herbal fare

Cool as a cucumber salsa

Many years ago, Lucinda Hutson’s Cool Cucumber and Dilled Artichoke salsa was my first introduction to “salsa that isn’t your typical salsa.” It remains one of my favorite recipes both for its unique combination of flavors and for its cool and refreshing taste. I also find it highly adaptable. If I am leaning more toward Mediterranean, I will pretty much make the recipe as intended. If I am leaning more toward Tex-Mex, I will often omit the dill and artichoke and go heavier on the hot pepper. I always use salad burnet, as I find it pairs beautifully with the other flavors. Lucinda’s beautiful cookbook was one of the first herb gardening / cookbooks I bought 20+ years ago and one that I still pull out and reference often. The photographs of her garden are so inspirational and her plant knowledge is excellent. The recipes? Always amazing! And always filled with wonderful herb combinations!

Cool Cucumber and Dilled Artichoke Salsa

2 medium cucumbers

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 shallot, minced

2-3 serrano peppers, chopped

1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh mint or salad burnet

2 teaspoons olive oil

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Chop cucumber halves and sprinkle with salt. Place chopped cucumber in a colander and allow to drain for 10 minutes to remove any bitterness and excess moisture. Mix cucumbers with the remaining ingredients. Chill for at least one hour before serving.

Recipe from Herb Garden Cookbook: The complete gardening and gourmet guide By Lucinda Hutson, copyright 1998

gardening, nature

Go hug a tree, it’s Arbor Day!

Happy Arbor Day!

I hope you are celebrating by planting a tree, or at least hugging a tree. Now I know if you are out of state, you may be thinking, “Wait. Isn’t Arbor Day in April?” Yes, it is in April. For the rest of the country. In Texas, we celebrate Arbor Day on the first Friday in November. While you can technically plant a tree any day of the year in the south, where the ground never freezes, fall is the optimal time for tree planting in Texas. (And most likely for most of the south.)

The theme for this year’s Texas Arbor Day is “It takes all kinds,” which represents tree diversity, the wide variety of ecoregions throughout the state and the amazing and wonderful diversity of humankind. Okay, I added in the amazing and wonderful, but isn’t our population really amazing and wonderful? Even among gardeners, no two are alike. If we were to make a large Venn diagram of gardening styles and types, the central part would most likely be trees. For every garden, for every property, for every need, there is a tree suited to your space and needs. Interested in native gardening and creating a haven for wildlife, trees will be a central part of your design. Interested in growing your own food, fruiting trees can produce a harvest for years to come. Interested in simply stringing up a hammock and enjoying the good life, surely you would enjoy your serene nook even more if it is shaded by a tree or two. It truly does take all kinds!

Our front yard is dominated by two bur oaks, which a dear gardening friend of mine calls, “The Oakiest of the Oaks.” True enough, of all the oaks, the bur oak has the largest acorns and the largest leaves. The larger of our two bur oaks was planted by the developer about 30 years ago. while the slightly smaller oak was planted by a squirrel about 20 years ago. Every autumn, I threaten to hire a flock of neighbor children to pick up the copious amount of acorns that fall from those two trees…

Ignore the green briar…

As my own gardening style is evolving from ornamental rose garden to an edible food forest, I have been exploring the new-to-me world of fruiting trees. It takes all kinds has been my gardening mantra this year. How can I extend my harvests? Can I harvest different fruits six months of the year? Which fig trees produce a breba crop? Which fruit trees remain small and can be grown in a container? (The driveway is mostly wasted space, amiright? Might as well grow food there, too!)

It really does take all kinds. Go out and explore your local garden centers this weekend and see what tree varieties they have. Surely you will find one that is perfect for your property.

herbal fare

Salad Burnet

If I had to rank the culinary herbs I grow at the melodious garden, from absolute most favorite to very very least favorite, lemon verbena would be at the very tippy top of the list, most favorite, hands down. Second on the list, just a pinch and a speck below my beloved lemon verbena, would be salad burnet. Thankfully asking a gardener to name their favorite plant is akin to asking a parent to name their favorite child. It is simply too hard to compile such a list, with too many variables at play. Are we ranking by usefulness or simply by beauty? It soon becomes problematic, so best to just start rambling on about the merits of all, which is my preferred method. For plants, that is, not children. Having only one child, it is easy to have a favorite. But – if asked about culinary herbs – salad burnet would always land a solid second place.

Salad burnet features petite deeply serrated leaves, which have a clean cucumber-like taste. Now do I use it in the kitchen as much as the old standbys, rosemary, parsley and thyme? Most likely not. But this herb is versatile, unique and quite flavorful. Sadly, it is often overlooked, both by gardeners and by garden centers. When I am able to find it in the nursery trade, I am apt to buy a half dozen or more starts, either for my own garden or to give away to fellow gardeners. (I have not yet tried to grow from seeds, but that is on my list of Garden Goals for 2023.)

I love to use salad burnet in salads, soups, sandwiches and egg dishes. It is especially good mixed with cream cheese as a spread for tea sandwiches. Salad burnet brightens up many beverages, from fresh squeezed juices to homemade lemonade. It pairs especially well with lemon, cucumber and celery.

As the name suggests, it really shines as a salad herb. Simply strip the leaves from the stem and toss with your lettuce greens. Young, tender stems can be minced and added, as well.

The young, vibrantly green leaves make a fabulous edible garnish!

Salad burnet grows in a small clump from one central root, with the soft stems arching out from the center. The younger, smaller leaves have the best flavor, so for that reason I regularly harvest from the outer stems so that none of the stems ever reach their full mature size. That is also a great way to keep the plant looking tidy, as the older stems can get weighed down and create a lovely habitat for pillbugs, if grown out in the garden. If I intend to use as a garnish, I will harvest the youngest, brightest green leaves.

After twenty-plus years of growing salad burnet, I find that I prefer to grow it in a container, where its foliage can cascade over the edge of the pot. If we end up with a spell of brutally hot and dry weather, such as this past summer, I can easily move it to a bit of shade if need be.

This herb is generally considered an evergreen in zones 7 and 8. I have not dried salad burnet for winter use, as it is said to not hold its flavor well when dried. I much prefer to use salad burnet fresh and, thankfully, we seldom get snow cover or long periods of freezing weather, so I am able to harvest fresh much of the year. If I was not able to have fresh year-round, I would most likely freeze salad burnet for winter use.

Depending on what reference book you are reading, salad burnet may be listed as either a biennial or a short lived perennial. In my experience, it is a short lived perennial, generally living about three to four years in my garden. It is listed as invasive in several online references, but I have never seen or heard of it being invasive in the North Texas area. Our growing conditions in zone 8a, Dallas-Fort Worth, are generally nothing like its native habitat.

The flowers are either inconspicuous or fascinatingly Dr. Seuss-ish, depending on your perspective. I find they make an interesting addition to a small floral arrangement.

In my garden, salad burnet generally tops out around one foot tall and maybe as much in diameter if I am not harvesting on a regular basis. It will tolerate full sun if watered on a regular basis in summer, though will well with partial sun.

gardening

Keep Calm and Garden On

It has been an awkward minute since I last blogged and there is no great way to break the awkwardness… There are probably a thousand and one relevant quotes I could toss out, like John Lennon’s, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” But I will cut right in and simply say:

Keep Calm and Garden On.

Garden On has, indeed, been the motto of my life the past few years. When life gives you lemons, throw them back and Garden On.

Rose Rosette Virus swept through North Texas a number of years ago now, destroying my beloved antique rose collection. As I was trying to regroup and figure out my “What Next,” my body had other plans. In early 2020, as the world was plunged into a global pandemic, I was being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Nothing like going in to an apocalyptic era barely hanging on to the bottom rung of a very real ladder otherwise known as Survival of the Fittest. Add in Texas’ historic winter storm in February 2021, where the entire state was plunged into a deep freeze like never before. And that was just the temperatures inside our homes! We were, of course, destined to have a repeat in February of ’22, though thankfully shorter lived and – this time – with power! Very, very thankfully – with power! But, after all of that, many of my once overflowing garden beds were barren, except for the hardiest of plants.

But gardens – and gardeners – are resilient. And full of hope.

I started on medications for YOPD at Christmas of ’21, which has allowed me to fully resume gardening. I am still stiff and sore, especially between doses of medication, but I am able to get up and down easier again and can again bend my fingers to use pruners. My strength has returned and my balance – while wobbly at times – is getting better. So Garden On I have been. But what to garden?

It is not yet safe (in my opinion) to plant roses in this area. The winter storm of February ’21 killed many of the shrubs I had planted as place-holders after removing the infected roses. Was it even wise for me to start over again, knowing that I face an uphill battle with my health?

To Re-Sod or Not To Re-Sod was the topic of many conversations around the melodious garden. I had spent so much time and energy removing our lawn, did I really want to give up parts of the garden and re-sod our property?

We always circled back around to:

Gardening keeps you young and active.

And:

I would rather die today in my garden than in ten or twenty years, immobile and confined to my home.

And:

What can I garden today to benefit me tomorrow?

Somewhere along those conversations, I stumbled upon the concept of food forests and fruit tree guilds and permaculture and where has this been all of my life?

I have maintained our property organically since we bought this corner of the world 28 years ago and the organic garden center I worked at in the late 1990’s was an early source for heirloom seeds and plants in this area. I think I must have danced around the edges of the permaculture circle for years, as I was far more interested in growing ornamentals with a few herbs and veggies tossed in for good measure than in primarily growing fruits and vegetables. But now, with my health such as it is, turning all of my empty flower beds into extensive food production turns out to be the perfect answer to “What can I garden today to benefit me tomorrow?”

And with that – I hope to chronicle here what changes I have made to my gardens, what I am growing, why I am growing the varieties I am and, maybe most importantly, what I am doing with what I am growing.

gardening, vintage

Potted doll heads…

My husband and I have been married for over 30 years, so he should know me, amiright? And yet we still have conversations like this…

DH: Whatcha doing today?

Me: Giving a doll a hair cut. And a lobotomy.

DH: Whyyyyyy?

Me: Why not?

I have been wanting to make potted doll heads for several years now… For the past three years, I would be busy right now potting up succulents for the local Master Gardener’s fall plant sale. Alas. Covid. Their wonderful event is canceled this year. Every year, ahead of their plant sale, I would ask myself… Is this the right crowd for potted doll heads? And every year, I would say to myself… Um… Maybe not. So I would stick with my tried and true. I would pot up vintage tea cups and McCoy pottery and all sorts of beautiful vessels. This year, I vowed I would do it. I would find some old dolls and cut open their heads and pot them up. But – No Master Gardener sale this year. (Imagine a great big frowning face emoji…) Thankfully, https://www.grapevineantiquemarket.com/, where I have a few booths, is having a super-fun event… Talk Like A Pirate Day! This Saturday – September 19th. Now I know. Pirates have nothing to do with creepy doll heads filled with succulents. But it gave me an excuse to finally lop off some doll heads.


Let me tell you… Finding the dolls was hard! I looked and looked at thrift stores and found nothing interesting. Then along came this auction. Not just any auction, either. A three day auction. In a massive house. One day was just…. the lady’s doll collection. Yes. A whole auction devoted to bidding on dolls.

So you enter the house… Which has been vacant for quite a while…. Go up a steep set of stairs…. Turn a corner and go down a short hall and enter… The Doll Room. A massive room. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall – Built in bookcases. With glass doors. And there on the many shelves….

Dolls.

Dolls.

And. More dolls.

I went for the vintage sewing notions, as this lady sewed many of her dolls’ outfits. I thought I would come home with a few boxes of wooden thread spools, some old buttons and a few dolls. Instead, I came home with… Dolls… And… More dolls. And doll pieces and parts. Yes. I am still sorting out heads and shoulders, and knees and toes. What a fun – yet downright creepy – auction!

Now… For the gardening part!

I gave the dolls a shave and a cut, then found a suitable base. The doll heads are glued to their base, then green moss was glued around the edges to make them look mossy and neat. I used long tweezers to attach the moss, to save my fingers from getting super-glued to the moss and the doll and everything else. If you don’t have long tweezers, you can use regular ones, but I happen to love long tweezers because… well, they are long. And big. And great for so many uses. I bought mine from a pet store many years ago. I think they were sold as “cricket feeding tweezers.” And. Yeah. That is what I initially bought them for. Back when we had an aquatic turtle who loved him some fresh crickets.

Aside from holding the moss, the tweezers were also great for pushing the small cuts of coco liner into the dolls heads. (I decided on coco liner as the best way to cover any openings in in the doll, like at her neck or mouth.)

I used a quality cactus potting mix to fill the heads. (And one leg… More on that later…) When transplanting succulents, it is best to knock off all the potting mix that is on and around their roots and give them fresh soil to grow in. Below are photos showing what a succulent looks like straight out of the container and the other photo shows what it looks like with its soil knocked loose. The goal isn’t to strip the succulent of all of its soil, but to break up the soil and encourage the roots to grow outward instead of the spiral they were used to growing in.

And…

After planting, I covered the soil with additional green moss. I normally top-dress my succulents with tumbled glass or pebbles. I am hopeful the moss won’t retain too much moisture. Potted succulents should always be watered in small quantities and at the soil level. Do not water from overhead.

Now… For the reveal…

Potted doll heads! And one leg…

As I mentioned earlier, I also got a number of doll pieces and parts, including this broken doll leg.

Most any item can be used underneath the potted head (or leg), as it just needs something to stabilize it… As you can see, I used a plate under the leg and this head…

an old canning jar lid…

a demi cup…

and a small vase…

All my pretties together…

They will be available at Grapevine Antique Market Friday afternoon, through Halloween or while available. Please drop by Saturday and talk like a pirate and shop for some super cool vintage and antique fall decor!

Be safe!

herbal fare

Lemon verbena scones (Gluten-free)

Lemon scones are perfect for so many occasions – bridal showers, baby showers, tea parties, quiet summer breakfasts on the patio, large family Sunday brunches. They are quick and easy to make – and beautiful on a serving tray.

If you have read my blog more than once or know me IRL, you know I add the herb lemon verbena to Every.Thing! Quick tip: For any recipe calling for lemon… Add some fresh or dried lemon verbena leaves to a food processor, along with the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. Give them a whirl together, until the leaves are minced finely. This releases the oils from the leaves into the sugar crystals. When added to the recipe, you will have an extra dose of lemon spread throughout!

lemon cutting board

Most of my baking these days is gluten-free. I was diagnosed with celiac back in the dark ages, long before there were good options for baking. I am so thankful today that there are gluten-free flours available at most any grocery. For these scones, I used a regular scone recipe, but exchanged the flour with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour mix.

And! Did you see my new board, above?! I will give it it’s own post later on… I bought it from a local gentleman, retired military, that is making and selling amazing handmade woodwork items.

lemon scone1

Lemon verbena scones

For the scones:

1/3 cup sugar, whirled with a handful of lemon verbena leaves

Zest from one large lemon

2 cups gluten-free flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

8 tablespoons cold butter (freeze for a bit before or use straight from the fridge)

1 egg

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix sugar and lemon zest together in a bowl. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix well. Grate the butter into the flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form.

In a separate bowl, mix together the egg and cream. Add to the flour mixture and stir until ingredients are combined. Make sure to scrape down sides of bowl to fully incorporate all ingredients.

Shape the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough out into a 7 inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a parchment covered baking sheet. Separate the wedges, so there is a bit of space between each one.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

Let scones cool for a few minutes, then transfer over to a wire cooling rack.

Make glaze (recipe below) and brush over cooked scones. Enjoy!

 

 

Lemon glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons melted butter

Mix all glaze ingredients together, making sure all powdered sugar is fully incorporated.

 

gardening, herbal fare

Lemon herbs… Lemon verbena and Lemon balm

I rave about lemon verbena most any chance I get.

Meet a new gardener? I am bound to ask them if they grow lemon verbena, then I will start into a five minute mini-lecture on why everyone should grow the herb.

Talking to an experienced cook about using fresh herbs versus dried herbs in the kitchen? I am likely to start talking about my passion for using lemon verbena.

Discussing flower gardening with a grower at the farmer’s market? Yes. Even then I will recommend lemon verbena.

If the botany world had Super Fans, I would be Lemon Verbena’s biggest fan.

But why lemon verbena when lemon balm is so readily available? Following is a bit of a compare/contrast of the two herbs… (I will leave lemon grass for another day, as that is in a league of its own.)

Let’s start first with a side by side look at the herbs.

lemon verbena and balm

This collection of potted plants is right outside my front door, where I can run my fingers through the leaves of the herbs or run outside to snip off a bit of herb for cooking. I grow both lemon verbena and lemon balm in containers, though I will also plant lemon verbena in the ground.

Lemon balm is in the mint family, which means… It would overtake the world if given the chance. I always, always, always plant lemon balm (and mints) in containers. For me, one lemon balm plant is sufficient. It has an impressive root system and will readily spread to fill a container. Or the neighborhood.

Lemon verbena is a woody annual herb, which grows and produces leaves along one central woody stalk. I generally plant half dozen plants each spring, some in containers and some in the ground. I don’t use all that I plant, but it is a lovely carefree addition to the garden. I love the way it tends to sprawl around other plants and I love brushing against its fragrant leaves whenever I am in the garden.

Lemon balm is extremely winter hardy and can survive temperatures up to 20 below. Lemon verbena, however, is frost tender around 30 degrees. I have had a few plants overwinter in sheltered locations in my zone 8a garden, but they are nowhere near as robust as they were the previous year. Likewise, I have overwintered the plants in a container in the garage during cold spells and it comes through just fine, just not as full and lush as a new plant.

The most important comparison, for me, is in the leaves…

lemon verbena and balm2

Lemon verbena has long, thin leaves with smooth edges. Pinch off a leave and crush it to release the oils and you will smell a cool, refreshing scent. Lemon balm has short leaves with scalloped edges. Crush a lemon balm leaf and you will smell warmth. To me, that is also a great indication of how I use the two herbs. If I want to make lemonade or iced lemon tea, lemon verbena is my go-to. If I want to make a warm cup of tea to soothe a sore throat, lemon balm is my first choice. I also prefer to bake with lemon verbena, as I find it brings a bright zest to most recipes.

Both lemon verbena and lemon balm can be easily dried for winter use. (My preferred lazy drying method is to put a baking rack over a cookie sheet and place the cuttings out flat to dry.)

Likewise, the leaves of both can be used in soap making, tea blends, baking, etc.

My preferred method for using their leaves in baking is to add several leaves (fresh or dried) into the sugar portion of the recipe. Whirl in a food processor to finely mince the leaves and release the oils directly into the sugar. The sugar is then incorporated into the recipe where the scent and taste can be enjoyed throughout.

lemon verbena1

Lemon verbena will flower, however I am always pinching leaves off so do not get any flowers on my plants. Lemon balm does freely bloom, which the bees and small butterflies enjoy. Lemon balm can and does spread through seeds, in addition to its spreading roots. The photo below shows, just above the center leave, where the lemon balm had earlier bloomed.

lemon balm

Lemon verbena and lemon balm grow in very similar environments. Both do well with adequate water and are not happy with dry conditions. Lemon balm would love an extra drink or two of water, but certainly does not need it. But it is forgiving to occasional over-watering. When grown in a container, allow for good drainage for both herbs. Both herbs prefer a sunny location, but are happy with some afternoon relief in the hottest of Texas summers. Mine are near a large bur oak tree and get bright light in the morning until early afternoon, then a bit of shade until evening.

Now… For the million dollar question… Why do I prefer lemon verbena over lemon balm? I think its leaves are prettier and I love the coolness of its scent. It has more of a crisp summer smell, in my opinion.

Whichever one you plant, I hope that you enjoy experimenting with herbs in your home.

herbal fare

Herbal Rhubarb Peach Crisp

My pandemic baking game started out strong. Apple cobbler. Pumpkin pie. Lemon pudding cake. Fun, fun times. Until it started to hit me in the hips. And thighs. The baking had to cease. For a while, at least…

This weekend, I was at the grocery store and found (cue angels singing and the planets aligning…) Fresh Rhubarb! In Texas! In August?!? During a pandemic?! We still can’t find dried beans or a can of Lysol, but we can find fresh rhubarb? Okaaay. I won’t look that gift horse in the mouth.

Now… What to do with the stalks of rhubarb? Something herbal, of course. Something gluten free. Semi healthy. Hmm… Herbal rhubarb crisp.

In more than a decade of gluten free baking, I have found crisps to the the easiest and most forgiving of gluten free desserts. Gluten free oatmeal is somewhat easy to find at most large grocery stores. And crisps only call for a bit of flour, so the often times gritty texture of gluten free flour is masked by the other ingredients.

Now… What herbs to use? Rosemary and thyme sound interesting. Earthy. Yet bold enough against rhubarb. And… available fresh in my garden year-round. Alas. I should have bought a bit more rhubarb… The stalks did not measure near as much as I though they would. A quick glance around the kitchen and I spied a bowl of fresh peaches. Peaches are heavenly with rosemary and thyme, so I decided to chop up a peach to up the fruit content of the crisp and off-set some of the tartness of the rhubarb. In looking for the oatmeal, I spied some raw hazelnuts – bought for snacking but too Meh for that. A bit of crushed nuts always, always is good in a crisp topping.

And there you have it… Herbal rhubarb peach crisp with rosemary, thyme and hazelnuts! This was either going to be an epic failure or a memorable recipe. Thankfully, it was the later. Very, very tasty. And “healthy” enough for breakfast tomorrow morning. Recipe to follow.

rhubarb with herbs

Rhubarb peach crisp with rosemary, thyme and hazelnuts

Filling:

5 nice size stalks of fresh rhubarb, sliced

1 large fresh peach, skinned and chopped up

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon each of minced rosemary and thyme leaves

Crisp topping:

1 cup gluten free oats

1/2 cup gluten free flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped raw hazelnuts

1 stick butter, melted

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8×8 casserole dish.

Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl. Evenly spread in casserole.

Combine oats, flour, sugar and hazelnuts in a large bowl. Add melted butter and mix until a crumbs form.

Evenly top the filling with the crisp topping, making sure all of filling is covered. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

rhubarb crisp

gardening

Earth Day 1970-2020

Today my mind wanders back to Earth Day 1990… The 20th anniversary of Earth Day.

I was a young college student then, wishing to become an environmental writer. A local environmental group was hosting a bucket brigade from the Trinity River to City Hall in downtown Dallas. Bucket by bucket the water was passed from one to another, until it reached City Hall and was dumped in the fountain outside. My 30-year-older self now reflects back on how young and naive I was then. Have we made progress since that April day three decades ago? I would like to think that we have.  I see gains. I also see setbacks. But, just as we passed those buckets of river water from one to another in 1990, I hope we have passed from one generation to another that desire to do what we can – no matter how big or how small – to save our planet.

I have grown and matured a lot since that April day, but I still want to grow up to be an environmental writer and I am still passionate about saving the Earth, even if my acts are just one small piece of a much bigger need.

Following are just a few of my favorite gardening tips for a healthy planet.

1.) Compost your household and yard wastes, including your leaves in the fall. Build up your soil first and foremost and the rest will come.

“If healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds… Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.” ~ Wendell Berry

I love this quote above. It reminds me of “the rotting log” science experiment that we did several times when my son was younger. Have you ever looked under a rotting log, either in your backyard or at a nature preserve? That dead log is so full of life! It is the perfect cycle of life, just as Berry said.

2.) Plant native plants and well-adapted plants. Avoid non-native invasive plants. Native and well-adapted are easier to grow, less prone to pests and drought conditions, plus feed native wildlife. A few of my favorite natives…

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) is not a true grass, but is a beautiful native wildflower with grass like foliage and light blue flowers.

blue eyed grass

Winecups (Callirhoe involucrato) is a sprawling native perennial that blooms in the spring.

winecup on sidewalk

Penstemon tenuis grows to roughly three feet tall and is attractive to pollinators. Here, it has seeded itself at the base of a holly tree and has grown up through the holly.

penstemon with holly

3.) Plant flowers, shrubs and trees that are beneficial to pollinators, birds and other native wildlife. Feed the birds! Research your local area and try to have a buffet available year-round. Plant a tree (or three) on your property. Avoid junk trees such as Bradford pear and opt for natives, such as oaks or redbuds. Research which native trees are best for your property. There is a tree perfect for any yard, whether large or small.

Below, just a few berries remain on the native shrub Beautyberry. The berries form a beautiful (!) purple cluster, which remain from summer until they are eaten by birds in winter.

beautyberry

Below, holly berries on a small tree.

holly

4.) Garden organically. Invest in a good insect guide book for your region and research insects before reaching for the insecticide. The majority of insects are harmless. The few that are harmful (such as aphids and hornworms) can generally be treated organically. Always try organic methods first and foremost. In our 26 years gardening on this property, I have yet to find a pest that I couldn’t eliminate easily and cheaply via organic methods.

I snapped this photo a few night ago of a tall bearded iris with this insect on it. Harmful? Nah.

bearded iris3

Avoid pesticides, insecticides and herbicides whenever possible. Research what weeds you have in your garden and look at natural remedies for them, if you can’t stand them. But know that even the hated dandelion (though not native) is a great food source for humans and a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.

5.) Plant extra for those few “garden pests” that you actually want to attract. People are always amazed that I plant extra for caterpillars to munch down on, but planting host plants is the basis of a great butterfly garden. Last year, we had over 50 caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly on the fennel in my front garden. Decide what wildlife you want to attract into your garden and then plant for them. Plant it and they will come!

caterpiller june 1

6.) Reduce your lawn size. Expand your garden beds. In general, lawns are the biggest consumer of water and fertilizer in the world. This is the topic for a whole ‘nother post at a later date! Ditch the gas powered mower for a reel mower, which adds a zen-like ambiance to mowing. We have used the same reel mower for 26 years now! We have the blades sharpened every few years, which is the only upkeep it needs.

7.) Allow wild areas on the edges of your property whenever possible. This area is the perfect habitat for wildlife of all kinds.  I leave the stalks of coneflowers, penstemon and turk’s cap up through the winter, as songbirds use the stalks to land on them and feed on the seeds. I allow these plants to reseed along our back fence line as they are good cover for small mammals, birds, lizards and insects.

I will close with this pre-Earth Day quote…

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people” ~ Franklin D Roosevelt

I hope that each and every one of you can (safely) get out into nature this week.

Those are just a few things that I do at the melodious garden to lessen my impact on Earth. I hope that I have inspired you to look for options that you can implement on your own piece of Earth.

 

 

gardening

…I will always plant a large garden in the spring

” I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?” ~ Edward Giobbi

My dear readers, I apologize for my long absence. As I was searching for a poem or some words of wisdom to come back with, I came across the above Giobbi quote and… How appropriate it is… I have been battling some chronic health issues for almost a year and am only now getting some answers and new medications and much needed relief… Infirm, I have felt it.

A month ago, as the global pandemic was closing down businesses and changing the face of retail, I decided to place a large order at one of my favorite independent garden centers for curbside pickup. I rang them up, told them – in a vague sense –  what I wanted. Several smaller size tomatoes, whatever you have. One of each variety of scented geranium. One each of whatever vegetable plants you have. Five lemon verbena plants. Five salad burnet plants. Five basil plants. New pruning shears.

My dear husband drove me to the garden center, as – at that time – I was still unable to drive myself anywhere more than a block or two from home. We were almost to the garden center before he questioned me… How do you think you are going to be able to plant all of this when you haven’t even been able to walk around the block? My answer was, ironically, very similar to what Giobbi said… I Must Garden.

How can I resist the pull of spring on my soul? I have to feel the hope and the joy that a spring garden brings.

“Even if I am not able to do anything other than lay in the driveway, absorbing the sun’s healing rays, and fondling my new plants, it will have been money well spent. Even if I only get one lone tomato and am able to eat it fresh from the vine, still warm from the sun, it will have been money well spent. Gardening heals the soul and the body,” I told my dear husband.

I, thankfully, have now started a new medication for yet another autoimmune disorder (my fourth autoimmune?) and am feeling so much better! I have been able to plant my summer vegetable garden and tend my garden, neglected most of the past year. Thankfully, gardens are forgiving.

winecup with rosemary

The native winecups returned, as they always do, to scramble up and around anything they can, such as the rosemary above and the fennel, below.

winecup with fennel

The Louisiana iris, always carefree and easy to grow, are still stunning.

la iris2

This velvety deep purple iris, unknown variety, is my favorite by far.

la iris3

Penstemon tenuis, another native… I scatter their seeds freely over the garden and allow them to grow wherever they want.

penstemon2

Although I didn’t capture any bees in either photograph, this patch of penstemon was covered in bees today… Such a welcome sight.

penstemon

So much is happening in the garden this April and I will save some to share over the next few days. But I wanted to leave you with this photo… Two baby tomatoes… Which I hope to eat ripe, straight from the garden, still warm from the sun.

tomato

Blessings to you. Be safe during this crazy time. Remember to stop and enjoy some nature each and every day, for nature truly is healing.