Jun 112014
 

by Avis Licht

In California June is a busy time in the garden.  Some plants are already in and growing, some need to be planted and some need to be sown.

All the highlighted links will lead you to more information on that topic.  There is lots of information here. So come back often.

My broccoli has been setting beautiful heads for the last month and now the side shoots are ready to be harvested.  Chard, carrots, kale, lettuce, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are all making their colorful entrance to the table. Freshly harvested food makes even the simplest meal a taste treat.

Herbs are the piece de resistance of the garden.  Easy to grow, beautiful, healthy and tasty, they make every meal more flavorful and healthier.  If you only have time or space for one plant, make it an herb. Rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, tarragon, oregano, mint – they are easy to grow and add vibrancy and health to your food and to you and to your garden.

In June we really have beauty and bounty - Raspberries by the bowl and lillies.

In June we really have beauty and bounty – Raspberries by the bowl and lillies.

In June, I go out every morning to harvest berries of all sorts for breakfast.  It’s a great way to start the day.

Red poppies in the morning sun.

Red poppies in the morning sun.

I grow flowers not only for their beauty, but because they provide food for bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other important pollinators in the garden.  The more diverse your garden, the healthier it will be.

Rhodohypoxis

Rhodohypoxis

Be sure to visit my online store if you want tools, seeds, compost bins, gardening gloves and much more.  Whatever you find in my store, I personally recommend.

 

This hummingbird is going after the nicotiana

This hummingbird is going after the nicotiana

IMG_0079

Chard stalks are beautiful, too.

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I grow many kinds of bee friendly plants.

Red Poppies

Growing herbs in a container near the house is easy and convenient.

Growing herbs in a container near the house is easy and convenient. This planter has basil, oregano, tarragon and marigolds.

 

Apr 222014
 

Day lily

by Avis Licht-

Although I often feel a little cynical by what I call manufactured holidays, like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day, they do have their uses.  Any reminder to love someone, remember, care for, forgive, or celebrate with someone is a good thing.

The same goes for Earth Day.  I believe and practice in my life, that EVERY day is Earth Day.  Each day I try to start the day with intention to do no harm, or at least less harm, and to leave my place on earth a little better than before.  Each day I spend some time in my garden. Sometimes just to walk about and enjoy it, to listen to the birds, to smell the jasmine.  Sometimes it’s to work hard, dig the beds, remove weeds, sow delicate seeds, prune the trees. I am a caretaker.  We are all caretakers.

Today is a good day to take a few moments and listen to our co inhabitants- the birds, the humming  bees, the leaves moving in the wind.  Grateful for each day we can breath fresh air, drink clean water, walk on the earth. Grateful for being able to make a difference.

Thank you for reading my ramblings on the life of a gardener.

Here are some photographs of inhabitants of our Mother earth.

A place to meditate and contemplate

A place to meditate and contemplate

 

 

Our precious earth

Whether seen from the perspective from space or our own little garden, we still need to take good care of our Mother Earth.

Rose

Beauty in many forms

worlds within worlds

Worlds within worlds

Children are captivated by sowing seed.

Children are captivated by sowing seed.

Borage in the rain

Borage in the rain

 

 

 

Jun 122013
 

by Avis Licht

Mixed herbs in the landcape

Mixed herbs in the landcape

In the garden my plants are bursting with happiness from the latest rains after some very warm days.  In northern California we rarely get rain in June, and when we do, it’s cause for celebration.  Irrigation from the municipal water that is treated with chemicals, is not the same as rain and the plants truly respond to the difference.  Read about nitrogen and rain in this post.

Father’s Day is coming up soon.  Be sure your favorite Dad has the tools he needs for his garden. Great Garden Tools

A few easy and useful tips for keeping your summer garden growing well:

1.Check your irrigation system for leaks and make sure all the plants are getting watered.  With overhead sprinklers plants can get missed by interfering foliage.  With drips, you need to check that they are working, haven’t popped off and that there are enough for your plants. Drip is good at conserving water, but you still need to check for moisture  around your plants.

I recommend Robert Kourik’s book on drip irrigation. He is the expert and as we say, wrote the book on it.  Read about it here. 

Here is the place to get drip irrigation at excellent prices: Drip Irrigation Products

2. Mulch your plants to keep the soil from compacting, to preserve moisture and reduce weeds.  Read this post about different types of mulch. I talk about how to pick the right mulch for your garden.

3. Keep Your Eyes Open.  By this I mean, walk around the garden regularly and look at the plants, the soil, and the birds and the bees. By noticing changes in your plants early you can rectify things. For example,  if they are being eaten by bugs, snails or birds, if they’re wilting due to lack of water, sun or even too much moisture, or just not thriving, you will be able to keep the garden healthy before it is too  late. Doing this one thing can be the difference be success and not so much success.

4. Enjoy your garden.  Take the time to sit back with a cup of your favorite beverage and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  I’ve placed chairs in various places around the garden so that there’s always the right place to sit no matter what time of day it is.

A  quiet shady place to read

A quiet shady place to read or perhaps catch a few winks

May 212013
 
Edible landscaping

by Avis Licht

Bamboo poles for climbing plants

For a front yard, make sure your structures are ornamental as well as useful.

 

Edible landscaping has become more popular than I ever thought it would or could. Every day we hear about some new project in cities all over the world. We’re seeing gardens that are both beautiful and have delicious, healthy produce. I mean, it only makes sense.

In Marin County the municipal water district has been encouraging people to conserve water by planting low water use plants as well as food gardens.  In May they have a tour of the best gardens that use principals that they call “Bay Friendly”:  organic, drought resistant, permeable surfaces, habitat friendly for beneficial birds and insects, and lovely to look at.

On the tour last weekend I took some photos from a few of the gardens that incorporated some good edible landscaping ideas.  See if anything inspires you for your garden. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Artichoke, plum, alstroemaria

Raised vegetable box

Raised vegetable boxes define an area and let you put good growing soil into a small area. It’s also easy to maintain.

California native plants

These California native plants look good, are low maintenance, provide flowers and habitat. They go beautifully in an edible landscape.

Native California plants

Another view of the same yard. This shows that the native plants create a small patio area and the vegetables are at the far end of the yard near the fence.

To read more about designing your edible landscape, read this post. 

 

Be sure to leave a comment or shoot me a question by going to the Ask Avis page.

Container Gardening

This suburban backyard is all raised beds and container plantings. Easy to maintain and very productive.

Chicken coop

This tiny chicken coop in an unused side yard provides fresh eggs for the owners.

Fruit trees in containers

I’ve never seen this many fruit trees in containers. Lots of varieties but also a smaller harvest from the containers. When growing in pots, be sure to give plenty of water and nutrients. It is easier to find the right growing conditions when you can move the pots to the right micro climate. Since they will be dwarf simply by being in pots you can grow more trees in a smaller area.

 

To find out more about growing in containers read my post on self watering planters.

Cauliflower

This huge cauliflower was in a raised planter. You can get huge results when you have the best soil and perfect growing conditions.

 

 

tower of strawberries

This tower of strawberry pots is fun to look at and certainly easier to harvest the strawberries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about growing strawberries read this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Back yard garden

Path, flowers and bird bath highlight the backyard garden. This yard has many fruits and vegetables, yet is entirely enchanting. At least I think so.

 

 

 

 

The Entry Patio

Entering the garden, you are led by a curving path, under fruit trees, by flowers, herbs and native plants.

Vegetable Garden

I love that this vegetable garden looks like a garden garden. It’s not just utilitarian.

 

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Nov 102012
 

by Avis Licht – 

carrots

Beautiful, delicious carrots from a container planting

People who live in urban areas or in apartments often think they can’t grow food. But using planters can be a fun and easy way to grow certain crops.  Containers have their challenges, particularly because of limited soil and need for careful watering and fertilizing.  On the up side, you can put them in small places, in the right light conditions and keep the bugs away. For more on container growing, read this post.

A confession – for two years I haven’t been able to grow any carrots, though I’ve sowed a whole lot of seeds. I prepare the bed carefully, rake and smooth it. Sow it. Water it. Watch and wait.  Sure enough the seeds germinate, I give a victorious shout. The next day I come out and all the seedlings are gone. Some ravenous sow bugs, earwigs, slugs, snails or combination of any or all of the above have managed to decimate my crop. For gardening beginners, this could be very discouraging, especially if an experienced gardener can’t seem to have success.

See those carrots in the photo? Those are mine. I grew them. In a container! Here’s how:

1. Get a pot: clay, wood, plastic or cloth – doesn’t matter.  For carrots, the pot should be 10 -12 inches deep.

Container for planting

A cloth container – use and put it away when you don’t need it. These cloth pots are easy to transport, easy to store: a real plus in urban areas. Find them at this site: Smart Pots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Fill container with planting  medium

Carrot seedlings

A mix of seed starting medium and worm compost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Keep seed moist to germinate, keep pot watered, but not soggy. Thin seedlings: 1/2 -1 inch apart.

Carrots in pot

2 months after sowing, carrots have filled in container and are ready for harvesting

 

When harvesting, gently separate the greens and look for the largest carrots . Pull them out carefully, making sure not to disturb the neighboring carrots. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a little water after harvesting to settle the roots.

In a 3 gallon size pot (like the one on the left) I will harvest more than 50 small carrots.  They are were incredibly sweet and I had NO bug problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be sure to read more about container planting in this post.  Sign up for an email subscription to this blog so you won’t miss a post.

container grown carrots

Even on tiny decks you can grow fun food. Not only herbs and flowers, but greens, salads and much more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 302012
 

by Avis Licht – Growing food in containers is easy and straightforward. Here are some tips that will give you greater success.

Ornamental containers can grow herbs and food.

Colorful pots mixed with herbs, lettuce and flowers are easy to harvest

1. Site your pots so they get enough sun for the type of plant you are growing. Lettuce doesn’t need to be in full sun, but most of your herbs prefer it sunny. If you’re planting on a deck with an overhang be sure to watch what the sun does during the day. If you have a choice, morning sun is better for plants than afternoon sun, which can be really hot.

2. Choose plants that you like to eat and will be sure to harvest. Herbs are a great choice for containers, as you can cut a little bit off regularly and the plant still looks good and grows well. Herbs suitable for containers are: Rosemary, parsley, thyme, chives, basil, cilantro, lemon verbena, oregano, lavender, tarragon, sage and mint.

Blue violas

These violas have been blooming for 5 months

3. Edible flowers, of course are a great plant for containers. They are ornamental as well as edible. You can decorate your meals with them. Some of the easiest to grow include, nasturtiums, dianthus, calendula, Lemon Gem marigold, Citrus Mixed marigold and Tangerine Gem marigold. Scented geraniums have leaves and flowers that you can use to garnish food. Pansies are well known, can grow in shade and are easy to find. Pansy and violet leaves and flowers are edible and nutritious.

Nasturtiums

 

 

 

Pansy and lavender in pot

Pansy and lavender combine nicely in pots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. IMPORTANT TIP! Plants in containers dry out quickly. Sun on the pots heats up the sides and causes them to dry out.  It is important to keep them moist.  When soil dries out water goes through the soil without being absorbed. People think they’re watering when they put the hose to the pots, but in fact, if the soil is dry, the water goes through the pot and out the bottom.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this.  If you have a drip system, put the pots on their own schedule and water them 5 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day. This allows the water to soak in and not drip out the bottom.

One of the best solutions to container planting that I’ve found are self watering pots.  They have a reservoir at the bottom and the moisture wicks up into the soil.  Some of these pots only need watering once a week or even once every two weeks and your plants stay healthy and strong.  It is a great solution.

I’ve been using these containers for years with huge success. You can get them from Gardener’s Supply along with a light weight soil medium for growing your plants. They have a special container and mix just for tomatoes

tomato in self watering container

Self watering containers keep plants from drying out.

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self watering  pots

Keep plants moist and healthy with self watering containers

Gardener's Supply Company

Let me know what are your favorite plants to grow in containers.

Apr 092012
 
Japanese eggplant

Eggplant with basil and tofu anyone?

by Avis Licht

When deciding what to plant in your garden, in addition to the obvious parameters of site and climate, you can have fun with ideas based on what kind of food you like to eat.  Are you Italian/pizza lovers? Is your favorite dinner a Mexican style salsa/burrito/tomale? Why not plant a theme garden based on your favorite meals?  To make that homemade pizza sauce you could plant different heirloom varieties of paste tomatoes, with 3 different types of peppers and quantities of flavorful herbs.

When deciding on the vegetables for your style of garden, you can also look up recipes and find out the best herbs for your dishes.  Instead of  going from store to store trying to find the right herb, you could just go out and pick it fresh.

Asian herbs include: Chinese chives, coriander, cilantro, ginger, Thai basil, lemongrass, peppermint, sorrel  and dill. Asian cuisine is vast and covers many countries, but there are some herbs like the lemongrass that have a very particular flavor which can be hard to find in stores.  Although it is a tropical herb and doesn’t live in climates below 30 deg F. you can treat it as an annual and it will give you plenty of leaves.

Lemon grass

Beautiful in the edible landscape, Lemongrass is an unusual and wonderful herb for Thai food.

Herbs that are common to many types of cuisine and easy to grow include: onions, cilantro, garlic and basil. Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme and bay leaves are easy to grow and should be in everyone’s garden.  It’s hard to describe the difference between fresh and dried herbs to those who don’t use fresh herbs.  I guess it’s like the difference between breathing in the fresh air at the ocean and using an oxygen tank with tubes up your nose. Well, that may be a little extreme, but you get my drift.

Thai Basil

Thai Basil has a unique flavor- grown with beans in this photo

Some unusual vegetables that you would use in Chinese and Japanese cuisines include bok choy, Napa cabbage, daikon radish, green onions, snow peas and soybeans. You can find seeds for these plants in any of the catalogs in my Resource page.

For a Mediterranean garden you would plant all of the following:  tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers,asparagus, Tuscan kale, Savoy cabbage, radicchio, endive, artichokes, zucchini, fennel, bell peppers.

For Mexican cooking, legumes (black beans, pinto beans), corn, and a variety of peppers (poblano, jalapeno, ancho, serrano) are key. And don’t forget the squashes. They’re easy to grow, taste great and keep well, (that would be winter squash).

beauty in the vegetable garden

Themed gardens are beautiful as well as productive

Stay tuned for landscape plans for theme gardens. Subscribe to my blog and you won’t miss any of the information you need to keep your garden healthy, beautiful and bountiful.

Here’s a great recipe I found for Homegrown Pizza Sauce – all ingredients from the garden:

How to make Homegrown Pizza Sauce

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Ingredients

“I’ve always made pizza sauce based on my mother’s recipe, starting with a can of tomato sauce. This year, I started with paste tomatoes from my garden with great success. You’ll notice that the amounts in the ingredient table below are rough; please add veggies and herbs according to your taste

  • 3 pounds very ripe tomatoes, washed, stemmed, quartered, and seeded
  • 1 yellow onion, very small dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbl. dried oregano
  • 1 tbl dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbl. olive oil
  • sea salt, black pepper, and sugar to taste.
  1. Place quartered tomatoes in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently. The tomatoes will let go of a surprising amount of juice.
  2. Remove from heat and strain off solids. Set solids aside and return juice to the stove.
  3. Simmer juices, uncovered, until reduced.
  4. Add tomato solids back into the saucepan and stir in all remaining ingredients except sugar.
  5. Bring sauce back to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are translucent and the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency.
  6. Taste.
  7. Add a small amount of sugar, mix thoroughly, and taste again. Repeat until you achieve an acidity that tastes good to you.
  8. Sauce should keep in the refrigerator for about a week, in the freezer for a few months, or may be canned.” From www.opensourcefood.com.

Don’t forget, it’s not too late to start your Spring Garden. To help you I’ve put together a handbook on the steps you can take to be successful in your garden. Included is information on soil, sites, annuals, perennials, fruits and much more. This is a 20 page guide to get you started on your edible landscape. Forty years of gardening has given me plenty to share. If you have enjoyed my blog, be sure to get my booklet.

$4.99 – such a deal

Spring Garden Made Easy

Mar 282012
 
Honey bee in borage


Honey bee in borage

Borage blooms early and long - the bees love it (click to enlarge)

by Avis Licht

Often, when I design a garden people ask me if it will bring bees.  Usually, it’s because they are afraid of having bees in the garden. Bees, who are gentle creatures, are more interested in finding nectar and pollen than stinging you. Often people mistake yellow jackets, who come in late summer to eat your sweet fruit or meat at the outdoor barbeque, for bees.  They are not the same at all.

Bees are absolutely necessary to the health and productivity of your garden. We need them to pollinate our fruits and vegetables.  35%  of our food worldwide is pollinated by bees. Imagine a world without honey. Well, please don’t do that.

Recently there has been a disappearance of bees called Colony Collapse Disorder. Entire hives die without apparent cause.  By planting bee friendly plants you can personally aid in their resurgence.

The best plants are ones that are native to your locale or grow well in your climate. Herbs, flowers, and flowering trees all contribute to their food source.

Using only organic controls in the garden is another way of protecting your bees.

 

Don’t forget to buy my ebook on The Spring Garden Made Easy 

Spring Garden Made Easy

 

There are many wonderful bee plants.  These are a few of my favorites.

Lavender and violas

Lavender can be planted in the ground or in containers. Beautiful everywhere.

1. Lavender: For millenium lavender has been used in soaps, balms and sachets as well as medicinally for its calming effect. My local ice cream shop makes the best honey lavender ice cream.  Grow it in full sun, well drained soil, in climates that don’t go below 20 deg F.

2. Salvias: In the sage family there are many herbal and ornamental varieties of Salvias.  Bees and hummingbirds love them and they come in many colors.

Salvia Hot Lips

This bi colored Salvia, Hot Lips, is just one of many varieties. (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

3. Lemon Balm, Melissa officinale – In the mint family, Lemon Balm has a wonderfully lemony flavor for tea. It is considered one of the premier bee plants. Melissa is a Greek word meaning honeybee.

Lemon balm

In the mint family, Lemon Balm has a wonderful lemon flavor and is easy to grow

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Ceanothus– California lilac (many varieties). Many native plants are helpful to the bees. The California Lilac grows on the hills in California and as its name suggests is wonderfully fragrant. It flowers in the blue, purple and whites and  can be a very low growing shrub or up to 15 ft. Well drained, sunny sites are what it needs to thrive. It requires very little care.

Rosemarinus officinalis

This rosemary is planted next to my Apple tree. It brings the bees to pollinate the tree.

5. Rosemary – One of the most loved herbs for cooking, rosemary is easy to grow and long lived.  The bees love it. In my garden it starts to bloom early in Spring and is under the apple trees which are just starting to bloom.  This companion planting encourages the bees to pollinate my fruit trees.

In the herb family you can plant Basil, Catnip, Dill, Fennel, Hyssop, Lavender, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage to encourage your friendly bees.

In the ornamental flowers, try Agastache, Salvia, Bachelor Button, Black Eyed Susan, Clematis, Coreopsis, Lantana, Larkspur, Sweet William , Yarrow, and Zinnias.

In shrubs, Ceanothus, Manzanita, Arbutus, Mahonia and Philadelphus are beautiful and useful.

The Crab Apple tree blooms early and is absolutely buzzing with activity.

California lilac

The buds on this Ceanothus are just getting ready to open. (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crab Apple Blossom with bee

The bees adore this Crab Apple which blooms in early spring

Coming in for a landing

Coming in for a landing

 

Jan 042012
 
A garden full of herbs for birds, butterflies and humans

by Avis Licht

A garden full of herbs for birds, butterflies and humans

Herbs are wonderful plants for the edible landscape -beautiful and healthy

 Herbs have many uses in the landscape.  Many have a culinary use, many are used medicinally, they are generally easy to grow, their flowers are an excellent source of pollen and nectar for birds, bees and insects, often drought resistant and long lived.  Well, it doesn’t get much better than that for a multi use plant.

In the two previous posts, I talked about making garden design decisions based on your climate and place and on your desires. When choosing plants to fill in the landscape you not only want to use plants that are pretty and useful, but also “belong” there.  By belonging I mean that they fit in with the style of your garden, whether formal or informal, that they will thrive in the conditions and that they work in the scale of the garden.

A mixed herb and ornamental garden

Herbs are interplanted with ornamentals near the house for easy access

This is a newly planted garden.  The herbs are young and small. When mature they will fill in the area and create a feeling of beauty and lushness. When the herbs have been harvested at the end of the season, there will still be ornamental plants in the garden that keep it looking good over the winter. This is one of the best tricks in an ornamental edible landscape design.  Combine your annuals with shrubs and perennials so that you don’t have periods in the garden that look bare.

Purple and Green Basil

Mix your foliage colors for interest

Salvia, basil, parsley and thyme

Multiple herbs, both annual and perennials work together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This particular herb garden has thyme, sage, oregano, tarragon, dill, chives, parsley, cilantro and several varieties of  basil. We also used rosemary and thyme to cascade over the wall, with nasturtiums for added color.  Many of these plants have edible flowers. The herbs grow quickly and fill in the garden.

The ornamental plants in this bed include Azalea, Pieris, ferns, and Polygala. These are shade loving plants, which we put closer to the tree. We put the herbs in the sunniest part of the bed.  It was a little tricky, but you can see by the photos that the herbs grew well even in part shade.

Rosemary is larger and long lived

Give your Rosemary plenty of sun and room to grow

Nasturtiums cascading over wall

Mixed annual and perennial herbs cover the retaining wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few of the herbs that are planted more for beauty than culinary use include lavender, salvias, yarrow and ornamental oreganos.  By going to your local nurseries you will find appropriate herbs for your garden’s beauty and health. Peruse some of the catalogs in the Resource page of my website and you will find many herbs both common and unusual that will be just right for your garden.

Pink Yarrow - Achillea millefolium

Pink yarrow lives a long time and requires little care or water

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 202011
 
Oregano variegated

By Avis Licht

Oreganum vulgare hirtum

Whether you call it Oregano or Marjoram it tastes almost the same

It’s been confusing to a lot of people for a long time.  What is the difference between Marjoram and Oregano? Not exactly a life changing question, but certainly one that (at least some) gardeners need answered.

The oregano tribe  includes plants that are called both marjoram and oregano. Both are from the Mediterranean area and are attractive to bees and butterflies. Sweet marjoram (Oreganum majorana and O. hortensis) grow in zones 8-24. It has a mild flavor. You can use both the leaves and the flowers in cooking.

Grow all varieties in full sun with good drainage. You can plant most of the year from plants or propagate by division from older plants.  If you live in a very cold climate, with snow and long lasting frosts, this plant can be grown indoors in pots on a sunny windowsill. Choose a compact variety if you grow it in a pot. ‘Country Cream’ or or ‘White Anniversary’ are good for pots.

As with other Mediterranean herbs, this one does not need much water or fertilizer. Gardeners often make the mistake of giving too much love to their plants. Herbs in particular do not need to have high levels of nitrogen in the soil, or too much moisture.  These will dilute the flavor of the herb.

Oregano variegated

Mix your foliage colors in the garden to add beauty and interest

A beautiful form of Oregano is the variegated leaf, ‘Aureum’, ‘Aureum Crispum, or Oreganum variegatum.  In the edible landscape it’s good to combine both qualities of beauty and practicality.

If you decide to grow your herbs in pots, you might consider using self watering planters They have a reservoir at the bottom, that wicks up into the soil.  It keeps the plant moist, but not too wet.

For those of us who can’t grow a house plant for the life of us, this is a definite must have. These planters, are also great outdoors. If you have a sunny protected south wall, you can grow many herbs outside, even in cold climates. It doesn’t hurt to try.

Dec 192011
 
Lemon Verbena in flower

by Avis Licht

Lemon Verbena in flower

One of the best herbs for tea and flavoring - lemon verbena

Growing your own herbs for tea and flavorings is easy and satisfying. Many herbs can be grown in pots and brought inside in the winter, to give you fresh, delicious taste. In the next series of posts I’ll go through a variety of my favorite herbs.  Today’s is about Lemon Verbena.

This delicate perennial can survive winters down to 20 deg F, but will lose its leaves in the the winter.  In mild winter areas, it may keep some of its leaves.  So if you have a place in your house for this plant, it is worth the space. We don’t always have lemons available, but you can have lemon flavoring with this plant.  It is tangy and lemony in a way you wouldn’t think a leaf could be.

In the ground, lemon verbena can grow to 8 – 10 feet. It looks better pruned, but is still kind of homely.  However, its flavor more than makes up for any  visual deficiencies.

Lemon verbena prefers  rich, well drained soil. It does better with regular watering, but can become fairly drought resistant with time. Full sun is the best.

In a container, make sure it has compost and well draining potting soil.  Water it regularly, but don’t leave it sitting in water. Put it in a sunny spot by a window.

Lemon verbena grown in the ground

Incredible lemon fragrance makes lemon verbena a favorite shrub

You can use the leaf as a substitute for lemon zest in almost any recipe. It is fine in both sweet and savory dishes. You can use the leaves to garnish fruit salad, or put it in with vegetables such as as broccoli, spinach or asparagus.  You can rub chicken or lamb with the leaf or lay it over fish while baking.

Pour boiling water over the leaves and you have a wonderful tea, or float a few leaves in cold water and have the fresh taste of lemon.

Its uses are really numerous.  Experiment – you can’t go wrong with this plant in your edible landscape.

 

Nov 192011
 
Tea pots for the Tea Party?

A variety of teapots will always come in handy

One of the easiest edibles to produce in your own home garden is a drinkable.  Herbal teas are easy to grow, delicious and good for you. One can always buy dried tea at the store, but fresh herb tea is another thing altogether. The fragrance and aroma goes straight to the brain and release those happy endorphins.

Mint in its many forms: spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, and other herbs:  raspberry leaf, lemon verbena, rose hip, chamomile, comfrey, nettle.  The list goes on and on.  Even the smallest garden can grow  herbs for tea. When you grow your own, you know that it is clean and organic.  And best of all, you can pick it and use it straight from the garden at its most nutritious.

After picking your leaves, wash carefully, then rub them together to let the essential oils out.  Add the herbs to a teapot or directly to a mug or cup. For each cup of tea, add approximately 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh leaves and/or flowers. Slice rose hips in half before adding.

tea cup with strainer

This tea cup came with its own strainer.

A beautiful teapot or tea cup with strainer makes a wonderful gift. They don’t need to be expensive to be delightful. One of the signs  of a good teapot is a strainer to put the tea leaves in.  You can then remove it from the teapot or the cup when it is done steeping.

Everyone can enjoy their favorite tea if you have several small teapots available for making different teas. Glass teapots are very elegant. But apparently very breakable, which is why I don’t have a picture of mine to show you.

For those of you with a little Irish in your soul, you can add a little something to your tea to warm you up on those extra cold winter nights. I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out what that is.

Enjoy!

Tea Pot with strainer

Small and elegant with its own strainer. A classic look.

Tea cup with strainer and top

Who could resist this sweet cup with its own top

Aug 262011
 

Nasturtiums cascading over wall (click to enlarge)

There are some beautiful, easy to grow and fun to use herbs for the edible landscape. In the photo above, you see the Nasturtium (Traepolum sp.) hanging over a concrete retaining wall. This is one of the multi- purpose edibles that everyone should know about.  It is pretty, it grows easily and different part of the plant can be used. Leaves of nasturtiums are tangy and great in salads. The flowers have a spicy flavor and you can use them to decorate many dishes and also eat them. In mild climates they last through the winter, and in cold climates you should treat them as an annual.

Close up of Nasturtiums

Mixed herbs in the landcape

In the photo above, you will find thyme, sage, basil, both green and purple, parsley and tarragon. You should place these herbs close to the house where you can come out of the kitchen while you’re cooking and harvest them right as you need them. Fresh herbs are SO much better than dried herbs.

They make a nice edging along the deck and are easy to reach.

Purple and Green Basil

This is a close up of purple Basil.  It has a dramatic color in the leaf, but tastes the same as traditional Basil.  Green Basil can be seen in the background starting to flower.  Like Nasturtiums, Basil does not overwinter in cold climates. If you plant enough, you can make a great Pesto sauce and freeze it for a wonderful winter Pasta dinner.

Follow this simple recipe: so easy and so good!

1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons Parmesan, grated

3 tablespoons walnuts, chopped

1 clove garlic, sliced

Salt

Put the basil in the blender with the olive oil, cheese, walnuts, and garlic.  Blend until smooth: then season with salt.

This pesto can also be used to garnish pizza, soups or vegetable dishes.

More great herbs to follow,  check back soon.

 

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