fall I decided to try layering. That involves taking a long stem, pinning it down into the soil and allowing roots to develop where it touches the soil. All you need for layering is stems long enough and flexible enough to pin - and patience. This was much more productive. All the stems rooted and several could be divided since they developed roots in several spots. So I potted the up in larger gallon sized pots with a trellis to start them climbing. They're available for sale now and if any are left, I'll hold them over for next year.

The plant sale continues and we have some good bargains, so if you still need something, stop by.

What looks good in the garden:

Verbena bonariensis or upright verbena - tall, but on thin, wiry stems and topped with a flat, purple flower. It reseeds reliably every year.

Blackberry lily - each orange flower lasts one day, but there are lots of them. They'll be ornamental through the fall as the blackberry-like seed pods develop.

Foliage plants like variegated sage and santolinas look good throughout the season and complement many flower colors.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mid July in the Garden

The butterfly bushes are blooming beautifully this year. Thanks to all the spring rain and good groundwater, the flowers are big and fat. I've never seen them look this good. In our bee and butterfly garden, we have a "Black Knight" which has the really dark purple flowers. In front of it blooms an unnamed lemon yellow daylily. What a pretty color combination. Another one I like is white coneflower and blue hyssop. It's the classic blue and white combo, plus I like the contrast in textures between the coarse coneflower and the finely cut linear foliage of hyssop. One day I was working by the hyssop and about every other stem had a bumblebee or a butterfly - mostly skippers - on it.
We never did anything to the thyme walk this spring because of the wet weather. It is so full and has been blooming several weeks. It's really one mass of flowers this summer. And the bees love it - honeybees, bumblebees, little tiny bees and other winged insects I can't identify. Also, at least one bunny's nest in the thyme walk. Think how good those bunnies smell! Lucy's been smelling around but she hasn't found them.

What looks good in the garden:
Anise hyssop - licorice scented, purple spiky flowers, bees love this too. Different than the blue hyssop above.
Coneflower - lots of big, cheerful flowers in several colors now.
Emilia - fuzzy scarlet flowers on wiry stems, deadhead for continuous blooming.
Love-lies-bleeding - chenille-like draping flowers. They'll continue to grow, but are striking even when small.
Cornflowers - loads of purple or blue flowers bloom constantly when they get going.

We've seen herons flying over, singly and a pair, but none have landed in the yard. I'm sure they're traveling between ponds.

One day, I was surprised to see a hops plant with about 90% of its leaves gone. It looked funny and I knew it wasn't like that the previous day. Looking closer, I saw big, hairy caterpillars on the few remaining leaves and the stems. They're the comma butterfly caterpillars which feed on hops. So I should have a bumper crop of them in the garden soon.

Most of my lavenders did not get trimmed in the spring because it was so wet. Then of course, blooms had formed and I didn't want to cut all the buds off. So now that they're done, it's time to trim them for shaping. I wound up cutting them all back hard. Most of them had nice new growth underneath and that will fill in nicely before it gets cold. A couple plants had little new growth and lots of deadwood. I just cut them back hard also. They may push out new foliage and be fine. If they don't, I'll pull them out and replace them in the fall. Sometimes with woody stemmed plants it is easier to start with a new plant.

What I'm harvesting now:
all varieties of mint
Chamomile flowers for tea
fast growing perennials like tarragon, savory, lemon balm, oregano, and catnip
basil - keep pinching back stems so plant is compact and full of foliage. If you don't use the cuttings with supper, dry/freeze.

My friend Sandy who does a lot of my computer work had a direct lightning strike to her house and it killed her computer. We'll be rebuilding our mailing list and the newsletter should still reach most people. The most likely to be missed are those who signed up this year. Also, once she's up and running I'll post the address for those getting an e-newsletter to submit their email address. Some of these storms this summer have been really bad. Each time one misses us, John breathes a big sigh of relief.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Plant Sale!

Our plant sale is going on. Annuals are half off and perennials are by three, get one free (any varieties, mix and match). So if you have an empty space in the garden or a container to fill or just like to try out a new plant, we still have a lot to choose from.

A couple interesting perennials:
lady's bedstraw - grassy foliage with fairly tall, tiny but deliciously fragrant gold flowers
kent beauty oregano - grown for its flowers, rather than flavor, the flowers deepen to a pinky rose and dry well
anemone - late summer and fall blooming perennial with white or pink flowers like a single rose, prefers part shade

Once the bees have finished with the lavender flowers, cut off the flower stalks. Also prune your plants now to achieve a better shape.

Our thyme walk continues to bloom. Having different varieties means a much longer blooming season. And the bees - bumble and honey - just love thyme flowers. They work the area nearly all day long. Another bee favorite is anis hyssop with its spike of purple flowers. I like it (the leaves) mixed with peppermint for a refreshing tea.

I haven't yet seen signs of monarch caterpillars on the milkweed (swamp in the garden and wild out back) yet. There's also a milkweed moth which produces a caterpillar the same colors, but hairy! I'm seeing more butterflies, too - mostly small - loads of loopers and also skippers, but a few biggers ones too - an occasional yellow or black swallowtail and a couple of commas.

Annual vines are now established and with the hot summer weather will begin to grow like crazy. Remember they like a lot of moisture especially in the beginning. The mina or firecracker flower has put out the most growth so far (ahead of moonflower and hyacinth bean) but the others will catch up soon. Mina produces a spray of yellow, orange, and red flowers late summer and fall and the hummingbirds do like them in our garden.

Many perennials can be cut back after flowering. Some will rebloom, and all produce nice new foliage.

Into Summer...

Now that summer has arrived, I try to do harvesting and drying every week. The vigorous perennial herbs like mint, oregano, savory and tarragon can be cut back halfway and will quickly rebound. None of my basils are large enough to harvest yet, although they can be pinched back regularly (above where new leaves emerge) to provide fresh basil for the kitchen and also to produce a full and compact plant with lots of foliage. Basils and mints also prefer more moisture than many drought tolerant Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary. I'm also harvesting chamomile flowers to dry for tea.

What's looking nice in the garden:
rose campion - shockingly bright magenta flowers against silver foliage
perennial salvia - purple arching flowers in a large clump
perennial geranium - tallish groundcover with lots of purple flowers and lasting blooms
clary sage - long lasting, still looks great
yarrow - all are blooming, yellow, pink, and white. I prefer the yellow for bunching and drying. Also good for drying - the Pearl - which is white and resembles baby's breath
hollyhock - flowers look great at the back of the bed, rust on leaves hidden
hydrangeas - still gorgeous

Speaking of hollyhocks, rust is an ongoing problem. Certain plants are susceptible to various fungus diseases like holly hocks and rust or bee balm and mildew. The spores are in the air and hot, humid weather allows them to thrive. You can spray ornamentals with fungicide, but it won't remove what is there, so for perfectly clean plants you must begin spraying before you see any disease. A lower-tech solution is to cut back bad foliage and new foliage will emerge and be clean - at least for a while. An organic solution I use in the greenhouse for mildew on rosemary is 1 teaspoon baking soda mixed in a quart of water and sprayed heavily on affected plants.
This entry was intended to be published in May.

Besides lavender, I've also started drying other herbs. It seems a little strange because I started drying while we were still planting. With the long, wet spring, it was hard to get anything in the ground until the second half of May. John, our helper Zach and I went on a planting spree and put in just under 200 plants in about 10 or 11 days. While we were doing that, I saw how many things were ready to harvest. The perennial herbs were certainly lush and full due to all the early rainfall.

The first thing I harvested were rose petals. I dry them to use in potpourri, to include in sleep pillows and to sell in the shop. We have several varieties of roses growing in the gardens. An unidentified dark pink, fragrant climbing rose dries well along with the single bi-colored and fragrant Rosa Mundi. These two only bloom once, almost always in June and usually close to the time lavender blooms. We also have some David Austin English roses. They are pretty, multi-petaled and somewhat fragrant, but the petals shrink considerably and also darken as they dry so I prefer the other two varieties for drying. I dry them flat on screens which works well.

I've cut back and dried oregano, lemon balm and tarragon along with a few varieties of mint. Many of the perennials are huge and I could easily harvest twice as much, except I've run out of drying room. Chamomile flowers are easy to dry and great for tea. They flower over a couple weeks, so that harvest continues. Remember that herbs will re-absorb moisture from the air on humid days so don't store your dried material until they are thoroughly dry-crispy, like cornflakes. If mold develops on dried herbs, they must be discarded.

What's looking good in the garden:
clary sage - tall, sturdy flower stalks that bloom a long time
rose campion - bright magenta flowers surrounded by soft, gray foliage
thymes - several varieties blooming with lilac flowers, making the bees very happy
valerian - tall white aromatic flowers
hydrangeas - big, beautiful and bright blue

Lavender in May

This entry, as well as the next was intended to be published in May and although Kathy sent it to me then, I have been lax in getting them posted!

Lovely, lovely lavender! Although lavender's spring season has been creeping into May. with our slow start to spring this year, I figured it would be June this year. So I've been happily bunching and crafting. One day I made lavender hearts which I like as tree ornaments or package toppers at the holidays. Today, I started on weaving wands. It's just simple over and under weaving, but each one is slightly different due to the difference in individual stems. And it's always fragrant - however you are using it. I like the very dark purple flowers for dried bunches - pretty and fragrant and the lighter colors for the wands since the flowers are enclosed by ribbon.

Remember to pick lavender in the bud before the little blooms open. The opened flowers often fall off when dried, so you lose aroma. Stems on the plants that I haven't harvested I let go because the bees love it. When they're done with it, cut off the spent stems to prevent seeding and encourage rebloom. After spring blooming is the best time to trim plants in order to shape them.

Happy to report I'm seeing quite a few honeybees since the weather warmed up. Outside, they're very busy with thyme flowers as they bloom. In the greenhouse, they're all over the profusion zinnias. When I'm watering those plants, they move away impatiently, but hover nearby and come back as soon as I move on to another flat.

A customer asked about winter-hardy rosemary recently and asked if it was guaranteed to be hardy. It reminded me of an herbal scam - claiming zone 7 plants will be hardy in zone 6. Several varieties claim to be more winter-hardy, but I believe and will always tell people that I think the deciding factor is the severity of the winter. Lots of types survive a mild winter, not many at all a tough winter like the past one.
No guarantees!