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.

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A Memorial. You can grow that.


I was out for a run this morning (zombies weren’t even chasing me- I was running for pleasure) and all over the neighborhood tulips are blooming. My heart bounced up at all of them, but especially the red ones.

They look pink in this shot, but I assure you, the tulips are red.

They look pink in this shot, but I assure you, the tulips are red.

My dad was not what you’d call a keen gardener.  I remember planting radishes with him when I was very little, and he took great pride in his lawn, but he certainly wasn’t where I inherited my love of plants. He did work hard on his red tulips, though.  He planted them beside the front door, and after they bloomed and the foliage faded, he would dig them up, and separate out the daughter bulbs, or offsets, from the ones that had bloomed, then save them on screens he had built until fall, when he would plant them again. I can only ever remember him having red tulips- not sure why.

My dad died about 11 years ago. Kate barely remembers him, and Will only knows him from stories and pictures.  The spring after he died, we planted a Burr Oak tree in the back yard, and it has thrived- it so represents him- strong and tall. He was an oak.  Additionally, that fall, I ordered and planted 100 red tulips, which I put under the oak.  That next spring, they bloomed strongly and vividly- a blanket of red under the little oak. I didn’t follow my daddy’s example, and dig them up and sort them. I never do- I try to select varieties that naturalize, and just let nature take its course.

Nature’s course with tulips is that the bulbs form offsets every year, and they don’t send up flowers until they are big enough. They may come back after a couple of years, but if they aren’t divided, they tend to peter out. Last year, there were one or two flowers, this year I don’t see any.

It strikes me that grief is like that- early on, a blanket of red, and as time passes, the feeling fades, only to be brought up again, with a reminder, or a dream, or a pun. (One of my colleagues recently broke her arm in 3 places. I laughed and told her to stay out of them places. No one in the teacher’s lounge laughed, but Daddy would have.)

Now, I’m not saying that oaks and red tulips are a universal memorial, but if you are grieving someone, think about what they loved, and what you can plant to help their memory stay with you, so that when you smell lilacs, or see daffodils, or pass by a lily, you remember.  You can grow that.

(If you are curious about why no blogging recently, nothing’s wrong, just very busy with they day job, family stuff, and of course, exercise and coffee. I’ve got some ideas of things to write about, and I will, as I have time.)

Garden in a Box- you can grow that


I live in a semi-desert. You wouldn’t know it from all the green lawns and sprinklers and weeping willows around, but it is pretty dry here. We rely on snowmelt from the mountains being stored in reservoirs, and as more people move here, we want to conserve the water we get.

My city water department, in conjunction with Boulder’s Center for ReSource Conservation (yeah, I don’t know what the deal is with the capitol s… it’s annoying) is selling gardens in a box. They have for several years. The Center has hired designers to put together some preplanned gardens with drought tolerant plants. People who live all over the front range of Colorado can participate, and several city utilities give rebates. Depending on where you live, your local utility may offer something similar. Google it.
I have pooh-poohed the idea of a pre-planned garden in the past- I felt like I could design my own gardens, thank you very much. Plug in some iris, srpinkle on some larkspur- BAM! its a garden!
This year I had a lot of space to fill, though. We got rid of our swing set, and so we have about 400 square feet of weedy grass to convert. I plan to put in a couple of fruit trees, but I want flowers around them. Grass also typically takes much more water to look good than the xeric flowers and shrubs that I like.
The preplanned garden was a great choice for us because of the water use thing, (which is why the water department wants to sell them-once they are established, the plants

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone,  Remind me to use my real camera...

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone, Remind me to use my real camera…

are happy with natural rainfall) and also because it is a boatload of plants for not very much money. Remember, I’m frugal.
How much? That’s a very crass question…oh, wait, I brought it up. Well, with a rebate from the city, it was $110 for 29 plants in 4 inch pots, which covers 100 square feet.
My typical way of planting new gardens is to get my mother in law to give me divisions from her garden, and divide stuff that I already have, which is essentially free. However, the garden I chose has plants that are new to me, and my wonderful mother-in-law. Maybe someday I’ll be able to divide these, and give back to her. Someday.
If I were getting these plants at a nursery, it would cost more, and I would be unlikely to choose these particular plants. I’m a person who reads about compost for fun, I read seed catalogs and garden books and even listen to the garden guy on the radio. I think about plants a lot, but I hadn’t heard of most of these before.
The garden in a box is expanding my horizons, and saving me on my water bill, and it could do the same for you. You could grow that…

Hens and Chicks- you can grow that!


IMG_0556My wonderful mother in law introduced me to Hens and Chicks-official name is semper vivem, which means live forever, and they do live forever. It is a succulent plant, with fleshy leaves that grow in a low rosette. The only thing that will kill these things is too much water- I love them for their ground covering ability. I can plug them into mulch and they will spread- each little rosette will grow offsets all around it. That is how it got its common name, someone saw the big plant as a mother hen, with baby chicks underneath. You can break off every offset baby plant, stick the stem into the ground, and it will take root and grow. I have covered a lot of ground with hens and chicks.
I struggle with hanging baskets. I love the way they look, but I never remember to water them. Enter the Hens and Chicks! A week ago, I pried up a clump of them, and plopped them into a coir lined basket I had planted last year (with something that died, because I had forgotten to water it…) The offsets will dangle over the side, and the big green rosettes are just at eye level on my patio.
If you do not have an obliging mother-in-law, (and, believe me, I am not in any way suggesting that you choose a spouse based on the gardening abilities and generosity of his or her mom, but, think about it, how else should you decide? Kindness? Attractiveness? Sense of humor? Bah!) then by all means buy some sempervivems at your local garden center and let them spread. They don’t take much foot traffic, but they look great on the edges of things, near paths, or in the corner of a bed, by a gate, where the sprinkler doesn’t reach.
Hens and Chicks! You can grow that! Viva sempervivem!

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?

Chili Peppers- you can grow that!


It’s salsa season here in the west. Around here, the trucks from New Mexico are parking at the farmer’s markets, or in random parking lots, setting up propane roasters, and the air smells like home. Not the home where I grew up- I don’t have childhood memories of this scent. It’s the home I want to be.

Meet Big Jim- about 8 inches long and full of fun.

Meet Big Jim- about 8 inches long and full of fun.

You can grow your own chilis, you know. And roast them on the grill

.My mistakes with chilis in the past has been not enough space, and not enough water, and not enough sun. In the past I have always crammed them in with the tomatoes, because when you come home from the nursery, they are all little tiny. The poor chilis would get crowded out and shaded out by their neighbors.

This year, I came home with two plants, “New Mexico Big JIm” and “Jalapeno” and actually gave them some space, in the small veggie bed by the back door. Three years ago, I put two tomato plants and two peppers in that 6 square foot space, and by July, the tomatoes had swallowed up the peppers, and I almost forgot I had planted them.

This year, they have space to stretch out, nice deep soil (I’ve been adding organic matter to this bed obsessively- leaves, compost, coffee grounds), and they are amazing. The “Big Jim” is aptly named- about the same flavor as a Serrano, not too hot. I think their highest purpose would be to be stuffed with cheese, and fried, but probably we’ll just roast them and put them in quesadillas.  The jalapenos are just hot- I like them in a nice salsa fresca- tomatoes, onions, chilis, cilantro, all chopped up with a squeeze of lime, and scooped up with chips. Don’t freeze it, don’t can it, just get it while it’s hot.

You can grow that.

A Green Thumb? You can Grow that


You do have to water stuff, it's okay if you get distracted momentarily.

You do have to water stuff, it’s okay if you get distracted momentarily.

Actually, I think the Green Thumb is a myth. Kate asked to plant wheat in her little garden this spring, then in the same breath, she said it would probably die because she didn’t have a green thumb. She wants wheat because she and her brother have been playing a lot of MineCraft, which is a computer game where you umm, mine, and craft…you build stuff, and dig for stuff, and shear sheep. There are occasionally zombie pigmen that attack, and you have to fight them off, but mostly it is a big sand box to play in.
So when Kate actually wanted to plant real wheat, I was excited- a chance for her to interact with real objects, in real space. And, honestly, wheat is a great choice here- most farmers around here grow winter wheat rather than summer, but we live on the plains- grass grows great here.

Then after you pin your brother, turn the sprinkler off.

Then after you pin your brother, turn the sprinkler off.

Kate has a little garden bed to call her own, but this is the first year in a while she has been interested. A few years ago, DH offered her a dollar for every hot pepper she grew for him. I think she made 4 bucks.

That’s where the myth of the green thumb comes in- people think there are people who can grow things and people who can’t, but really, it is mostly about paying attention- watering the wheat, pulling out the renegade raspberry bushes and mallow. With good soil, and enough water and sunlight, stuff will grow, no thumbs required.

Then chase your brother again. At least they're outside.

Then chase your brother again. At least they’re outside.

Peonies- you can grow that


So many buds about to pop!

So many buds about to pop!

When we moved into this house, like 11 years ago, there were plants here already. Some that I have gotten rid of, like junipers that smelled like cat pee, and russian sage, which was plotting to take over the world, starting with my mailbox.
The plants that have given me the least trouble and the most joy, though, are the peonies in the front of the house along the driveway. I don’t know the variety name- I suspect they are the cheapest, most common type, rather than the rare, special-order-from-a-catalog-with-a-fancy-French-name-variety. They bloom profusely in June, then are simply green the rest of the summer.
The reason I say “you can grow that” is that these are the least troublesome plant in the world. They are old-fashioned, cottage-y looking, but they take very little water (how do I know? because I give them very little water) No fertilizer or compost or any special treatment- for this abuse, they reward me with teacup sized blossoms every June.

If you decide to plant them, prep your soil with some compost, follow the directions on the bareroot package, or if it is in a container, place the root ball so the top is even with the soil. Water well, mulch, and wait.

Our cool spring this year means they have not quite popped yet, but you can see they are about to. I can’t wait.

“You can grow that” is a project started by C.L. Fornari, whose goal is to get people growing. Not a bad goal…

Larkspur- you can grow that


Larkspur and yellow yarrow last July.
Larkspur and yellow yarrow last July.

When I was first building my  garden, my wonderful mother-in-law gave me an envelope of larkspur seeds.  I had the hardest time remembering what they were- I’m not sure why the name didn’t stick with me- those, thingies… bird feet thingies…I would think in my head. I finally have them down, and I have them essentially everywhere. Love them: water efficient, good for pollinators, tall, that pretty blue that flowers don’t usually come in. Pretty cottage garden-y stuff, without needing much water.

They are not perennial, that is, the same plant does not come back year after year, like peonies or rhubarb. Instead, they drop their seeds nearby and plant themselves. I help them along by cutting them back and sprinkling their seeds where I want them.

It is a good thing I am not a super control freak, because often “they drop their seeds nearby” means in the path, or along the edge of the bed, or mixed in with the asparagus.  I have wide beds, with lots of shrubs which were tiny when I first planted them.  Back when my MIL gave me the envelope, the larkspur helped it look like the wide “mixed shrub borders” were something other than wide “expanses of mulch with twigs sticking up.” Now that 8 or 9 years have passed, and the shrubs have grown up, the larkspur can seed itself in the handful of gaps that remain.

To have your own spot of cottage garden-y goodness this summer, don’t wait until someone gives you an envelope of seeds from their yard. Instead, buy a pack, prepare a bed, sprinkle the  seeds and water them in. My self-seeded plants are already up, after having spent the winter on the ground, so it is not too early to plant them.  The first grown will be soft and ferny, and the flowers will grow to be 2-3 feet tall.

You can grow that

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming way back last summer.

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming way back last summer.

is an initiative by garden writer C.L. Fornari, to encourage people to get out in the sunshine and grow stuff. You should check it out.

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