Sunday, March 22, 2015


It's been a slow transition from winter to spring.   I always feel that way when I have to trudge supplies through the snow, or break off planting to shovel snow.  Very hopeful the shovelling is done until next winter.  All it takes is a few sunny days and the little plants in the greenhouse really perk up, even if the outside temps are chilly.  I check things in the morning and when I come back in the afternoon, I swear some of the plants have grown.  Everything is still small, especially the varieties I grow from seed.  Each year, I have to discourage people from buying tiny, newly transplanted seedlings.  A few weeks in the greenhouse is all they need.  And of course, the greenhouse environment is much more conducive to good growth than a windowsill in the house.  But what a nice quality that people want to take a baby plant and nurture it to maturity.  One time I told customers, "You can't take home a puppy or kitten when it's a week old."  They laughed and came back in a couple weeks when the plant matured.

Once the snow melted, I made a quick survey of the gardens.  Overall, things don't look too bad.  I don't think damage will be as widespread as after the record 2013-14 winter with both cold and heavier snowfall than this winter.  But the extended cold in February has probably damaged some plants and certainly delayed the start of spring for others.  There were pretty, scalloped green leaves on cucumber-flavored salad burnet when the snow melted.  I thought thymes looked surprisingly good after two months of snow cover.  Lavenders are a mixed bag.  Some, even on the prevailing wind side of the yard, actually looked good.  Others look battered down by the snow.  Don't make any decisions on the health (or survival) of plants at this point.  With lavenders, I always wait til new growth start to emerge before I decide on how hard to prune them.  Generally, I remove as little as possible--just dead and damaged parts.  Last year, after the very harsh winter, I wound up cutting back about half my plants very hard--just above new growth at the base of the plant.  Althnough it reduced its first flowering, the plants survived and filled in quite well.

No signs of survival on any of my outside rosemarys.  As I repeated many times last year--rosemary is not designed for sub-zero temperatures--even the hardier varieties.  I think this will be two years in a row that I have to replant outside rosemarys.

Although it's still chilly, on nice days you can begin cleaning up debris, leaves, etc. in your gardens and beds.  Another early spring chore is cutting back butterfly bushes--the ideal time is mid-March until mid-April.  It will be interesting to see how they fared this year.  Last year, we had to cut back to ground level.  Only the roots survived--everything above ground died.  And many people lost the bushes entirely.  Hopefully, it won't be as bad this year.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Clash of the Seasons

It's still the clash of two seasons here at the herb farm.  All the baby seedlings in the basement tell me spring is coming, but winter is still firmly entrenched outside.  Of course, when you're growing plants, you're always working ahead--from several weeks to a couple months.  But it does make for some incongruous situations.  I said as much to John one day.  We were trudging through the snow, carrying pots and flats from the shed to the greenhouse.  Sometimes, I think I'd go crazy during the winter if I didn't have spring prep work to do.  I can always go downstairs, check on the growth of the seedlings, admire the mini-versions of their grown-up selves and sniff some lavender, thyme or oregano.  It amazes me that small herb seedlings have the full-fledged fragrance of a mature plant.  It's a delightful hint of things to come.

Of course, the flats of seedlings are labelled with variety names, but sometimes I like to quiz myself to see if I can identify the different species when they're so small.  Nearly all plants look alike when the first set of leaves emerge, but they soon begin to develop their individual characteristics.  So it's easy to compare the fine-textured, blue-green foliage of blue flax to the broad leaves of echinacea.  Or to contrast the foliage of snapdragons--green leaves on the light pink variety vs. green-tinged with red on the dark, velvety 'Black Prince'.  One day, I was stumped looking at a flat.  Then I realized it was a new plant for us--an agastache--and I didn't recognize it because I hadn't grown it before.

We were pretty busy in the shop in February--even with the inclement weather.  A number of customers purchased essential oils, containers, base oils and other supplies.  So it was project time.  When you're stuck inside, or just don't care to go out, it's a great time to experiment or try a project that interests you.  It's nice to have a pleasant activity, particularly if you wind up with a useful product, to keep you busy until the weather breaks and outside work can begin.

Speaking of not wanting to go out, Lucy's been funny this winter.  Some mornings, she's anxious to get out and we take our regular lap around the entire yard.  Other times, she won't budge--lies curled up on the sofa, sound asleep.  Luckily, a couple of times were on those brutally cold mornings.  She doesn't mind walking on the snow when there's a crust--she's light enough that she won't break through.  Of course, I'm trudging along and she gets way ahead of me.  She doesn't like as it warms up, the snow begins to melt and she breaks through with every step.  It's a workout trudging through the snow--John's talked about getting snowshoes.

The herb shop is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. through March.  Keep an eye out for the spring newsletter--will be out in the next couple weeks.