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Baby Lavender


I set out to write a diatribe on how evil weed barrier is, but Love is stronger than Hate, right, so let me write a little ode to lavender. Lavender is a fragrant sub shrub- I think it is actually what people think of when they say they want a shrub next to the patio- they want something a couple of feet high, with flowers, but mostly just green leaves. When plant people say shrub, they mean something that grows between 6 and 12 feet high- what the knights who say ni mean. knights who say ni

Anywho- I have a nice little lavender plant in a xeric bed in the back yard, but one of the other things about lavender is that is doesn’t have a very long life- my plant in the back yard is about 5 years old, and it won’t live much longer, no matter how well I treat it (sometimes it is not about killing exotic plants, different things just have different life spans) This little lavender bush will never grow taller than the house, like the oak, or form a sneak-out proof thicket in front of the window, like a rose bush (take that, sneaky teens!) It will just stay knee high, with fragrant leaves and purple flowers, much loved by bees.
Now, the reason I bring up weed barrier is that I was cleaning weeds out of the flower bed by the driveway. Previous owners had planted peonies and roses, in plastic weed barrier with lava rock on top. The bed is gorgeous in June- I probably wouldn’t have chosen those plants and that location and that quantity of lava rock, and certainly that black plastic weed barrier. I do love the garden, though.
The problem with the lava rock on top of plastic is that it doesn’t actually get rid of weeds, it just changes the way they present themselves.Over time, the lava breaks down into smaller chunks, and organic matter like leaves blows in. Weed seeds drift in and sprout. Bind weed finds a way to snake its roots up through any gap in the plastic, making it that much harder to pull out. In addition, the plastic cuts off oxygen to the soil beneath, preventing worms and other soil creatures from living there. It is awful. But, as terrible as weed barrier is, I love the little garden strip, and can’t face digging out the whole area to get rid of the plastic.
This all went through my head as I was cursing the weeds, so I figured out that I could dig it out the way the guy in the Johnny Cash song stole his Cadillac from the factory- one piece at a time.
I was working on an area with a small stump poking through the plastic- something had been planted there, and hadn’t survived. It created a 3 foot long space between peony plants, where opportunistic weeds jump in. So, I pulled the weeds, scooped the lava rocks to one side and cut and ripped out as much plastic as I could get to- there were fat worms living in the mix of crumbled lava and organic matter on top of the plastic, none at all in the dead clay beneath. That’s a problem. I added a scoop of composty soil from the back yard, dumped the lava rock back on and some wood chip mulch.
A few days later,after a trip to the nursery, I popped in a Provence lavender plant. I figure the lava will help aerate the soil, and help the clay soil drain better, which is important for Mediterranean plants like lavender. Three months later, with plenty of rain and sunshine, the baby lavender looks good, and more importantly, the few  weeds encroaching on it are easy to pull from the loose soil. Next year, I’ll clean up another chunk, pull out some more plastic, and plant something else- something herby? Any ideas?

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Basil from the grocery store- you can grow that!


IMG_0682My friend Molly was telling me about her stash of pesto running out- she figured she would have a year’s supply of pesto when she made it and froze it last summer, but here it is, May, and she is down to the last little bit of pesto. She doesn’t want to be in that boat next year, so she is planning where she is going to put basil at her new house.
Basil is one of those plants that needs time to grow from seed, so I usually buy plants at the nursery, which gets expensive.
3.95 for herb plants last summer. To get a summer’s worth of basil, let alone a year’s worth of pesto, I would have to pay a fortune. Shortly after this conversation I went to the grocery, and saw big plastic boxes of basil for 2.99, a quarter pound, lots of stems. What if I rooted these stems in water, and transplanted them? I did this more or less accidentally last summer, and when I put the little plantlets into the soil outside, they did great.
I brought the box home, and pulled off the large bottom leaves for making a batch of soup, and put about a dozen stems into a glass of water on the windowsill. Each node where leaves had grown is the location of a bud where roots can sprout.
Once roots form, I’ll put the stems into small pots with soil so that they can expand, then harden them off to plant outside after the last freeze. Basil are in the mint family, and other mints will root as easily as the basil does.

Rosemary- You can grow that!


At the farmer’s market last spring, I was chatting with this charming German woman who sells pastries (wait, is that offensive? like saying “nice smelling eighth grader” implies that most of them stink? am I saying that I don’t expect Germans to be charming? Maybe she’s Austrian?)Anyway, I had bought a rosemary plant at another stall, and she mentioned she had seen a lemon rosemary cookie recipe, and wouldn’t it be great to have lots of rosemary for recipes like that.

The hardiest rosemary I have heard of is a variety called Arp, and it is hardy to zone 6.  We are technically zone 5, which means we get colder in the winter than it can survive. I say technically, because the zones are changing, with global weirding and all. Zones are determined by the coldest expected temperatures in the winter, and for several years, we have not reached those coldest temps.

I have a two pronged approach to growing my rosemary over the winter, so I have enough for those lemon rosemary cookies (you knew it had to be about the cookies, right?) The first prong was to plant the rosemary in a raised bed right by the house which has a frame over it. The bed is sheltered from the wind, and easy to water, but free draining. If the weather gets really bitter, I can put a plastic cover over the frame. Since rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, it wants soil that drains well, cool temperatures in the winter, but not super cold.  We have just started a cold snap, with the radio weather people predicting lows “well below zero” for tonight. I put a plastic milk jug hat over the plant before it started snowing.

are you okay in there, lil buddy?

are you okay in there, lil buddy?

In case that plan doesn’t work, and I wind up with a skeleton of a plant in the spring, I have also taken cuttings and rooted them on the kitchen window sill.  They are alive now, although I am not sure how they will take the lack of sun as December stretches into January, February, March and April…

Squeee! they are like tiny little evergreens...

Squeee! they are like tiny little evergreens…

Most windowsill herb kits don’t work well, because most windowsills don’t get enough light.  You may see rosemary plants cut into topiaries this time of year, as indoor herbal christmas trees. I would say, if you buy one, cut into it, and make cookies and roast and stuff with it- having fewer leaves will make it more likely to survive the winter in the house. And let me know how the cookies come out.

You can grow that is the fantastic idea of C.L. Fornari, who urges garden bloggers to recommend what to grow to people on the 4th of every month.

 

Saffron- you can grow that. No, really!


Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world- the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower must be picked by hand, and each blossom has only three tiny strands. $1500 per pound was the quote I found on the internet, and the story said that often the spice is adulterated with the flavorless anthers of the flower- only the red strands have the classic flavor used in paella, and ummm… yeah, pretty much paella…
Confession, I planted saffron crocus several years ago, and then I dutifully harvested some, and then it sat in an envelope in my cabinet for a while. I think when I ordered the bulbs, I was like “Most expensive spice in the world? Challenge accepted.” (Actually, I probably bought the bulbs before the “Challenge accepted” meme started, and now here I am, using the meme well after its expiration date.)

Autumn crocus

Autumn crocus

I do have to say, it is very easy to grow, just like a regular crocus, plant the bulbs in fall- the biggest difference is that it sends up leaves in the spring, but only flowers in the fall. Then pick out the stigmas, place in an envelope, and forget about…oh, I mean, make paella.
Anybody have a good paella recipe?

Garlic Scape Pesto


I grow hardneck garlic , and one of the benefits of it is that you can eat the unopened flower buds, called scapes, in the early summer. I have put them in stir-fries before, and they are really tasty, greener, milder chunks of garlic.

My subsistence garlic farm- a year's worth in about 2 square feet.

My subsistence garlic farm- a year’s worth in about 2 square feet.

Then on Pinterest (Pinterest gets me into more trouble- are you supposed to do the stuff you pin, or just pin it, and let your social network believe you do it- like all those ab workouts I see pinned, I mean really? We’re supposed to do how many crunches? (all those not on Pinterest, disregard previous rant)) I saw a pin of garlic scape pesto recipe. Now, here’s where I get in trouble, because I saw it, I don’t think I even pinned it, and I certainly didn’t click through to see the recipe, I just let the idea sink to the bottom of my mind like a pebble in a pond, and then weeks later when I saw the scapes forming on my garlic, I was like, “yeah, so it is probably just like when you make it with basil, maybe I’ll put in a little parsley, so it won’t be too…sharp.” After all, one of the things I don’t really like about basil pesto is that it is kind of bland, so really garlicky pesto would be a good thing, right?

So then I picked all my scapes (picking them is supposed to help the bulbs become bigger, also, rather than sending energy into forming seeds, it adds mass to the roots) and I got out the food processor and started to puree stuff.  It smelled amazing.  I planted roughly 20 garlic cloves last year, which has turned into 20 plants, with 20 scapes.  Which is a lot, for the half cup or so of leaves I snipped off my parsley plant, and the corner of a  chunk of parmesan, and the little baggie of pine nuts and the quarter cup of olive oil.

I have since done some research on official scape pesto recipes, and let’s just say my proportions are off. Here’s one from Dorie Greenspan- calling for about twice as much cheese and nuts as I used, and half as much garlic. Well.

Let’s have some pasta. It will keep the vampires away. If you are making some, can I recommend that you use Dorie’s recipe?

Pizza- you can grow that!


Well, not the whole pizza, there’s no such thing as a sausage tree or a mozzarella bush, after all, but we do veggie pizzas around here, mostly, and it is certainly possible to grow your herbs and veggies for pizza.
I have an oregano plant that has come up reliably for five years. I always swoop down and brush it with my fingers when I walk past, just to smell that evocative scent of …well…pizza.
You can plant onion sets simply by pushing them into the soil, pointy end up. Pull them throughout the summer for green onions.
Wait until after danger of last frost to plant tomatoes, peppers and basil. In my area, that is traditionally mother’s day. This has been a weird year, though, with hardly any snow all winter, then a couple big dumps- one that closed school on May first- this spring. The snow has melted, but the soil is still very cold. I’m going to set up Walls of Water, to warm up the soil in advance of planting.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

I have designed my garden on purpose to mix in edibles with the flowers. Rather than having a big “vegetable garden” out back, each big border has an area without perennials or bulbs that I can turn over and plant annual vegetables. I think it is prettier, and easier to take care of, to have a couple of square feet of tomatoes right next to the asters and iris.

Vanilla orchid- surviving the winter…


I tried to crop out the messy kitchen...

I tried to crop out the messy kitchen…

Last fall, I brought my vanilla orchid inside after its summer vacation on the back patio. It was alive, and had grown quite a bit, but it hadn’t topped out the trellis….Now, as I look at the thermometer and begin to count down the days until it, and all my “house plants” can go outside, the vanilla vine is still alive, but still not huge.

The trellis I built is basically a quilt made out of hardware cloth, wire fencing with smaller holes than chicken wire. The middle layer of the “quilt” is sheet moss. I rolled the quilt into a cylinder about 4 inches in diameter and 2 feet tall. I filled it with orchid mix, then set up a pop bottle with pinholes in the bottom.  It is both a tower for the vine to climb on, and an evaporator. It is also modular- I can build another cylinder that will fit into the top, if and when this little vine decides to grow up to the top of this one.

If you are wondering about how much support you need for your vanilla plant for the first year or two, the answer is, a chopstick would have worked for this guy. It doesn’t need a two foot tall tower.  However, the other design element was for a humidity source for the plant- it is dry here, inside and out, on the front range of Colorado, and the trellis also acts as a humidity tower. It spends the winter in The Boy’s room, which also has a fish tank, and a new anole habitat-( and the cricket habitat that goes with the lizard- I didn’t realize that when I said yes to the lizard, I was saying yes to crickets, as well) The fish tank evaporates quite a bit, as well as the anole habitat, but it is still a centrally-heated room in a house in a semi-desert.

When I first built the trellis, the vine was only 4 inches tall- now, roughly two years later it is about 12 inches tall. If I were starting again, I might just use a chopstick, or piece of bamboo, and maybe use a hurricane lamp as a terrarium.

Lemon Ginger Honey


Ginger, Lemon and Honey for a soothing drink.

This summer on Pinterest I saw a recipe for mixing sliced lemon with honey, and letting it age in the fridge. When your throat is sore, you add a spoonful to hot water and sip. I made a batch with chunks of ginger, and it is wonderful. I have researched it a bit, and the original post on Pinterest seems to have come from the blog “A Little Life.” The trouble with Pinterest is that it is hard to find sources for things. Also, the other problem is that it is a time suck. An incredible time suck.

The original instructions said that it kind of becomes “like marmelade” in the jar. It does, kind of. I used it at all stages of” marmeladification” and now that my jar is almost empty, I can’t say I can tell a difference between the first week and now. I do know that after my first cold of the year, my jar is empty, and I am making another batch.

My 6 step method:

  • Scrub a lemon- organic is probably better, since you are ingesting the peel
  • Slice thinly and place in jar- 1 small lemon is good for a pint canning jar
  • Peel and chop a thumb sized knob of fresh ginger root, add to jar
  • Cover in honey
  • Use a chopstick to get rid of air pockets, if necessary
  • Seriously, you don’t have a chopstick floating around?
  • I got a really nice set from my secret santa last year. Secret santas are the best.

See- another one of my “not-really-a-recipe recipes”

As the lemon juice mixes with the honey, it becomes very liquid, then becomes more viscous. My first jar has maybe one more scoop left, which might be a bad thing, considering this cold.

Dead Junipers- what next?


The new edge of the bed in the front yard- we’ll be adding some compost and lots of mulch.

Most people who know me would agree, that I don’t seem like the kind of person who would pound stakes into the ground, stretch out string between them, and then follow that string as a guide when making the edge of a  garden bed. I was a s surprised as anyone when I found myself doing just that this afternoon.

Yesterday evening, I was cleaning up the edge of the area where we took out the junipers (link) and I used the garden hose to kind of make a gently curving, voluptuous edge, nipping it in close to the faucet, easing it out near the corner of the house.

Then I thought about mowing that line. I thought about all the other curvy, sensual edges in the yard that have to be mowed, then edged. I decided it would be easier to make a straight edge, and let the plants be curvy.

The bed is about 20 feet long, and the outer line is 8 feet out from the house wall.  (when I said I was going to make the bed about 8 feet deep, DH had a moment where he thought I meant 8 feet from current ground level to top of bed.  No.) I bought 40 brick pavers, because I didn’t want to get out the measuring tape and then do math, so of course I have to pay for my laziness with another trip to the big box store.

 

So, the plan:

buy more bricks

when there’s grass inside the line, pop it out and transplant it outside the line, when possible

pile on 2-4 inches of shredded wood mulch

when the weather cools, start transplanting the plants I want to move from the backyard

order bulbs

snake soaker hose around the bed

Plant list

Hazel bush (transplanted from nursery bed)

Sedum Autumn Joy (thanks, Sharon!)

Purple coneflower (divided from back yard)

Bearded Iris (divided from back yard)

Yarrow (divided from back yard)

Lamb’s Ear (divided from back yard)

Thyme (divided from back yard)

Comfrey (divided from back yard)

larkspur (seeds)

columbine (seeds)

lily (ordering- probably dark reds and oranges)

tulips (ordering, probably red and yellow triumph)

daffodil (basic yellow)

Most of these plants I already have, so this is a very cheap design for me. I also know they do well here, so I am not taking much risk that everything will keel over and die. The exposure is a little different- the north end of the bed is pretty shaded from the ash tree and the house, and the south end gets morning sun. The coneflower and lilies will go that direction, because they need the light to flower.  My “largish” plant is a hazel nut bush, and I want it to form one corner of a triangle with the ash and the Korean dwarf lilac under my window.

The plan for the tuteur- the exact measurements will depend on the wood I find.

I am also planning some structure- as you can see in the picture, there is a big expanse of plain wall, so I will put in at least one trellis, and some containers,  and am thinking about building some tutuers, which are french teepees- using lumber,rather than round wood or sticks. And, you know my policy, it should be done with the wood that is already piled up, going to the lumberyard is cheating! There are still some 1×2’s sitting behind the garage left over from taking down the playhouse, so I will start with those.

Resilience- you can grow that!


Purple Coneflower and Yarrow, extremely drought tolerant herbs. They’re loving the heat.

It has been hot here. Crazy hot. Typically, in June we get nice moisture, soaking rains, heavy thunderstorms, nice misty days when it’s just cool and gloomy. Not this year. I realize it is hot pretty much everywhere right now.
We went LA on vacation last week, and it was cool and pleasant- too cool for the ocean almost. Then we ended the vacation in Las Vegas, and it was ridiculously hot. You expect that for Las Vegas, but we kept watching the weather for home, here on the front Range of Colorado, and it was ridiculously hot in Colorado, too.
The guy who mows our lawn was checking in on the cat, and a friend popped over to water the container plants and the tomatoes, but otherwise, we didn’t provide for sprinkling. I expected the worst when we got home, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The grass in the front looks awful, of course, but it almost always looks awful. It’s on the list for future projects.

The beds in back, though, look pretty good. They have plenty of mulch, to hold onto what moisture they get. They have plants that are drought tolerant, or native, or both. I designed them that way so they wouldn’t take much water, and would attract bees and birds and butterflies.

The golden currant is dripping with fruit, the lavender is blooming like crazy, the yarrow and coneflower and chamomile are standing tall.  They look better than I do, dripping and drooping, and praying for rain.

Plan for resilience- xeric doesn’t have to mean rocks and cow skulls, it can be dragonflies and birds and fruits and berries. It takes less water and other resources, and it bounces back from hard times. Resilience is a trait we all can use.

This is pretty much the same shot, from the same angle, as I took 3 weeks ago. It’s been watered once with a soaker hose.

Two books that influenced me tremendously are “Herbs in the Garden” by Rob Proctor, and “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  Both books helped me learn to think beyond “vegetable garden here, lawn everywhere else.”

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