Saturday, October 17, 2009

Garlic Time

Fall is the time to plant garlic and there is nothing better than fresh garlic from your garden. It tastes so good and is extremely pungent, much more so that what is typically found in the grocery store. Garlic is an important herb, and a powerful antibiotic. It helps prevent colds and flus, aids in cardiovascular health and regulating cholesterol and is a great antioxidant as well.

Garlic is easy to grow. It is a heavy feeder so needs lots of good compost and fertilization, but that's about it. The soil should be well draining, and have a ph in the 6.5 to 7.0 range. A good dusting of lime can boost the ph in the soil, but I have never had a problem growing garlic in a good compost.

I start with organic garlic heads from Johnny's Seeds in Maine and like their German Extra Hardy stiffneck garlic. Garlic is known as either stiffneck, which has a stiff stalk in the middle, or softneck, which is typically the type of garlic that is braided. There are many different varieties of garlic so you can try several or find your own favorite. I find the German Extra Hardy grows well and also keeps well throughout the winter.

The cloves are separated from the head of garlic, and planted individually. Each clove will become its own plant and develop a head of garlic. I take the papery wrapping off the garlic clove, but others don't so you can experiment with that. The cloves are planted pointed end up. Make sure to mark where you planted your garlic, and after the ground has frozen put a thick layer of mulch over the area and wait for Spring.

In the Spring, the shoots will appear and can use a good side dressing of compost or high nitrogen fertilizer. I like to fertilize through the season with a seaweed emulsion. And make sure to keep the area well weeded.

Here's my garlic growing from last summer. More next summer on how and when to harvest but get your garlic planted now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Fall Garden

I missed updating the blog in September, but when I went out this morning and there was a light dusting of snow on the garden I thought it was time to get the Fall update done! September is the month where I just let the garden go.

The nasturiums are growing into the paths blocking passage, the parsley and lovage are growing tall with abandon, the calendula and borage are trailing into paths everywhere and I just let the plants be happy for their last few weeks.

And the angelica has just not stopped growing this year. I have never seen one so large although it didn't flower. Angelica is a biennial, so this is theoretically its last year but I'm hoping it will come back and flower next year as I have heard that some do not flower until the 3rd year. With the size of this plant the flowers will be spectacular if it does return.

I also enjoy the fall blooming of the toad lily and turtlehead.

Toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) blooms in late September to October and is well suited to a shady area. Its an attractive perennial that gives some Fall color. Also blooming in September is Turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), whose flowers really do like like pink turtle heads. It is a perennial that grows in part shade, spreads easily but slowly and is no fuss at all. And when those pink flowers show up at the end of the summer it is quite a treat.

September and October are also busy garden months. Harvesting is finished, pickles are made (the cucumbers were so prolific I made 3 batches), herbs are dried and frozen and annuals are pulled up. The scented geraniums have all been dug and potted and are ready for overwintering inside, along with the rosemary, bay, and stevia. I grew ashwaganda in a pot this year and will see if that overwinters. The garlic has been planted, and I'll write a separate post on how to grow garlic. It is so easy every garden should have some!

Some things I don't try to overwinter and use them up and say goodbye. I enjoyed a wonderful cup of tulsi (holy basil) tea the other night as the cool weather will kill the plant soon. It has such a beautiful fragrance in the garden however I like to keep some of the plant growing as long as possible.
The pumpkins were harvested and are shown here in a Fall display. I hate to use them they look so pretty, but I think with the cool weather recently it's time for some pumpkin soup.

So the first snow has fallen and the garden is saying goodbye. It is always bittersweet. But I'm taking my notes and already starting my plans for next season.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Garden Visits

I love to visit gardens, especially herb gardens, during the summer. This year I stayed close to home and visited Elm Bank, home of the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

I love the design of the herb garden at Elm Bank but thought the garden itself looked a bit neglected. It is a beautiful design in a wheel with spokes pattern. Each "spoke" has a different theme such as the dye garden, fragrance garden, etc with herbs fitting the category. There was a good selection of herbs, just needed some tending.

One of the other things I love about Elm Bank is the trial garden. There is always a great variety of new plants to see. One I really liked as Achillea "Apricot Delight", a pretty little yarrow in delightful colors. There were also different varieties of Echinacea and a large selection of scented geraniums including a very fragrant Vanilla scented geranium I will have to go look for. Here is a picture of the achillea.

But I thought the most beautiful garden of the day at Elm Bank was the Childrens Garden. In full bloom with wonderful scents, textures and colors it was a joy to walk through with all kinds of little paths going through the garden and places to just sit and enjoy.

The New York Botanical Garden had a summer exhibit called the Edible Garden, including a culinary herb garden with plantings designed by Martha Stewart, which was the reason I went down there. It was well worth the trip. Sipping on some Martha Stewart herbal iced tea available at the cafe, I spent time in the small but beautifully designed and impeccably maintained herb garden. With beautiful formal boxwood knot gardens filled with sage and cardoon and amazing planters with scented geraniums, rosemary and hops it was a delight.

But along with the herb garden was a wonderful display of edible gardens in a community garden and all through the botanic garden. I particularly liked this display of lettuces as a border.

Of all the beauty in this garden, I think my favorite thing was the flowering lotus in the

courtyard of the conservatory. Having seen lotus flowering in China many years ago, I had forgotten its delicate beauty and the way it rises above the water with those large dramatic leaves.What a treat to see this.

August Garden Progress

Even though we have had a rather cold, rainy summer the new garden has been doing well overall. the tomatoes are still green but I have been overrun with cucumbers and zuchini and the garlic harvest this year was fantastic.
Some highlights...

The nasturiums that were planted around the center circle Hawthorn have been spectacular this month. This was a last minute idea, and I used unsold plants at the store so they are a mix of different kinds and colors. Some looked small and a bit forlorn, but as soon as they were in the ground they were amazing. As seen in the picture left, they have totally filled out the circle. Here are a few closeups of these beautiful, and tasty, flowers.

I used a climbing trellis for the cucumbers for the first time this year (from Gardeners Supply). It worked great, and it is so cool to see the cucumbers hanging off the back of it. It isn't quite tall enough as the cucumbers are vining back down it, off it, around it, anywhere and I think next year I'll get a second one and put them back to back in a teepee like structure. Here's the front and the back view:

I've made pickles, salads, given cucumbers away and they are still coming. Think another batch of pickles is on the agenda soon.

Surprisingly, the peppers did well in August. I had planted a yellow sweet pepper called Banana I think (I lost the tag) and they are so pretty.

And all the herbs have taken well and growing vigorously. The catnip is quite large, the mint was planted in containers and already overflowing them and the tarragon is ready for some tarragon vinegar. Parsley, lovage, oregano, thyme and basil are all quite full and I've been using them in cooking all month. It's time to start drying and freezing them and make some vinegars but I love to see them out in the garden and get rather sad about cutting them all back in anticipation of winter.

One of the special plants I put in this summer was a boneset plant I bought at the International Herb Symposium in June from Zach Woods Herb Farm, an organic herb farm in northern Vermont. Their plants are always wonderful and the boneset is in full bloom and done quite well for its first year. Boneset is a wonderful plant in the back of a garden where its height can really highlight other plantings. And I love to get a plant as a reminder of a special place I've been, it always gives it a special meaning. Medicinally, boneset is used for colds and flus and especially to break fevers by causing perspiration.

I also noticed in the garden this month a large number of butterflies. I'm not great at identification, but this one really loved the dahlias.

Well I guess that's it for now. As the season winds down, I'm starting some plantings of lettuce and spinach for the Fall and starting to think about plans for next year. I just hope those tomatoes ripen - anyone have any good ideas on what to do with lots of green tomatoes?

Harvesting the Hops

Three years ago I planted a small hops plant given to me by a friend at the corner of the store, hoping to train it across the porch railing. The first year it was rather slow growing and I wondered if it would make it. Last year it started growing vigorously and made it about halfway across the porch. Then this year it just took off. It almost made it to the end of the porch and I had a bine filled with beautiful hops.

No that's not a typo, it is a hops bine, not vine. Bines have stout stems with stiff hairs that aid them in climbing while vines use tendrils, suckers or other appendages to attach themselves. Hops are the female flower cones, also known as strobiles.

Hops are most generally known as a flavoring and stability agent used in making beer. Its antibacterial properties also help in beer making by helping the brewers yeast react over other bacterial organisms. Tom's of Maine uses hops in their dedodorant for its antibacterial properties. Hops are also used in a way similar to valerian, as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. A pillow filled with hops is a popular folk remedy for sleeplessness. Hops may be used alone, but more frequently they are combined with other herbs, such as valerian. The relaxing effect of hops is largely due to a specific chemical component, dimethylvinyl carbinol.

I use a dehydrator to dry my hops. Hops are very light and dry even lighter. I started with about 5 ounces of hops, which dried to about 2 ounces. Here's the process I followed:

I pick the hops when they are full, but not opened, and a vibrant green color. Here they are on the vine and just picked.

I don't wash the picked hops, I just brush them off and make sure there is no dirt (or any bugs!) and no brown spots. They are then placed on the dehydrator screens with enough space in between them for air circulation.
As they dry, they fill out a bit and become very light and airy. I try to dry them just until they are totally dry, but not overdried to keep the color and flavor. In my dehydrator, that is about 6 hours on the lowest temperature setting.

Here are the dried hops, you can see the difference...

Hops are a beautiful, hardy plant that go great across a trellis, along a fence, or anywhere that they can climb and have plenty of room. Add one to your garden!

Friday, July 17, 2009

July Garden Musings

When I wrote at the end of May about needing patience in gardening, I didn't know that we were going to have the rainiest June on record and that planting was going to be more delayed than I had even imagined!

But I persevered, catching windows of time here and there in between rain storms to continue planting. I had taken a workshop a few years ago about soil and it was drilled into me not to work soil that is wet. I tried very hard to follow that, but wet soil was the norm in June.

The perennials were all planted and the gardens mulched. Slugs have appeared in abundance and seem to love cilantro, but I've been trying to control them with an organic product that seems to be working. The garlic was the only thing that was able to be planted last year, and it seems very happy. The currants transplanted well this Spring and are fully of berries, providing a pretty backdrop to the garlic. And bordering it is lemon balm, which after all the construction came back up on it's own!

The plant search continues with some spots needing "just the right" plant. I searched all over for an apothecary rose (rosa gallica), an old heirloom traditionally used by herbalists and ended up buying one online. It is small but seems very healthy. I know it will grow large, so there are a lot of annuals around it round now, as is the case with many of the perennials that were planted. I just don't like the look of lots of mulch and the annuals are adding a lot of color and interest, Here's a picture of my small little rose bush before the annuals were planted...

And now mid-July, the garden is looking good. The Hot Kaps that I used were wonderful and I've already picked a 10" zuchinni from the plants I started from seed. I was so proud of it (see picture) and my husband even remarked with amazement "that's from our garden?" The bed I had with the zuchinni and pumpkins is overflowing and there should be a good crop of both this year.

And the espaliered apple tree that I put in 5 years ago has apples for the first time! When the garden was redone we discussed taking the tree out, but I'm so glad now that it stayed. The apples are a bit hard to see in the picture, but they're there!

How is your garden growing this year? Feel free to post comments and pictures!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May Garden & Lessons in Patience

One of the things I love about gardening is the many life lessons that can be received. And for me, patience is one of those. Plants and gardens have their own timetables and they may not necessarily correspond with mine. May has been a month of waiting and watching, planning and yearning, fine tuning the garden plan and wondering how it is all going to work.

We had some periods of warm, sunny weather where I wanted to run out and plant, but I knew it was too early. The full planting moon came several weeks ago but it was still too cold and early. But slowly some chervil, parsley and onions went in the garden.

Martha Stewart had a show recently where she showed a product called Hot Kaps ( to protect seedlings. Her garden was planted and covered with caps - ah ha I thought! I went online and bought some and planted my pumpkins and zuchini started from seed and covered them protectively with their hot kaps. How cute and how satisfying to get some planting done.

And so I waited, as weeds started filling my beautiful new garden soil. The hollyhocks I started from seed went into the garden, also wearing their hot kaps and a good size echinacea and perennial carnation went in. Ladies mantle was transplanted, and russian sage, catmint and comfrey went in. And the weeds still came and the garden looks so empty.

I know that the first year is the year of the "bones" of the garden. Get the perennials in and started, allowing plenty of room for their eventual growth. I yearn to plant everything closer, but know that if I do, I will be pulling out, dividing, and trying to control the plants in a year or two so am holding myself back.

I have a garden plan on paper, with each bed measured and on graph paper to scale, filled in with plants at their mature size. But the gardens look so much bigger in real life and right now they look rather empty.

But in getting plants to fill in all the space, I've also had to deal with my perfectionism in my garden. I go between 2 wanting just the right, perfect plant for a certain location and the other saving every lost little plant I find. Sometimes this works....a plant that is struggling at the store I will put in my home garden knowing that it will come to life and be a wonderful addition. I just can't throw a plant away and although it might not be perfect enough to sell, it can be salvaged. A few of the scented geraniums I overwintered fell into that category. Missing most of their leaves and looking very scraggly, I planted several of them in the garden where they are flowering and new leaves are starting to appear. Voila! But I know I will get a lot further, faster if I buy full size perennials such as the echinacea that went in. So I go between the two extremes, feeling satisfaction in watching the struggling plant come back to life but also appreciating the beauty of the large full plants.

And I realize that it is the need for instant gratification, the desire to have the perfect garden NOW and wanting the plants and nature to be on my schedule rather than my having to adapt to theirs that can be so frustrating. So I take a deep breath, talk to the plants and allow myself to sink into the process of building a garden which will take years, not days.

But that is part of the joy of it and the sense of being part of something living outside myself. I am their caretaker, and they are mine. There is so much in life that is fast, easy and instantaneous that it can feel uncomfortable to be slow, mindful and on nature's schedule. But maybe that's the sign that I need it all the more.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Garden in April

The planting has started in the new garden, hurrah! It has been a cold wet month and not a lot has been able to go in yet. I mentioned to someone that I was planting and she replied that I had said in the store newsletter that it was too early to plant in April. Well, generally speaking that's true. But there are always exceptions. So what has been planted in April....

  • The Hawthorn tree (in picture). This is planted in the center circle. There was much discussion about what to put in the circle...a fountain, maybe a statue, some plantings, a tree or shrub? I decided on the hawthorn because hawthorn is a gentle herb of the heart, and is a sacred plant from the tradition that it supplied the cross of thorns. It is also considered a magical plant for protection. I had a beautiful small tree from our garden club plant sale and no where to put it. It does get large and may not stay in its current home, but we'll see how it goes!
  • Overwintered perennials. Many of my plants had to be moved for the new garden and it was too late in the year to replant them, so I overwintered them in a holding spot until Spring. As they started to show new growth, I've replanted them and have a small border of lavender along with lovage, valerian, ladie's mantle,thyme, chives and angelica replanted.
  • Cold hardy plants. Newly planted are lettuces, arugula, sorrel, tatsoi, peas and a few other assorted greens that grow in the cold soil and air.

So now I'm just waiting for the soil to warm up a bit to continue planting. The space is much larger than I'm used to having which is a good thing, but also a bit overwhelming. So I'm just taking it a bit at a time and trying to curb my impatience as I space plants far apart knowing that they will grow in and a the bones of a beautiful garden are being established.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My New Herb Garden

Is there nothing more promising than a new garden, ready to be planted? Dreams of lush flowers, the air filled with the scent of herbs and robust vegetables ready for the dinner table... We all know that by July those dreams may be dashed, but in late March everything seems possible.

This garden is the result of 6 years of dreaming and planning. Having moved into this house with a small garden running along the side of the house, I struggled to make it work. It was filled with lemon balm and the first few years I affectionately called it my lemon balm garden. And although I love lemon balm, I would like some other things there also. So lemon balm plants went to the Garden Club sale, the store, friends and anyone who would take it....and still there was lemon balm. But after a year or two of diligent removal and new plantings, the form of an herb garden began to take shape. But there wasn't enough room in the narrow strips on either side of an old, lopsided brick path to include all I wanted. And the vegetables always overflowed, with pumpkin and squash vines taking up the path and winding around other plants, tomatoes running into the currant bushes that were there, and the sage growing large and overshadowing everything around it.

But the final blow was the vole, or what seemed like a large family of voles. My first indication several years ago was the echinacea. Big, beautiful echinacea in bloom suddenly was tilting to one side. When I went out to see what was happening, I pulled at it and up the whole stalk came, with no roots at all on the plant or in the ground. After much internet research I found this was probably the work of a vole and the next year, almost the entire garden was eaten from below ground. The vole war started, and after trying all the organic remedies I resorted to poison, which still only worked minimally. So last year I planted in cages I made out of chicken wire and decided that was it....I was giving up on reforming this garden and a new one was warranted.

So after close to a year of plans, discussions, hiring and work my beautiful garden is finished (many thanks to Lisa Bailey of BayLeaf Studios in Maynard, MA, Steve Jackson of Stonewalls by Jackson in Lancaster, MA and Miller Fence in Worcester, MA).

But we finished just as the first snow and freezing weather started, leaving me a blank landscape to start with in the Spring. I heeled in existing plants I wanted to replant and hopefully they have made it through the winter.

So the winter months were spent on dreaming and planning....what to plant, where, how many, how to work around the shade areas and slope by the stairs....all the fun stuff.

I plan to post my progress this season in the blog. Any ideas, suggestions and comments are welcome!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Herbal Companion Planting

So I'm not very good at blogging. I think of all sorts of things to write about, but never actually sit down and do it. So I'll keep trying and see if I can get into the swing of this!

A customer who is planning her herb garden contacted me recently looking for a listing of herb companion planting. No problem I thought, I have lots of information on companion planting. But in looking at it more closely, I realized all the information I had related to companion planting with vegetables and I really didn't have anything that specifically addressed herbs.

Intrigued, I decided to make up my own. What a good winter project, that turned out to be more difficult than it sounds. There really wasn't a lot of good information in my own personal herb book library or on the internet, so I picked out what I could and then headed to the library at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. I went through all kinds of herb books, and developed my own list.

So what is companion planting? Simply speaking, it is putting plants together that benefit each other or keeping those apart that don't. Mother Nature does this on her own but we can mimic it in our own gardens. Companion planting sets up a kind of large scale symbiosis between the plants in your garden, and can do everything from provide insect control, climbing support, control competition, and provide soil conditioning. Some plants even release chemicals that are helpful to other plants, or on the other hand, toxic to other plants.

Going a little further, companion planting also includes not planting together plants that are susceptible to the same insects or diseases and putting together plants that like the same growing conditions but occupy different soil strata. For example, planting African marigolds and narcissus together. The bulbs are planted deep so the marigolds can be planted on top and the marigold repels nematodes that attack the bulb.

According to Anna Carr in Good Neighbors: Companion Planting for Gardeners, companion planting is a mix of folk wisdom, fairy tale or scientific proof, usually a little of all three.

I found this all fascinating. If you would like to read further about companion planting, some books I like are Herbs in the Garden, The Art of Intermingling by Rob Proctor and David Macke, Roses Love Garlic, Secrets of Companion Planting with Flowers by Louise Riotte (which has a great list of herbs as they related to insect control), and Good Neighbors: Companion Planting for Gardeners by Anna Carr.

And I will continue working on my list so if you have any good herbal companion planting thoughts, please pass them along!

So here's the list of things to plant together with their dislikes and other information such as pest control. I included vegetable information as well because if you're like me, I interplant my vegetables and herbs together so find this helpful.

Angelica: Nettle. Dislikes Dill
Anise: Cilantro -plant together for faster germination
Basil: Marigold, Parsley, Tomatoes. Dislikes Rue. Deters flies, mosquitoes, aphids, white fly, controls tomato worm (1 basil plant to 3 tomato plants)
Bergamot (Monarda/Bee Balm): Attracts honey bees
Borage: Tomatoes, Squash, Strawberries, said to increase strawberry crop. Controls tomato worm. Adds potassium, calcium & minerals to soil.
Caraway: Avoid Dill, fennel, carrot. Plant throughout the garden to loosen the soil.
Catnip: Eggplant, collards. Deters flea beetle, ants, attracts bees
Chamomile: Mint, Roses. Plant cabbages & onions to improve chamomile flavor. Improves health of plants grown close to it.
Comfrey: Strawberries. Rich in potassium, nitrogen & phosphates. Great in compost/compost tea
Cilantro (Coriander): Anise, Chervil, Dill (plant with Anise for faster germination). Deters aphids
Chervil: Cilantro, Dill, Anise. Deters aphids, attracts bees .
Chives: Parsley, Roses, Tomato, Carrots. Deters aphids, black spot on roses
Dead Nettle: Potatoes. Deters potato bug
Dill: Dislikes Lavender, Fennel, Caraway, Angelica. Dill & Fennel can cross-pollinate, attracts honey bees
Fennel: Most plants dislike this herb, don’t grow in vegetable garden. Deters fleas.
Feverfew: Roses, attracts aphids away from roses
Flax: Carrots,Potatoes. Deters Potato Bug
Garlic: Roses, raspberries, tomato, fruit trees. Deters Japanese beetle, aphids
Horehound: Tomatoe, horseradish. Deters potato bug, blister beetle
Henbit: General insect repellent
Hyssop: Cabbage, grapes, collards, broccoli, brussel sprouts. Dislikes radishes. Deters cabbage moth
Lamb Quarters: Marigolds, pansies. Deters Leaf miner, attracts lady beetle. Soil improver.
Lavender: Deters Moths -- combine with southernwood, wormwood and rosemary in an anti-moth sachet
Lemon Balm: Most plants, improves tomatoes, attracts nees
Lovage: Improves health & flavor of most plants near it. Dislikes rhubarb.
Marjoram: Sage, Nettle, Pepper. Repels most insects, attracts bees
Marigolds: Plant throughout the garden. Deters Mexican bean beetles, nematodes, others
Mint: Chamomile, Salad Burnet, Nettle, Tomato, Cabbage. Dislikes parsley. Deters white cabbage moth, aphids, flea beetles ants, mosquitoes, mice
Nasturium: Marigold, Savory, Cucumber. Deters cucumber beetle (sow in cucumber hills when plant)
Nettle: Mint, Sage, Marjoram, Angelica, Valerian. Deters Slugs, Snails
Oregano: Cabbage, cucumber, grapes. Deters Cucumber beetle, cabbage butterfly
Parsley: Chives, Roses, Onion, Tomato. Dislikes Mint. Deters Rose beetles, carrot flies, asparagus beetles
Pennyroyal: Roses, broccoli, cabbage. Deters ants, flies, fleas, mosquitoes. Helps roses, attracts bees.
Roses: Tansy, Rue, Pennyroyal, Parsley, Garlic, Chives, Chamomile. Dislikes Boxwood.
Rosemary: Sage, Collards, Cabbage. Deters cabbage moth, bean beetles, carrot fly
Rue: Roses, Strawberries, Raspberries. Dislikes Basil, Sage. Deters flies, Japanese beetles, dogs & cats
Sage: Rosemary, Nettle. Dislikes Rue & Onions.
Salad Burnet: Mint, Thyme
Savory: Onion, beans
Tansy: Roses, Raspberries, Squash. Dislikes Collards. Good all-round insect repellant. Concentrates potassium in soil.
Tarragon: All purpose beneficial garden helper
Thyme: Hyssop, Salad Burnet, Lettuce, Cabbage family. Deters cabbage maggots & worms, flea beetles. Said to help sick plants recover.
Valerian: Nettle. Stimulates phosphorous activity in soil, good for compost. Attracts earthworms.
Wormwood: Dislikes most vegetables. Deters Black flea beetles, mosquitoes, most animals
Yarrow: Aromatic herbs. Increases essential oil content & aromatic quality