Countryside Corner Neighborly Garden News
Start in herb garden for taste and health!
There have been many articles published about the helpful and healing properties of the aromatic plants we know as herbs. Herbs have been found to contain various kinds of complex anti-oxidant compounds; volatile oils and anti-inflammatory agents that are all best enjoyed fresh. Of course you may dry herbs for cooking and teas; but the real goodness lies in the living tissues. I’m speaking of our typical culinary herbs; certain herbs for pharmaceuticals have specified methods of preparation.
Wild herb plants are thought of as nature’s super foods, they are packed with so much nutrition. Many of our culinary herbs were brought from Europe where they grow wild. You may, like me, have seen travel videos showing happy and healthy folks gathering wild herbs and edibles from their daily walks to be eaten in a fresh salad or stew in the next meal. This has always appealed to me.
It’s tempting to plunk your newly purchased herbs out back with the rest of the veggies. Life will be so much easier to have them as close to your kitchen as possible, or have a willing helper ready to pick herbs, when you want them. I actually keep two herb gardens; one for production and preserving, in the main veggie garden out back. And a second smaller one near my deck, steps from the kitchen. This makes it simple to pop out as I’m cooking breakfast for fresh herbs to put in an omelet. You can incorporate fresh herbs in ways you hadn’t thought of, because they are now very accessible.
My top 5 easy herbs are:
Rosemary is in the mint family, but usually grows into a semi woody shrub. Bring it inside for the winter as it will die if left outdoors in our zone. The scent of Rosemary has been shown to improve memory and mental clarity. It contains carnosic acid, which can protect skin from UV-A rays, and be an anti-carcinogen. Rosemary also has antiseptic properties, and aids in detoxifying the body, and supporting the immune system.
Thyme is one of my favorite herbs, besides adding great flavor to soups and stews it is a good antiseptic. Thymol, one it’s essential oil components, is an active ingredient in Listerine. Thyme is also used as an aid for respiratory ailments, and an aid to digestion.
Basil is a mainstay of our kitchen; available in many ‘flavors’ and colors. Basil is known as an anti-inflammatory herb. Herbalists say it’s good for a systemic detox, and supporting the liver. Basil goes with fresh tomatoes, fresh cheese, in omelets; in almost any cuisine. It’s very easy to freeze basil at the height of flavor, and it will keep all winter. I process mine with just enough olive oil to make a chunky paste, and then freeze it in containers.
Chives and other members of the Allium or onion family are also very showy when in bloom. These also include garlic, shallots, and scallions. Garlic and other Allium cousins are known to support the immune system. I don’t think a meal goes by without using at least one member of this tasty herb family. Onions also contain high amounts of vitamin C, B6, Folate, and Potassium. Garlic has long been recognized for its healthful properties, known to reduce blood pressure, and prevent cell damage, due to its anti-oxidant components.
Parsley is so packed with vitamins, that only 1 tablespoon gives you half your daily dose of vitamin K, vitamins A and C, too. So good, it’s not just a garnish! It adds that bit of ‘umami’ (savory) flavor that is so intriguing.
March’s ‘to-do’ list:
Getting through a New England winter always feels like an accomplishment. This one seems about average, except for the protracted cold spell we had in late December into January. I’m hoping it was cold enough to kill some overwintering pests we have had problems with. Unfortunately ticks are not particularly affected by cold, and our warming weather will bring them out of dormancy. Prepare for the start of another tick season. Ticks that cause Lyme disease will become active when temperatures are above freezing, and the ground has thawed. Ticks will aggressively seek out a host upon awakening, and lurk in areas most likely for us to encounter in our yard and garden activities. Our tick specialist, Herb Severs, can advise you on the various methods we have at our disposal for managing this dangerous pest; or visit our website: Countrysidelandscape.net, and under ‘Services’, click on ‘Tick & Biting Insect Control’ for more information.
Feed spring blooming bulbs as the new green shoots begin to pop up out of the soil. A fertilizer having the ratio of 9-9-6 is good for bulbs, often called a ‘bulb booster’ fertilizer. Avoid bone meal, as it is known to attract unwanted wildlife.
Prune your ornamental and fruiting trees and shrubs now, while they are still dormant.Prune summer and fall blooming trees and shrubs like: Roses, Hydrangea, Rose of Sharon and Buddleia; now until late spring. Wait to prune spring blooming plants, like Lilacs, Azaleas and Forsythia, until directly after flowering. If you are considering moving any mature shrubs or trees, it will be less stressful to the plants if you dig and move them soon, before they leaf out. Pruning while the plant is dormant prevents loss of plant fluids (sap) and allows you to best observe the structure of the plant.
Spraying ornamental & fruiting plants with horticultural oil while they are dormant, is an ecological & effective way to control insect pests. Horticultural oil is such fine grade, it is considered non-toxic to humans and pets. Horticultural oil kills over-wintering pests and their eggs by smothering them, not with chemicals. For more information on this application, visit our website: Countrysidelandscape.net, and under ‘Services’, click on ‘Tree Applications’.
Mid-March is a good time to begin sowing early veggie seeds; to be ready to set them out 6 weeks later. These would include the Cole crops: Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and their relatives. With cooperative weather, planting peas on St Patrick’s Day is an old tradition. Plant them ½” deep in cultivated beds, then lightly firm the soil. Shallow planting in cold soil, helps them germinate better. You can also grow garden peas or edible podded peas in a pot; just look for the shorter or bushier varieties, and grow in a sunny spot.
Wait until your garden beds are firm and dry before working in them. A simple way check if the soil is ready to be worked is to press a small clump in your fist until it forms a ball. If the ball crumbles easily when you poke it, the soil is dry enough to plant.
Countryside can help you get going with your spring clean-up tasks. We also have soil, bark mulch, and compost for pick-up or delivery.
Grow a child’s garden of wonder
Gardening is a lifelong hobby of mine, and one I hope to pass on to my granddaughter. Weeding the family’s half acre plot is as dull as it sounds, and could turn a kid off gardening for life, so start off with small fun projects that will spark a child’s interest and imagination.A half barrel filed with a light weight soil mix brings the plants up to kid level, and is easier to dig in. Twine strung to a nearby pole or wall can allow for planting kid sized seeds of morning glory, gourds, or runner beans, to trail up the strings.
Kids like weird or novelty plants. Grow a child’s secret room by planting tall sunflowers in a ¾ circle, as they grow together, they will form a shady spot for reading or whiling away a summer day. Monster sized plants always make a big impression. Elephant Ears, Joe Pye Weed, and Canna lily are easy to grow jumbo plants.
Scented geraniums are cool plants for kids. They can be found in unexpected scents like: chocolate and orange or nutmeg, many have soft velvety leaves. ‘Wooly Lambs Ears’ is another plant that begs to be touched. Cockscomb is an annual flower that looks just like its name, and comes in silky, vibrant neon colors.
Allow kids the flexibility of choosing their own color scheme, which might not be the ‘all white flowers’, design you were thinking about. Magenta striped petunias, and deep orange marigolds, might be more their fancy. Imagine how proud they will be when their colorful barrel garden is in full bloom.
Growing food plants allows kids to experience in real time how long it takes for our food to grow, mature, and be ready to eat. The anticipation of that first tomato, or carrot, and tasting how fresh it is, might create a lifelong gardener in your family.
A problem that comes up frequently is a tree that has outgrown its place in the garden. That sweet little thing you fell in love with at the garden center is now blocking your view, and gobbling up all the sun. You can choose to keep pruning it back to a manageable size or start over with a more space friendly specimen. Here are a few ideas for under 15’ tall trees:
Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black’, this Smoke tree has leaves which emerge a rich purple, and then turn near-black by mid-summer. Autumn brings a final color change as the leaves turn orange and red. Compact form, grows 6’ tall x 6’ wide. Blooms in early summer.
Malus ‘Pink Princess’ is a dwarf crabapple with purple leaf color all year long. It grows slowly to 6-8’ tall x 6-8’ wide. Pink Princess’s flowers are purple in bud and open to rosy-pink. Develops tiny red fruit, very disease resistant. Blooms in May.
Malus sargentii ‘Firebird’ is another dwarf crabapple which will grow into a small rounded tree, 6-8’ tall x 8-10’ wide. Red buds open to bright white flowers; glossy red, persistent fruit last through winter. Very disease resistant. Blooms in May.
Prunus incisa “Little Twist’ Flowering Cherry, has interesting zig-zag branching that creates winter interest long after flowering is finished. Pink buds open to pale pink flowers in mid-spring. It will not develop fruit, making this a clean tree for your yard. Grows into a rounded habit, 8-10’ tall x 6-8’ wide. Outstanding deep red-orange fall leaf color.
Gingko biloba ‘Jade Butterflies’ is a new dwarf variety of the Maidenhair tree. Its mature form will be an upright vase-shaped tree. ‘Jade Butterflies’ has fluttery lime-green leaves that turn a rich gold in fall. Maidenhair trees are naturally deer resistant, and tolerant of pollution, making them great urban trees. Requires full sun, will grow 15-20’ tall x 8-10’ wide, a little taller than 15 feet, but a wonderful tree.
My garden idea: When is a good time to remove plants and embrace change?
I am an adventurous gardener. I will try to grow almost anything; I enjoy the challenge. I am reluctant to cut down and remove plants, except the most obnoxious invasive kinds. I am also a sucker for flower seedlings that have self-sown, into my beds, and rarely have the heart to weed them out; they seem like survivors to me. This is why when I decided to cut down my robustly healthy 60 year old Wisteria vine last year, many friends were stunned.
The Wisteria was already huge when we moved into our house 30 years ago; the trunk was bigger than a man’s thigh, and it was trained onto a trellis we soon had to replace from under its weight. It bloomed reliably each spring; the fragrant purple bunches of flowers smelling like temple incense. I came to understand I was fortunate to have a blooming sized Wisteria, as most take years of training to begin blooming.
One year we moved out of the country for 12 months, and rented our house out. When we returned, the Wisteria had grown so much, it completely blocked the gate into our pool area, and had to be hacked back to gain access. Heavy annual pruning became mandatory if we wanted full range of our yard. I dutifully climbed up onto the garage roof to prune the vine to keep the Wisteria at bay.
Flash forward 30 years, and climbing onto the roof is no longer such a thrill. The Wisteria now creates quite a lot of shade, where it used to be at least, partly sunny. I’ve been giving thought to how much I don’t like the Wisteria, and its one week of spectacular bloom. My Mother had recently passed after a long illness, and some very kind friends had gifted me a ‘Pink Showers’ weeping Cherry tree as a memorial. So after 30 years, I re-designed my garden space, removed the giant Wisteria and created a memorial garden for my Mother. The color theme is pink and white flowers, created with Roses, Astilbe, Iris, Columbine, Hydrangea, Hollyhocks, Daffodils, Daphne, Phlox, Peonies, and Clematis. There are also some perennials I rescued from her garden. Now I have a sunny space, with a lot of color and bloom. I created and planted the ‘Wilma’ garden myself, so every flower and plant has meaning to me; there will be plants in bloom all through the season, to remind me of her and her love of gardening.
Gardens are not made to be static. They are always changing with the seasons, and it’s ok to change things up. I anxiously await the first year’s bloom from the ‘Pink Showers’ Cherry tree, and the new Daffodils to emerge under its branches.