Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gardening Article: Container Herb Gardening

Guest author Jacqueline from, republished with permission.

Growing annual herbs in a container is one of the simplest and quickest ways to bring edible freshness and maximum flavor to your kitchen. You will need a big planter, preferably the plastic kind which can withstand many seasons in the extremes of weather… also enough good soil to fill it.

In zones 4-5, most herbs, even the perennials (like sage, thyme, chives, oregano, and mint) will get too cold in pots and die over winter.

You may not want to put the money into store-bought plants that won’t overwinter, so put them into a bigger mass of soil – the ground or a protected raised bed to enjoy and use them for years.

I brought the rosemary (above) inside last fall, but the sage in the pot didn’t survive the cold.

But for herbs that live only one year (annuals), you can start them from seed right into a fairly large (so you don’t have to water all the time) container and keep them near the door. These herbs, among others, include basil, dill, cilantro, thyme, and parsley. Place your pot where it will not be in the hot sun after 3-4 PM, ideally getting morning and early afternoon sun only, otherwise they may bake in late July and August. And use mulch once the seedlings grow up a bit.

Start thinking about what you need and appreciate in your kitchen. Sow all of these seed (in separate sections) right into the container once the weather is past your frost-free date.

If you would like to try your hand at basil pesto, you might consider planting a giant leaf basil.

I once planted a cute little globe-shaped Greek basil, but it took forever to harvest the tiny leaves and they were a bit tough.

The mammoth basil gives 25 times more leaf, is tender, and has a true basil flavor that pairs well with tomatoes and mozzarella or feta cheese.

Cilantro is one herb you either love or dislike. It’s indispensable in salsas, Mexican, and middle-Eastern dishes.

It is best grown in the early spring or fall when the weather is cool. Even in the best conditions, it will only last 8-10 weeks before flowering. Once it does flower, it will make seeds which can be harvested as coriander or replanted to grow more cilantro.

Its high mineral and phyto-nutrient profile is quite amazing. Cilantro is commonly used in many heavy metal detoxification programs, but it should be paired with a colon cleanse to effectively get the toxins out of the body.

Dill is a lovely, airy herb, and deserves a place where height is needed for the eye. See it in the top photo above.

It is not uncommon to find tiger swallowtail caterpillars on your dill. This provides a special opportunity to watch the caterpillar with your family as it makes its chrysalis, later opening into the elegant black and yellow butterfly.

The seed can be used for dill pickle-making or on baked fish. The fresh green fronds are wonderful chopped into sour cream with chives and sea salt, then used on baked potatoes or salmon.

Thyme seeds are tiny!

Thyme is a perennial herb that survives winters, even in a container. It takes drought better than most herbs, and it has a pretty, delicate texture that goes nicely with other plants.

It really blends well with lamb, eggs, and tomatoes. It is useful to have in my spice cabinet for soups, stews, and casseroles.

Oh – and try it on the barbeque. Like rosemary just toss the woody stems (minus the leaves) on the coals for a wonderful aromatic blast!

It is fun to dehydrate herbs in the fall and have my own home-grown flavors in the spice cabinet of my kitchen. It makes your home smell wonderful!

All of the herbs above dry well and can be stored for a year or more in a dark, dry place.

This is another little opportunity to teach your daughters the ways of proper growing and storage. With the cost of herbs and spices ever increasing, this is good stewardship in action.

Bon App├ętit!

~ Jacqueline

Photos courtesy of Jacqueline.

About the author: Jacqueline writes the inspirational blog, covering organic food and gardening, health, music, and life.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Planting Lilac Seed And Bulbs

During the summer I spent some time potting up a few double-layered purple lilac seeds sent to me by someone from my gardening forum. The person providing the seed was happy to share the seeds since the lilacs turned out so beautifully. Since we only have one lilac in lavender I was more than happy to receive the seeds through the mail and thanked the person profusely. Besides the double-layered lilac seeds there are also two other sets of seeds, a purple traditional (no doubt what we have) lilac and a wild white lilac. One of our three lilac trees in the back yard in Petaluma had one branch of white lilac blooms, really pretty. In the coming weeks I will pot up the other lilacs and see what happens.

I planted some blazing star that same day, these little bulbs produce tall wands of purple blooms that look similar to the bloom of bottle brush, only the bloom section is longer than a bottle brush. I had one pot that was dying down from bulbs planted, one set of tulips that did wonderfully in spring, the other rannuculus that did not bloom well with only two tiny flowers and die back soon after. I also had an astilbe. I know I planted the blazing star bulbs later in summer than they should be planted but thought I'd give it a try and see what happens. I planted a box of them in the flower beds in the front yard last year and nothing happened unfortunately. Since these are the two buck bulb deals I get at our local store it's not a huge loss so it is always worth the risk. This way I know which bulbs grow well and which do not, avoiding them the next planting season.

The aneome bulbs I planted in a pot with the hosta on the back deck did very well and sent up plenty of leaves and shortly after sending up flower stems. The blooms are a mix of white and purple, the white are really pretty since I've planted purple aneome bulbs before but never used white. Generally aneome bulbs bloom full size the first year, very reliable for bloom, then grow smaller the second year with smaller blooms. After that point if you are lucky the third season you may see a few small aneome bulbs bloom but by then a new planting of bulbs is a good idea.

I realized repotting my hanging fuchsia baskets is probably a good idea for next summer season. Even though everything is growing relatively well, the dirt is compacted and the fuchsias are not blooming at their best. We replanted most of the baskets with half new soil and an experiment using burlap as the container in the metal baskets, which seems to be working out well so far. The coco fiber linings really don't hold up well after a season or two, particularly with the windy weather here on the north coast, and frankly it's fairly expensive to buy new liners so often. The coco fiber is popular with our wild birds however since they like to pull the fibers when it's time for nest building. The burlap holds up well, next time we'll cut it precisely to fit the baskets, use all new dirt with time released fertilizer in place, and replant the fuchsias. I think the burlap will last much longer than coco fiber, and there is always moss if the burlap doesn't perform well over the next few years.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Geranium Taking Over The Yard

When we first move to our home in Eureka there were a few geraniums in pots sitting in the back yard. I prefer geraniums that are scented or different than the traditional geraniums our grandmothers grew. One of the plants had a dark pink flower with burgundy colored markings in the flowers. This geranium seems like the old-fashioned geraniums of yore, but the flower is really beautiful on this plant. The other is a vibrant light pink scented geranium which smells of roses. Both of these plants were small, no more than 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide if that much. I decided it was time to plant these in the ground last fall.

I planted the darker pink flowered geranium on one side of the holly trees, next to the greenhouse. The area tends to get a lot of shade, but I knew these plants are hardy so I went ahead and planted it. The ferns and calla lilies complement the dark pink flowers and wide leaves of the geranium. This summer the dark pink geranium is a good 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide with some flowers, not too many, but still much better than when it was in the pot. The other light pink geranium was planted on the other side of the holly trees, a sunny spot near the corner of the green arbor. Part of the plant was behind the green arbor with a little sticking out from the wall of the arbor. I thought the geranium would do well there. That's an understatement. The picture you see here is showing only a portion of the plant. The pink scented geranium has grown to 4 feet tall and at least 5 to 6 feet wide! This scented geranium loves the sunny location and took off, overtaking the back area of the arbor.

I took a few pieces of the pink scented geranium to try to root in water along with some other plant pieces I'm trying to root. If these pink scented geraniums grow roots I will pot them up and grow them in pots until next spring or summer. I have a few places in the front yard that would be a perfect sunny location for the pink scented geranium. I'm hoping they root well and grow so I can add them to the front yard and watch how big they grow there.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gardening Article: Choosing a Chiminea as a Centrepiece for your Garden

If you’re thinking of doing a spot of landscaping, or simply looking for ideas to refresh and revitalise your garden, it’s worth considering setting aside a space for relaxing and entertaining guests. Make it large enough for a few good-quality garden chairs, lay down some decking or paving, and try cordoning it off with decorative fencing or ornamental hedging to create a stunning, relaxing quiet space in the garden.

And when it comes to choosing a centerpiece for your new retreat, it’s worth thinking about whether you want to heat your new outside space. Adding an outdoor heater ensures you can enjoy your garden in the spring and autumn as well, and even late into the summer evenings. One of the major benefits of buying a chiminea is that you and your guests will be able to enjoy the joys of a real fire, and, positioned properly, it will also make a great centrepiece.

Place your chiminea in a central position, make sure the space is large enough to accommodate your chosen model, and arrange a semi-circle of chairs around it (or select an open-bowl chiminea). Remember to leave a sensible gap all around the bowl of the chiminea. Alternatively, if you have a smaller garden or patio space, you could arrange chairs around a firebowl and supply a side-table or two for drinks.

Which sort of chiminea you choose is entirely dependent upon your garden design. Chimineas are available in modern or traditional designs; cast iron chimineas, often available with integral BBQ grills, are more convenient for more frequent use and add traditional style to your garden, whereas steel chimineas are more modern, often cheaper, and a lot lighter if you ever need to move them. You can find chimineas in a variety of colours and finishes, so even if your garden is a riot of colour, you should be able to find a chiminea, perhaps a clay chiminea with a vibrant Mexican-inspired style, which will fit right in. Having access to a real fire in your garden means you can quickly set up an impromptu barbecue or sit around with cups of cocoa and toast marshmallows long into the evening. 

Chimineas can also be very environmentally-friendly depending on the fuel you use, and some people believe that the smoke (particularly from aromatic softwoods such as pine or ocote (Montezuma pine)) acts as a natural insect repellent. There are also various brands of very cheap recycled fuel, or you can make your own. There are a variety of log- and briquette- makers on the market which will take a variety of household and garden waste, and the logs can be made in advance and stored in a cool dry place until needed.

Image courtesy of

Laura Phillips is an outdoor living enthusiast and writes for

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