Sunday, July 30, 2017

My Herbs - part 2 - Sage and Oregano


I don't have a lot of success with most sages.  My first sage, planted in 2012, grew into a large bushy plant which survived for four years. That's actually average for sage, which becomes woody, with fewer leaves after three or four years.  I was sorry to see it go, and have yet to grow another to this degree of success. 

sage - 2015

In 2014 I got a pineapple sage and planted it in a terracotta pot at the head of the herb garden.  It never amounted to much, and I gave it up for dead a year ago.  I dug it out of the pot (it was dormant) and noticed it wasn't dead-dead, so put it in another container, expecting nothing.  It grew...

pineapple sage - 2014

and grew... until this spring I planted it in the center of my butterfly garden rounds. 

Now, sage is another of those Mediterranean herbs, you know, those herbs that crave well-drained but nutrient poor soil. Those that thrive in even rocky soils where little else grows.  Guess what?  My butterfly garden soil is anything but poor!   It's Gardner & Bloome raised bed soil, full of rich compost and plant nummies like bat guano and kelp.  Definitely not what pineapple sage needs in order to bloom.  So, I have a humongous healthy plant, with not a single flower bud in sight!

pineapple sage - 2017
Now, it's a pretty plant compared to when it was in the terracotta, as you can see.  But, take a look at those bight red flowers!  And take a close look at the second photo below,  there is a  hummingbird drinking nectar from the flowers!  THAT is why I have a pineapple sage in the butterfly garden... for the butterflies, bees and birds.  But, I forgot the first love of Mediterranean herbs... poor soil forces them to put out flowers.  It also makes them taste better. 

My tri-color sage never took off.  It was planted in 2015, and now this is what I have this summer.  A few leaves on the end of bare sticks.

tri-color sage

The golden sage is only a few months old, so there is still hope for a nice plant.

golden sage

Now, the sages already mentioned are culinary sages, salvia officinalis, but a sage is a salvia and a salvia is a sage.  Usually the word "sage" is used for the herb we eat (I do) or use medicinally (I don't), and "salvia" for the ornamental annuals and perennials.  I do have salvias in both containers on my deck (annual), and two new ones in containers for the butterfly garden (perennial), Radio Red and Ultra Violet Radio Red was introduced in 2015.  Ultra Violet is a natural (thank you hummingbirds!) dwarf hybrid discovered in Colorado in 2002.  Both are autumn sages, and will bloom into the fall season. 


Salvia greggii 'Radio Red'

Salvia greggii 'Ultra Violet'

For the annual salvias I break off the flowering stems as the flowers die back, and it forms new flowers.  These salvias are easy to find in spring, and I buy the 6-packs.

None of these sages or salvias can be smoked!  Actually, I do not recommend smoking any salvia (or any "herb" for that matter!), but there is a Mexican native salvia that is psychoactive. Mine are purely culinary and ornamental!  Plus the pollinators love it, so it's an asset to any garden.  


Oregano is yet again a Mediterranean herb!  A lover of sun, and poor dry soil (well-drained), there are many kinds of oregano, some culinary, some more ornamental, although even those can be used in cooking.  

My oregano collection (if you can call three a collection) began with what was supposed to be Amethyst Falls in 2012, one of the original herbs in the herb garden.  I say it was supposed to be, because the flowers are nothing like Amethyst Falls'.  Now that it is growing among another oregano received in trade for used homeschooling books (and a mint plant or two), it's hard to tell where one begins and the other stops.  One has slightly darker leaves.  Oddly, there is a plant label that reads, "Greek Mountain Oregano" stuck in the bed.  Am I mistaken about having the Amethyst Falls in the first place?  Now I want one!  

At any rate, most people will harvest the oregano leaves before it flowers, but I leave it for the pollinators.  It also self seeds, and this year I had baby oregano plants popping up in the paths around the herb garden.  I transplanted one to a terracotta with Foxley thyme.  Bees and other small pollinators love oregano! 

oregano blossoms in June
 Oregano dies back in late summer and starts afresh in early spring.  

oregano in the herb garden in April
After it flowers it becomes all stem with spent blossoms.  To keep a neat garden bed it's necessary to cut them back to the ground.

oregano in July, showing where I started to cut back

One ornamental oregano is Golden oregano, Origanum vulgare 'Aureum.'  I have it in a front yard bed, with Tuscan Blue rosemary and Munstead lavender (the two rockroses died).  It's hard to believe how small it started, and how quickly it spread!  It's the tiny bright green clump in the upper left.  Actually, everything here grew at a tremendous rate, even the rockroses, which only lasted four years. 

Golden oregano and Munstead lavender - July 2017
 I should be able to propagate the oreganos, but so far I've had no luck rooting them in water.  

Stay tuned for lavender!  I do have quite a collection started! 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My Herbs - part 1 - Rosemary and Thyme

As I've mentioned before, I love herbs!  I love growing them. I love seeing them blossom.  I love using them in recipes.  I love buying new ones.  I love them in the ground.  I love them in ceramic pots. I love seeing photos of herbs, in books or online.  I search Pinterest for "herb gardens" and Google "herbs in containers."  I am not sure what's up with my herb obsession (sorry to disappoint anyone that gets here via a search for "herb" as in "weed," or "pot," because I mean the culinary, medicinal, type of herbs!  You know, "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" kind of herbs!).  Maybe it's the many types available, you can never have them all.  Or, maybe it's the ease in growing most of them, no matter how poor your soil.  Or, the ability to grow them in containers as well as in the ground.

Oregano (two kinds), creeping thyme, nutmeg thyme, chives, prostate rosemary, feverfew, Goodwin Creek Gray lavender, Ellagance Snow lavender, woolly apple mint, lemon thyme, creeping winter savory, and golden sage - English thyme and tri-color sage are out of sight, but in attendance in the herb garden proper.

Herbs are hardy, they are pretty, they smell good, and you can eat them! Those are reasons enough to grow them!  Bear in mind, I live in the USDA Hardiness Zone 8B, although Sunset calls it 7.  USDA zones are based only on winter lows, Sunset takes into consideration a lot of different factors.  For instance, I live in a valley, so I can grow many plants that wouldn't survive if planted just a few miles away, at a higher elevation.  If you regularly have snowy winters and well below freezing temperatures for long stretches of time, make sure to choose herbs that can take it!  Here we have freezing temperatures, and occasional snow, and yes, I do lose a few plants when we have a colder than average winter, but for the most part, my herbs do fine.  They are all perennials, and some actually die back completely in the fall, and grow back lush and healthy in the spring.

I do not try to start my own herbs from seed.  It takes too long, and in some cases the plant will not be the variety hoped for.  Some herbs actually need to be grown from stem cuttings to stay true to type. My herbs are from the Grange Co-op, local farmer's market, the local high school's FFA spring plant sales, and in exchange for other goods.

I let most of my herbs flower since I want to encourage pollinators.  Some herbs are said to taste best when harvested before flowering, but I am just a basic cook when using herbs, so don't notice any difference!  I use them fresh, but hope to dry some this summer for winter use. 


My formal herb garden began in the summer of 2012.  I can't believe how some of the plants have grown!  Here's the rosemary in June, 2012 (left) and now (right).  It's a prostate rosemary, which stays low to the ground, and hangs over the rock edges.  


It has pretty pale purple flowers in early spring.  The bees love it.  I use rosemary whenever I cook a stew, cutting off a small stem. 

Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb (many are), and likes a hot, sunny location with less than optimal soil.  Meaning, don't plant rosemary in rich potting soil!  Just dig some sand, or even gravel, into your soil to help drainage, rosemary suffers from wet roots.  My herb garden proper is a raised area I did fill with garden soil, but since then I've let it become less rich by not composting or fertilizing.  Too much fertilizer or rich soil and you'll have a great plant, not much as far as flowers, and not nearly the taste as a plant that suffers a little!  Don't water any of the Mediterranean  herbs too much either.  Let them dry out.  Rosemary stays green all winter, and blooms early in the spring, even late winter. 

I have a Tuscan Blue rosemary in the front yard.  Planted in April 2014, it's the tiny plant to the left of the upright stone in the middle photo.  The bottom photo shows its flowers this spring.  I had to cut back quite a bit of the plant a few weeks ago.  I think our long wet winter was too much for it.  In spring prune out any dead wood.  Rosemary can live for years and years, if it's happy.  It can be propagated by stem cuttings, but I have not had luck with that.  It will root on its own though, as branches lay on the ground, especially the prostate rosemary. 


Tuscan Blue rosemary with Golden Oregano in the background


Thyme is another Mediterranean herb, so it too needs good drainage, but will take poor soil. I've even read of entire Mediterranean herb gardens planted in gravel!  Thyme does very well in containers, so long as there are drainage holes.  Thyme goes into the stew pot along with rosemary and sage. 

I have Foxley thyme in a terra cotta pot.   It a pretty variegated variety with dainty pink blossoms the bees love.  

Foxley thyme's variegated leaves - lovely!
Thyme is a pretty, small leaved herb that stays low to the ground, in some cases flat on the ground! 
My nutmeg thyme and creeping thyme have been spreading along the ground of the herb garden for several years.  They really look nice as they creep over the edge of the rock border.  In the photo below the thyme is seen just to the left of the larger pot, surrounding the two rocks in the border. 

creeping thyme

This is nutmeg thyme.  It's slightly taller than creeping thyme, but still a low ground cover.

Below is lemon thyme, just to the right of the painted rock identifier!  That was a fun project.  Lemon thyme has lovely green and yellow leaves.  Mine has a tendency to get stringy and sparse, so I have replace it twice.

I grow creeping thyme in both my herb garden proper (the rock edged bed) and in the rock garden in my front yard.  And why not?  It's a lovely ground cover that spreads.  It takes little water.  It has teeny pinkish-purple flowers in springtime. 

English thyme, or garden thyme, is Mediterranean, regardless of the word "English" in its name.  
It's the basic thyme most people grow. There is nothing wrong with English thyme, it's delicious.  It's just nothing special to look at.  

English thyme

Next up will be sage and oregano. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Random Garden Ramblings

Nothing ground shaking happening in the garden. 

Veggies are blooming, setting fruit, ripening...

There are tomatoes, Siletz and Sungold, but no Brandywine as of yet.  

Cucumbers are climbing, and have blossoms...

Onions are forming bulbs...

A few miserable looking green beans have managed to set pods...

At long last the pineapple tomatillo (ground cherry) looks like it might actually do something...

The potatoes are starting to get leaves again, after their earwig invasion...  They've grown so tall I had to improvise to get the straw to cover the growing vines.  Won't they hurry up and flower?

Blueberries, especially Draper, are going strong.  I'll admit, only Draper and Legacy are large enough to bother picking.  It's my fault, I neglected them early in the season.  But, get a load of the size of those Drapers! 

Lovely Patio Baby eggplant!  Guess where they're going? If you guessed the break room at work, you'd be correct! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

S'mores on the Backyard Fire Pit!

I guess it isn't really a "pit" since it isn't sunk in the ground (at least that's what my son said), but it's more than a "ring" now.

We used it a few nights ago to make s'mores!  If you live in an area where that is a foreign word, let me explain a s'more!

Take a marshmallow, roast it on embers (or flames if you can't wait) until it's toasted and gooey.  Sandwich it between graham cracker squares with a square of Hershey's milk chocolate (I have never used anything buy the plain ol' Hershey's), and press so the chocolate melts from the heat of the marshmallow.  It's so good you will want S'MORE!

Anyway, the pit worked perfectly.  The fire was just the right size.  I didn't mind placing it in the middle of the lawn, as it isn't a nice lawn, it's bare and bumpy and dog-worn!  I was going to put a strawberry pyramid here next spring anyway.  If I do that it will go into the far back yard. 

The moon and star cut-outs glowed in the dark.

My silly daughter trying to melt her s'more by hand!  The glowing square in the center is a marshmallow on a roasting stick.  I waited for embers. 

The best part is a tie between the wonderful smell (like camping in the forest) and time spent with family.  We even told "ghost stories!" 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Mints

I find I am collecting mint plants and searching for more!

It started with a humble spearmint growing wild in the yard when I got here in 2011.  I'm pretty sure it was not cultivated, it was in the far back part of the yard where the original owners had done absolutely nothing (imagine, nothing, not even fruit trees, since the house was built in 1962!).
Growing up in California we had spearmint growing near the back kitchen door, which my mother would pick now and again.  I dug the plant out of the ground, put it in a pot, and still have it!  It's scent makes my mouth water for gum!



Chocolate mint and peppermint:  From there it was peppermint and chocolate mint for the herb garden, before I knew mint liked more water and less sun than the Mediterranean herbs in the same bed.  So, they died... I have yet to find healthy looking replacements.  The chocolate mint smells just like a York Peppermint Patty!

chocolate mint


Woolly apple mint came next, found at the farmer's market in town.  I still have it growing in my herb bed, it would do better elsewhere.  It's leaves are furry and soft like a lamb's ear. 

woolly apple mint in bloom
woolly apple mint

After that it was all downhill...  mint after mint has found its way into my home and heart!

Pineapple mint:  I chopped up some pineapple mint leaves to toss into a fruit salad (fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, red seedless grapes, strawberries, and pineapple chunks) last month on my daughter's birthday, and it was extra refreshing! 

pineapple mint pruned back during summer

Strawberry mint: Rub the leaves of this mint and be prepared to be amazed.  It smells just like a strawberry! 

strawberry mint

Sweet pear mint:  Eh... it's a variety I'm glad I have, but as for as fragrance goes, I don't smell the pear. 

sweet pear mint

Citrus basil mint: A nice citrus scent, with broader leaves than most of my others.  I recently transplanted it to a large pot. 

citrus basil mint
Just today I noticed white specks on the new growth of the citrus basil mint.  Through the magic of today's phones I was able to get a photo, and zoom it in close enough to see this...  EWWW!  On my mint! 

nasties on my citrus basil mint!

Orange mint (bergamot mint):  Talk about invasive!  I thought I'd lost mine a few years ago, and put the sad little stems in a garden bed.  They took off to fill a 4x4 bed.  I'm going to have a heck of a time getting it out of there.  Right now it's ready to bloom, so I'm leaving it for the pollinators.

orange mint strangling boysenberries

Lemon balm (a mint family member):  Rub the leaves of lemon balm and it smells just like a lemon drop candy.  You can use the leaves to make tea or stuff under the skin of chicken before roasting.  I got my original plant from a woman when I dropped off some homeschooling materials I didn't need any more.  She gave me lemon balm, and an oregano plant.  I haven't found lemon balm to be invasive as far as underground roots popping up, but it does self-seed and I have plants in unlikely places. 

lemon balm

lemon balm volunteers

cabbage white butterfly on lemon balm

Catnip:  Yes, catnip is a mint!  Nepeta is the genus,  catmint, and Nepeta cataria is what is sold as catnip.  Smelling the dried leaves makes cats silly, but eating the fresh leaves, as Benny does, makes them sleepy.  

Horehound:  Another mint family member, horehound does not smell like lemons, or chocolate, or anything nice!  It's supposed to be hardy under even the most inadequate conditions, but mine has always looked sickly from the day I transplanted it.   It does easily root in water, but even the newly grown plant is not looking too healthy.  

variegated horehound - not a stellar specimen

Mints need to be cut to ground level in the summer. I wait until they have finished blooming, since pollinators absolutely love mint flowers.

catnip - summer cut

woolly apple mint blossoms

catnip blossoms

strawberry mint blossoms

lemon balm flowers

lemon balm flowers

Mint offers nearly an endless opportunity to feed my addiction!  "Julep," variegated ginger, "Mojito," "Eau de Cologne," grapefruit, the tiny "Corsican" mint that's perfect between paving stones...  there's even one that tastes like chewing gum, called appropriately, "Chewing Gum" or mentha spicata, a type of spearmint!