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Monday Record April 20

Gray and chilly. Temperatures in the 40s with winds gusting at 14 miles and more. There is still one pile of snow in The Sunken Garden.

Still, I got a lot done over the past week. First I found out that the old daffodils growing here when we bought our house in 1979 are Van Sion, a heritage variety. I have Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening to thank for the ID. Van Sion is a beautiful frilly double daffodil dating back to 1620. It is available at Old House Gardens where the description “explodes into a froth of green and gold” includes the information that it is often found at the site of old homesites. Multiplies. And multiplies.

I also moved some daffodils that I planted in the lawn years ago. My thought was to turn the lawn into a golden sea. Could have happened, but since the foliage needs to ripen before cutting, it meant I couldn’t mow the lawn until just before the Annual Rose Viewing. Not good. This isn’t the best time, obviously, to move a plant about to bloom, but it had to be done, and I think they will settle in and bloom. They were only out of the ground for a few minutes.

The scillas, Siberian squills, are in full bloom, not only the ones that have self seeded in the weeds that had c0me up earlier.

Lots of cleaning up. Brush from downed trees. Weeds and wild raspberries in the rhubarb bed where I added compost.

I started building a new compost pile next to the slowly evolving Potager. Still moving cardboard and wood chips for paths.

The seeds that I moved into a temporary cold frame are thriving. I also planted sweet peas on the White Trellis, crib sides I pulled out of the metal bin at the Transfer Station, and Sugar Snap peas on a piece of fencing from the shed. I also planted Detroit Red Beets, Green Ice Lettuce and Neon Lights Chard. My seeds came from Fedco and Renee’s Garden.

The photo shows the White Trellis, and a plastic composting bin that was filled with last fall’s leaves. Later in the season I’ll use it for a potato barrel.

The lettuce starts, Red Fire, planted in front of the house in a new bed have suffered from being planted too early, and being bitten by frost a couple of times, but it is holding on. I planted lettuce and spinach seeds next to the starts.

Buds are swelling on the lilacs, tree peonies, rhododendrons, and even one early peony. Last fall I moved division of Joan Elliot campanula to the new cellar door bank and it is up, as is alchemilla. Rain is promised. Spring is here!

A Thrifty Herb Garden

My chives on April 6
My chives on April 6


            Cooks need herbs. Since the media is filled with articles about the thriftiness of a vegetable garden in these difficult economic times it suddenly struck me that one of the thriftiest and easiest gardens to start is an herb garden. I get dizzy when I think of the money I spent (before I had an herb garden) on bunches of parsley, cilantro and basil and less common herbs that are even more expensive.

            Herb gardens are also easy to start. A utilitarian herb bed requires no design skills, just a sunny spot with soil that drains well. Most herbs will do fine in ordinary soil, although any plant is happy for a helping of compost. There is no need to spend money on fertilizers, and pests will be rare.

            Many herbs including rosemary, thyme, chives, French tarragon, marjoram, and sometimes sage, are perennials that will come back year after year.

            Last year my rosemary plant had gotten so big and unwieldy that I left it out in the garden when winter arrived.  This year I will get a new small rosemary plant and put it in the herb bed, but pot it up and bring it indoors for the winter. Rosemary doesn’t mind a cool indoor room, but it needs to be kept watered to thrive. Mine was always happy when it was warm enough to leave its pot and live in the garden soil during the growing season.

            French tarragon is not supposed to be dependably hardy here in Heath, but mine has done well for several years. 

            Many people manage to keep sage going for several years, but I find it iffy.  I’m still waiting to see if mine has come through the winter.

            Chives increase in size and don’t mind frequents harvests. They are so pretty and useful for oniony flavoring and for a bright garnish.

            Plain old thyme is so hardy and vigorous that it has jumped into my lawn, and even the weedy field beyond.  Once I realized that it had moved into the lawn, I took advantage of its adaptability and moved plugs of it out into dry weedy areas where it has taken  over and spread, always green. Obviously I don’t demand a lawn of fine turf. A flowery mead is all I desire.

            Parsley, dill, cilantro, basil, caraway, and summer savory are all annual herbs, easily started from seed. Parsley benefits from being started indoors because it is so slow to germinate.  Cilantro grows and goes to seed so quickly that it is wise to consider planting a small patch every two or three weeks during the season to provide a constant supply of fresh flavorful foliage.

            I look at recipes for grilling marinades and it is obvious that many of these herbs are essential for summer menus.

            Garlic is an important cooking herb. It needs to be planted in late fall. In the spring you can harvest the beautiful budded shoots called scapes, chop them and use them for garlic flavoring. You will still be able to harvest the mature garlic bulbs in mid summer.

However, at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium I learned from Denise Lemay of Stockbridge Herbs in South Deerfield, that there is a fashionable trend for planting garlic cloves in the spring garden and harvesting the fine shoots to use in the kitchen for their gentle garlic flavor.

Lemay also warned that although fresh peeled garlic can be preserved in vinegar, it should never ever be preserved in olive oil where it will quickly ferment and produce the botulism toxin. Shortly afterwards, I met a woman who told me she had been given a jar of garlic in oil but it began to bubble. She thought it looked dangerous and threw it away. Smart woman.

There are ways to lower the costs of an herb garden, or any new garden. First, you can share your seeds. A whole packet of seed is often too much for a single garden. This year my neighbor and I coordinated our seed order so that we can share seeds. One packet each of summer squash, zucchini, and Waltham butternut is more than enough for our two small families. We went through the whole list looking for this kind of economy.

There are other seed swaps, locally and on line. The National Garden Association has a seed swap page on their website,

You can buy all kinds of seed starting equipment, but much of it can be made from recycled plastic mushroom or other produce boxes, and egg cartons. Two caveats. If you are going to use plastic boxes remember to punch drainage holes in the bottom. If you use egg cartons remember to keep the cardboard damp, just as you would for peat pots.

            The easiest way to keep any seed box properly watered is to put it in a tray that will hold some water. Osmosis will bring the water into the soil.  This is especially important for the cardboard egg cartons that should be kept damp.

            Next week I’ll talk about preserving herbs. Drying and freezing your own herbs will increase the amount of money you save by preserving your herbs for winter use.

            Right now I am enjoying the signs of new growth in my own herb bed. April has just begun but the chives are ready to use.


April 4, 2009 

Monday Record 4-6

This morning I am beginning my Monday Record – noting as completely as I can what is doing in the garden. The snow is nearly gone everywhere, except in the Sunken Garden. The weedy grass is just beginning to green up.
I was tempted by a 6 pack of lettuce seedlings a couple of weeks ago when the weather was very mild. On March 31 I could wait no longer and set them out in the herb bed in front of the house. The weather has been very cool, frost two mornings, but the lettuce seems to be surviving. So far.

The chives and other herbs in the herb bed look so promising. Garlic chives, French tarragon, bee balm, lemon balm and horseradish are also sending out shoots and leaves.

The rhodies next to the Cottage Ornee have come through the winter better than ever before. The deer left them alone too.

Past the Cottage Ornee is the newly laid out Potager (formerly known merely as the garden extension) and a temporary coldframe, making use of cinderblocks left from the last summer’s cellar project, and a plexiglass skylight that was damaged by the delivery man. It makes a quick, albeit temporary, coldframe. There is nothing inside yet. Admire the chips, laid on top of cardboard, they are the new technique for weed free paths. Yesterday we picked up a carload from the Public Chip Pile that was arranged by our Select Board for the use of town residents. Many thanks from us gardeners.

Back in the house is one of two trays of seedlings I planted on March 31. Fiesta broccoli, Diablo Brussels sprouts, white seashell cosmos, zinnias and Gigante Italian parsley. The seeds came from Fedco and Renee’s Garden. The tray shown here, with seedlings sprouting has been placed on my new heat mat. There is no action at all on the control tray that has not received any bottom heat.

The final note for the day is about the temporary installation of our weather station. My husband wanted to make sure all systems were operational before getting it up onto the roof. This morning the 7:30 am temperature was 34.6 degrees, humidity 89%, with breezes of 3.4 mph. The separate rain gauge lives on a separate fence post, in place for today’s promised rains.

Home to the Garden

After my time away from home, tending my daughter with her broken ankle and her two sons, I have come back home to find the first real signs of spring. The herb bed next to the piazza in front of the house faces south and is very protected. It doesn’t look like much from a distance, but if you get up close . . . Here is autumn crocus sending up leaves as early as spring crocus, but the foliage will die during the summer and the blossoms will appear in the fall. Some call them Naked Ladies because the flower grows directly out of the ground.

Of course the herb bed has herbs: chives,

garlic chives,

lemon balm,

and bee balm of the bright red variety. This is a strong spreader and I always have plenty to share.

I raced to the vegetable garden, and I can see I will have to wait a little while more before planting. This is a 15 x 15 foot plot that I started when my hip was giving me so much trouble. After the hip was replaced we added a new raspberry patch next to it. Last year we added on an extension, but you can’t see it from this angle. Right now I am full of plans and impatient, but I can almost smell planting season.

Snow and Snowdrops

I admit the bench is in the middle of a snow drift, but still . . .

I admit the bench is in the middle of a snow drift, but still . . .

I left my daughter, her broken ankle and crutches, in the loving care of her sons and friends for the weekend.  I came home to attend the Wesstern Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium. I was giving a presentation about my worm farm, but I also was eager to hear landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy speak about her new book Home Outside, and to attend a workshop on garlic growing and cooking.

While I was home my husband and I walked past the snowdrifts to the vegetable garden to get a good measure of its new dimensions after the lasagna addition I put in last fall.  We had to walk through some snow to get to the garden, but that sunny area was clear. We got our measurements, 11′ x 26′. We laid out paths on paper and I calculate that I will have about 180 square feet of planting beds in this area.

As we walked back to the house I saw my first spring blossoms — snowdrops. Now it really feels like spring!

Having seen the snowdrops I had  to check one other spot that was clear of snow.

Daylily shoots are up!  I’m going to have to keep close watch now.

Snow and Snowdrops

I left my daughter and her broken ankle in the loving care of her sons and friends and made it home for the weekend and the wonderful Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium. I was giving a presentation about my worm farm, but I was eager to hear landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy speak about her new book, Home Outside, and attend a garlic growing and cooking workshop. I’ll post more about the Symposium later this week.

While I was home my husband and I took a walk past the snowdrifts and out to the vegetable garden to get a good measure of its new dimensions after the lasagna addition I put in last fall. We had to walk through snow to get to the garden, but that sunny area was clear. We were able to get measurements, 11′ x 26′. We laid out paths on paper and calculate that I will have about 188 square feet of planting beds in this area.

As we walked back to the house I saw my first blossoms of the year, snowdrops! Now it really feels like spring.

After I saw the snowdrops I had to check one other area that was free of snow.

The daylily shoots are green. I’ll have to start watching closely.