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D is for Dandelion on the A to Z Blogger Challenge

The Sunken Garden Dandelions

D is for Dandelion and the Dandelion is the Common Weed of the commonweeder blog. I consider the dandelion an important element in my Flowery Mead. The Extension Service might call my lawn a typical weedy patch, but I take a different view. The Flowery Mead also sports many violets which I just learned are important in supporting certain butterflies, clover, ground ivy and hawkweeds.

While many despise the dandelion, they do have many uses. My Swedish grandfather liked them in his salad. Some people cook them like spinach. You can even buy seeds (if you don’t have a neighbor with a Flowery Mead) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. All around the world, in Europe and China, dandelions are regarded as tonics, and credited with being a laxative, a diuretic, a blood cleanser (so necessary in the Spring), a digetive aid, AND when used in a poultice it can be used on snake bites. It is the root that is used in all these medicinal applications.

The name dandelion is a corruption of the French Dent de Lion, or teeth of the lion, based on the appearance of the jagged leaves. That is one of the reasons I chose the dandelion as symbol of my blog. I am a Leo. Also, the flower is like a little sun, and Leo is one of the Fire signs of the zodiac. It all fits together in my mind.

To see what else begins with D click here.

C is for Coltsfoot on A to Z Blogger Challenge

Coltsfoot or Tussilago farfara

C is for Coltsfoot is also known as coughwort and has long been used medicinally. It was used as a cure for coughs and lung complaints as long ago as ancient Greece when Pline and Dioscorides recommended this herb. Coltsfoot is a native of Europe; the image of a coltfoot leaf on a door in France indicated that the resident was a druggist.

The dandelion-like flowers appear in the very early spring. The large leaves appear when the flowers fade and can be gathered in June and July and dried. A decoction can be made by steeping one ounce of dried leaves in 1 quart of water that is then boiled down to 1 pint. It was often sweetened a bit with honey, which also has some medicinal effect. The leaves can also be made into a medicinal cigarete and smoked. The active agent in coltsfoot is muscilage.

Here at the End of the Road, coltsfoot grows along the roadside, often blooming during Mud Season. A coule of years ago I moved a couple of plants up to the backside of my new in-process Rose Bank. That may have been a mistake. It is a great spreader. It likes the sun, but doesn’t seem to have any other requirements. In England it is considered a weed. My roadside is quite damp, at least in early spring, but the Rose Bank is quite dry. It spreads by runners and can be used as a groundcover.

I wrote  more about coltsfoot here.

I could have written C is for Compost, but surely most gardeners know about compost piles. I have also had some adventures with vermicompost – worm farming and wrote about that here.    To see what else begins with C click here.

B is for Bee Balm on the A to Z Blogger Challenge

 

Bee Balm or Monarda didyma

B has to be  for Bee Balm because a post I did about Bee Balm in 2009 is one of the most popular posts I ever did. I don’t know quite why. Maybe I did some SEO magic without knowing? Maybe because ABC Wednesday still remains very popular, running through the alphabet for six years now?

In any event, bee balm, more properly known as Monarda didyma, is an American native that has it’s own place in American history. It was a popular substitue for ‘real tea’ in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, and remains a common ingredient in herbal tea blends today.  It grew in the Oswego,ew York area and therefore (maybe) is sometimes called Oswego tea. According to my old Rodale Herb Book, it is also sometimes called bergamot because “The entire plant emits a strong fragrance similar t citrus, but most like that of the tropical orange tree, orange bergamot. . . The fragrance contributes to its value as a garden plant, and, moreover, makes it suitable for use in potpourris and other scented mixtures.” It is the leaves that are used in tea mixtures. They should be stripped off the square hollow stems and allowed to dry for two or three days in warm shade. I store the dried leaves in glass jars, and keep them in my dark pantry.

Bee balm is an easy plant to grow, but you must begin with a division. That is the only way you know exactly what you are getting. There are a number of cultivated varietie in shades of pink, red and purple. Bluestone Perennials offers a good selection including Colrain Red, a beautiful scarlet, which was first found in a neighboring town and then put into commercial production.

I grow my bee balm in my sunny Herb Bed which borders our piazza right in front of the house. There I can see the hummingbirds that regularly visit. The soil is of average fertility and drains well. It is supposed to like a moisture holding  soil, but mine does fine even in drought. I always have plenty to share for friends and fund raising plant sales. After the first bloom in midsummer, you can cut it back and you will get another flush later in the season.

To see what else begins with B click here.

Speedy Vegetable Garden Giveway

Speedy Vegetable Garden by Diacono and Leendertz

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how fast does your garden grow? The 208 page Speedy Vegetable Garden by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz (Timber Press) will give you a whole new view of how fast you can grow something to eat. This means we can keep some food growing all year long, if only on our windowsill. Impatient children will find that they can harvest some greens in less than two weeks.

I have grown sprouts in my kitchen for years using jars or a sprout bag, but this book opened up whole  new world of quick harvests. Diacono and Leendertz take the reader and gardener all the way from ‘soaks’ to quick harvest vegetables like zucchini and cherry tomatoes. I had never heard of a soak. Did you know  that  soaking pumpkin seeds for only 1-4 hours will wake up the germination instinct and even before the nascent sprout is visible you will have  buttery crop to sprinkle on your salad or sandwich adding potassium, and vitamins A, B, C, and D? Peanuts can be soaked for 12 hours, until the root just breaks through. Lots of vitamins and minerals. Almonds can also be soaked for 12 hours and eaten with gusto.

Moving on from soaks and sprouts, micro-greens come next. Full directions are given for seeding and watering. Little plastic seed flats can be used, but metal guttering cut to an appropriate size can also make a good planter for intensely flavore crops like cilantro, fenn, radishes and oriental greens. A micro-green is really just the baby stage of the shoot and this is a time when nutrients are at a high level. You wouldn’t make a whole salad out of micro-greens, but they add vibrant taste to your regular salad. Harvest in about two weeks. If you grow microgreens you’ll want to keep successively planted containers going all the time.

Other chapters detail cut and come again salads and quick harvest vegetables, again with good directions for keeping the harvest coming. The illustrations are beautiful, as are these young healthy plants, but the chapter on edible flowers makes you understand how easily you can make a salad suitable for the cover of any food magazine. And if you don’t quite know what to do with any of these crops, Diacono and Leendertz provide you with 20 quick and easy recipes. The Spring Garden Tart with spring onions, spinach, peas, beans, herbs and cheese would give my family a very happy lunchtime.

I always say you can’t hurry in the garden, and that is very true. However, there is no harm in letting vegetables ready themselves for the table as quickly as they like.  In the Speedy Vegetable Garden Diacono and Leenderts show us how these speedy vegetables can lead us to a longer growing season, and extremely nutritious vegetables without the usual back-straining labor.  If you would like to win a copy of this book and start your own speedy garden just leave a comment below by midnight on Wednesday February 13. If you want to tell me about the quickest – or longest crop – you ever grew so much the better I am all ears. I will randomly choose a winner and announce it on Thursday, February 14. Because Timber Press and I love my readers.

September Gold

Goldenrod

September gold fills my garden at this time of the year. I have whole fields of goldenrod. It’s a good thing that goldenrod is not responsible for allergies. “One of the most colorful plants we see blooming in roadside ditches and gardens in late summer is goldenrod (Solidago sp.). Hay fever symptoms seem to be worse when it is in bloom so it often accused of causing hay fever. One look at goldenrod and a little logical thinking clearly eliminates it as a suspect. The many, small, bright yellow flowers on long cluster on the top of the plants are often covered with butterflies and bees taking advantage of the abundance of nectar. The brightly colored flowers are important to attract color-sensitive insects required for pollination. Fact #3: Goldenrod is insect-pollinated. The pollen grains are relatively large, heavier than air and intended to be carried off by bees, butterflies and other pollinators.” For more about goldenrod and allergies  click here and give thanks to the University of Iowa Extension.

Tansy

My field is also full of tansy. Very pretty. Nice in bouquets. NEVER PLANT IT! It propogates by strong runners AND by seed. You will never get rid of it.

Happy Returns daylily

I thought the daylilies were done but this beauty has made a return. Happy for me.

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun'

I have been admiring bright gaillardias for years and now I finally have  some. They haven’t minded the drought very much.

Gaillardia 'Oranges and Lemons'

‘Oranges and Lemons’ bloomed slightly earlier and less robustly than ‘Arizona Sun.”  I like the gentler shades as well as the vibrant shades of gold.

Does your garden have any gold at this time of the year?

 

Most of the Garlic Harvest on Wordless Wednesday

Garlic Harvest

The Garlic harvest is drying. We have already used some. I will be picking out the largest heads and cloves of garlic to use for seed planting in late October.

For more Wordlessness on Wednesday click here.

Chamomile or Pineapple Weed

Roman chamomile

Chamomile is an herb used in many herbal tea mixtures designed to relax and lure the drinker to sleep. I first heard of chamomile tea when I was read Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. After Peter returned from his adventures with Mr. McGregor his mother dosed him with chamomile tea and put him to bed. I tried making chamomile tea when I was a young child, but having no access to real chamomile my attempts were unsuccessful and two or three spoonsful of sugar did not help in the least.

Pineapple Weed

As an adult I often noticed pineapple weed growing at the edges of my dirt driveways and got it into my head that this was chamomile. It is sometimes called wild chamomile, and pineapple weed, Matricaria discoidea, does belong to the same family as the annual German chamomile, Matricaria recutita. Pineapple weed  does not have the petals that real chamomile has. As you might imagine, if you bruise the ferny low foliage you will get a pineapple scent.

I now grow Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile ) in my herb garden and it is a very pretty plant. It grows only about a foot tall and has beautiful little daisy-like flowers that can be harvested and dried to make tea. It can be used as a groundcover and it seems to me I have read about chamomile lawns in English novels.

German chamomile is an annual that grows to about 2 feet, and is the variety most often grown commercially. The many uses of chamomile  are  listed in herbals. I have noticed that even in places where you expect clarity about the scientific names of chamomile you will find some discrepancies. It might me easier just to think about German annual, and Roman perennial chamomiles, and look for pineapple weed around your driveway or  some sunny roadside.

Salvia – Annual, Perennial, Shrub

 

Salvia "May Night"

Salvia is a large genus of plants that includes shrubs as well as perennials and annuals. I have the beautiful Salvia May Night in my Lawn Bed, but I also have culinary sage, Salvia officinalis, in my Herb Bed.

Salvia officinalis closeup

There are many reasons to love salvia. It is an undemanding plant that will bloom again if it is sheared back after that first springtime bloom. There are also many cultivars, many in shades of blue, some in shades of purple or rosy lilac. My Bluestone Perennials catalog lists an even dozen cultivars including Wild Thing which is a bright cherry red, and Indigo Spires which is as much as five feet tall, but both of these are outside my zone. The Plant Delights Nursery has many more unusual salvias but most of those are at leasst zone 7 so a browse through that catalog just fills me with zone lust.

I am also happy that salvia is a deer resistant plant, and I hope that means it is rabbit resistant as well.

Do you have any salvias in your garden?

Herb Garden in a Strawberry Jar

Herb Garden in a Strawberry Jar

Container gardens seem to be more and more popular for ornamental plantings, and even for vegetable plantings. No matter which there is an opportunity for container shopping, ceramic, terra cotta, resin – all kinds of handsome containers are available at garden centers. This spring I succumbed and bought a terra cotta strawberry jar, not because I wanted to plant strawberries, but because I thought it would make a good looking herb garden in a pot.

I bought a tall strawberry jar that has nine little pockets and the top planting hole. I began just as I would with any container, covering the drainage hole so the potting soil  would not fall out. Many people use old terra cotta pot shards or stones, but I often just use a couple of thicknesses of newspaper which works just as well.

I bought potting soil lightened with perlite and mixed in a bucketful of my own compost. Whenever I use commercial potting soil I always add my own compost. The potting  soil is necessary because it is light and allows plant roots to develop and grow. My compost is necessary because that potting soil contains limited nutrition, even when it has been enriched with fertilizers.

I put in enough potting soil and compost to come up to the hole for the first pocket. Then I tried to stuff a three and a half inch pot of sage through the hole. First root first from the outside, and then foliage first from the inside. Herbs can tolerate a little manhandling, but I gave up.

I took a parsley start from a six pack, broke up the roots of this smaller plant and put that in root first from the outside. Perfect. Then I pressed the roots into the potting soil and went on to the next plant, a cilantro start. Breaking apart the roots to loosen and tear them slightly is a form of root pruning that encourages new root growth. This is just what you want for a newly installed plant.

With one parsley and two cilantro plants the first layer of the pot was filled. I added potting soil up to the next level and gave it a gentle watering.

I dug up pieces of golden marjoram and common thyme from my regular Herb Bed. Both of these have fairly horizontal roots but I stuck each of them through a hole, and pressed some of the roots into the potting soil, leaving a portion outside the pot. I filled the final hole on that level with a French tarragon plant. This was in a larger pot, but it was smaller than the sage plant. With a little manhandling and pulling apart of the roots, I did get it through the hole, and pressed the roots into the potting soil. I added more potting soil and watered again.

For the final level of strawberry pockets I was determined to get the sage plant installed. Sage is a fairly sturdy plant, but it took a firm hand to get the foliage through the hole and the roots pressed into the soil. It looked a little sad by the time I was done, but it was in the pot.

A little pot of rosemary went in more easily, and a piece of golden thyme from my own garden easier yet. I pressed the  roots into the potting soil, added more and gave more water.

I topped off the strawberry jar with a four inch pot of a variegated lemon thyme and a pot of Tangerine Gem marigold. I stuffed a little extra potting soil around the edge where I could and voila! A final watering and I have a whole herb garden in a very handsome pot.

I admit that immediately after planting the herbs don’t look handsome. In some cases they have been very roughly treated and although they tolerate this roughness they are allowed to sulk for a few days. Their temporary sulkiness is a small price to pay. It is gratifying to be able to plant a whole garden in just an hour or so

I would have put basil in my potted garden, but was worried about the surprises the weather might still have in store. Basil is very tender.

Though I only used herb plants in my potted garden, I could have used seeds like dill or caraway as well.

The rain that that followed was welcomed by all the gardens, but it really set up the strawberry jar. It will not take long before I can begin some judicious harvesting.

All containers need to be watered regularly. Don’t forget your plants drink a lot of water every day. You should too. Herbs generally don’t need a rich soil so I do not worry about regular fertilizing as I would with flowers or vegetables.

Can your summer kitchen use a potful of delicious herbs?

Between the Rows  May 12, 2012

A Sign of the Early Times – Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot March 22, 2012

Coltsfoot started blooming three days ago on the Rose Bank. This is the first flower in my garden and this year it is much earlier than usual. I wrote about Coltsfoot’s properties as a medicinal herb here on April 17 in 2009. Coltsfoot is also known as Coughwort and is known as a remedy for coughs and other respiratory ailments across several culture.

I wrote about it as a wildflower here last year on April 26. I wonder – can a plant be an herb AND a wildflowers at the same time? Don’t know but I welcome those early dandelion-like flowers.

My pussy willow grows in such a wet spot that I didn’t get to it until yesterday to take a photo. It has been pussied up for so long now that it is just beginning to turn green at the base.

While I have daffodil shoots coming up I was amazed and delighted to see daffs blooming along the side of the Mohawk Trail in Charlemont yesterday and in Greenfield I saw magnolias, forsythia, scillas and more daffs in bloom. I can see leaf buds growing fat and green on lilacs – visible even from the car. Spring is coming at breakneck speed. Will it last?