{ Posts Tagged ‘herb gardening’ }

Looking forward to chocolate mint tea

Recently I posted an article by writer Charmian Christie about interesting herbal teas you can grow in the garden. Curious about the chocolate mint that `tastes like a Peppermint Pattie`, I bought a plant last weekend at the market in St. Jacob`s. My plain old mint, which I had planted in a pot, didn't come back this spring, so I dug out the roots, amended the soil and plunked in my chocolate plant. I can't wait to taste it!

Strawberry and herb surprises

The unseasonably warm temperatures worked their magic in my garden last week. They made things happen that usually take a little longer. The best surprise was discovering perennials (or biennials) coming up that I thought were annuals. I didn't realize that my parsley, sage (no rosemary) and thyme would come back, but there they were, tiny little fragrant leaves poking through the soil. I was also pleasantly surprised to see my strawberry plant bursting forth.

Tabouleh from the garden

Last night while I was pondering what side dish I could make out of some tomatoes that were on my windowsill, I remembered a “Super quinoa tabouleh” recipe I had tucked away from Body of Knowledge Healing Arts. Now usually I wouldn’t have had mint or parsley just hanging out in my fridge, but then I remembered, “duh, they’re growing in my garden!” Out I went with my little snips to cut my fresh ingredients from the garden.

It may be awhile until I see a veggie, but it was very satisfying making great use of my herbs in the meantime.

Is cilantro a perennial?

I was puttering in my herb garden a couple of nights ago and among the helicopters I was having to pick out of the dirt from the giant maple next door were two little cilantro plants. They are not in the same place as my cilantro plant from last year, but they’re in the general vicinity, so my guess is that when the plant went to seed in the fall, a couple of little seeds survived the winter! Hm, I always thought that cilantro was an annual…

The plot thickens

img_2889Of all the seasons, my grandmother loved spring the best. I’ve always been an autumn girl myself, but as I grow older I’m growing more partial toward spring as well. It’s a celebration of renewal; nature’s annual affirmation of faith in the future of this planet.

As you can see by this photo of a corner of my back garden taken this morning, everything is growing by leaps and bounds. Later in the season my patch will mostly be in shade, but I’ve learned to embrace this.

So what should you be planting right now? I’ve carefully put in a few more ferns and hostas, but cautious Clara here is keeping a watchful eye on other emerging perennials before I plant more stuff, because it’s oh-so-so easy to be over-hasty and dig up or damage plants that are simply slow to get started.

And personally, I never buy tender annuals until after Victoria Day, which is early this year. This week, Toronto has had some nippy nights with frost warnings, so I’ll likely wait awhile before I go shopping for my favourite tuberous begonias, which are such beautiful plants for shade. Use your judgment and don’t buy too early if it’s cold where you live.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

But there’s absolutely no need to feel gardening-deprived. Because across much of the country this is the ideal time to put in perennials, shrubs, trees and evergreens; in fact, you really want to shop for those as early as possible for the best selection. One caveat–to optimize sales, perennials in nurseries and garden centres are often forced into full bloom out of their normal cycle. Keep this in mind when shopping. Once established, unless it’s an early spring perennial such as brunnera, it’s unlikely your plant will bloom at this time in your garden. Nor will all your plants bloom at once! It’s best to do a bit of research before you buy so you can plan for a sequence of bloom throughout the season. And once you’re at the nursery, choose perennials that are bushy and compact with strong stems and loads of growing points and buds, as opposed to tall and lanky and in full bloom.

It goes without saying that spring is a very busy time for garden centres. Once there, even super-organized gardeners with itemized lists are likely to be seduced by something fabulous and unexpected, but that’s part of the fun.

Aimg_28661s a master gardener, part of my commitment involves putting in a minimum of 30 volunteer hours a year. And there’s nothing nicer than doing that while being surrounded by top-quality plants. So in the past several weeks I’ve had the pleasure of advising gardeners at Islington Nurseries in the city’s west end, and helping at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s plant sale, which was held last week. Paul Zammit, the new director of horticulture at the TBG, brought in some dandy plants. Some of the choicest specimens were scooped up by the mad keen plant nerds on Day One, but there was plenty from which to choose on Day Two as well, which is when I put in my shift. One of the biggest bargains there was this magnificent serviceberry clump, which I scooped up for my daughter’s garden. The price? Just $19.99. I should have bought more.

Good Ideas for Small Spaces

Every spring, Loblaw companies generously invites garden journalists from Toronto and southern Ontario to a luncheon and preview of their new President’s Choice plants, garden equipment, accessories and decor (to check where they’re available in your area, go to presidentschoice.ca). There are always some good ideas to take away, not to mention armloads of fabulous plants they give us plant piggies to trial at home.

This year, a couple of things struck me as being great for gardeners with limited space, such as a tiny urban lot or a balcony.

One of these is a President’s Choice clematis that offers two types in one pot. Developed by Britain’s famous Raymond Evison, it’s guaranteed for one year and sells for $24.99; mine combines wine-red Rebecca with periwinkle-blue Cezanne, both hardy to Zone 4. Double the colour punch, but takes up the same space as an ordinary clematis.

Another smart idea is a handsome, square planter of herbs. The one I picked up is ready-planted with sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives–just the thing to pop on the back deck near my kitchen. (Or on your apartment balcony?)

img_2892However, my favourite item, shown here at the side of my house, is this compact, rectangular rain barrel. I bought it yesterday for $74.99 on sale at my local Loblaw store, and will hook it up to my downspout this week. I don’t have enough space for one of those huge round standard-sized rain barrels, but this is just the job, and will help keep rain away from the foundation of my house. The brown colour blends in with the brick of my house, but you could always paint it something else with one of the new paints that adhere to plastic, such as Krylon Fusion.

And of course, there’s nothing better than soft rain water for your plants.

Will my herbs survive the winter?

For my last post, I found out that my herbs are basically done for the season. But I wanted to know what I can do with them over the winter. The mint is in a big pot, but the other two are in the ground.

Sadly, my cilantro and basil will not overwinter, so I am going to try to collect the seeds in case I want to try starting them myself next spring.

However, Anne Marie says the mint is hardy and can be planted in the garden. Since it is very invasive, I must keep it in the pot and just lower the whole thing into the ground. Keeping it in the pot will keep it contained for a while so it won't spread everywhere too fast.

Or, I can bring the pot into a garage or shed for the winter or tuck it up against the house and pack leaves around it.

What happened to my poor herbs?

This past spring, I planted three herbsbasil, cilantro and mint–imagining the fresh flavours in my meals all season long. However, in the last few weeks, they've all grown flowers on top. My poor cilantro completely fell over from the weight and my basil just doesn't seem as bushy or yummy-looking. Sigh. My herb-infused culinary creations will have to wait until I figure out if they're still edible. Furthermore, can I cut back the flowers without damaging the plants?

Here's what Anne Marie had to say about the fate of the most fragrant end of my garden.

Some herbs are still quite useable even after they start to flower but others get too strong or woodier once this takes place. For most, frequent harvesting make the plants bushier and produce more harvestable stems.

Mint is usable before and after it flowers. In fact, mint can be collected and dried as the flowers begin to open. Young, tender stems before flowering are better than the older, woodier, bitter stems. Use the leaves dried or fresh.

Basil should be used when young before it goes to flower. You can stall the flowering by pinching out the flower buds whenever you see them. This will help create a bushier plant and promote more side growth. Basil stops producing nice leafy growth when it flowers. It is best to use fresh basil or cut it for drying up until just before the flowers open.

Cilantro should be harvested before the plant goes into flower. I don't know of any way to delay this from happening. It usually starts flowering once the weather gets hot. Or let it flower and harvest the seeds as coriander in late summer.

Ok, better luck next year with my basil and maybe I'll whip outside tomorrow and see about collecting my own coriander. That sounds promising.

But will my edible plants make it through the winter? Stay tuned!