Favorite Herb-Sage

Sage has grown on me. Evoking memories of Thanksgiving meals in grandmother’s kitchen, it is a flavor that I enjoyed but didn’t use much beyond stuffing and sausage.

Carving up a sage stuffed turkey on Thanksgiving

I nearly always used it in a dried poultry seasoning mix and that was the extent of my experience of this flavorful herb. A valuable herb for containers and a deer resistant plant are many of its attributes, but I love this fresh herb for cooking in fall and winter.

Sage biscuits with beef barley soup

Cooking

Sage uses in cooking are many beyond the traditional. Fry up the leaves in butter, add some sea salt, and use them scattered on soups, salads, veggies, and other dishes to add crunch and flavor. Use sage in a brown butter saute, add some pine nuts,  and toss over butternut squash pasta. Yum!!

Saute ham chunks with sage leaves for a soup topping
Fry your sage leaves whole in butter, add fresh ground sea salt, and chop them up for flavoring recipes

Chopped up fresh, sage added to your stuffing for your holiday meal is so much more pungent than the poultry dressing that sits in your herb cabinet and can be several years old. Its flavor is so intense, a little can go a long way.

Sage, Salvia officinalis, is one of the few herbs that, even as its leaves grow larger, the flavor intensifies and the leaves are still delicious after the plant flowers.

A Snap to Grow

Easy to grow either outdoors or inside during the winter, sage is drought tolerant and grows well within a wide range of temperatures and planting zones. Evergreen here in the mid-Atlantic, I still like to have a plant inside as it shrivels outdoors in the cold. The plants also seem to fizzle out within a few years and get woody, and it gives me the opportunity to plant new ones. There are several variations, like a variegated one and purple leaved type that add foliage color to containers.

Growing sage in containers

Preferring a well drained sandy soil, sage is especially suited for container growing as it stays small with regular harvesting. Notice, I say sandy? When you pot up your sage plant indoors, give it grit or sand and it will be happier. I use aquarium gravel from the pet store.

Sage in a container

The one caveat is not to over water this herb as it will rot. And indoors, you need to provide plenty of sun. If you don’t have enough sun in a west or southern facing exposure, at least 6-8 hours of sunlight, provide supplemental lighting with a grow light.

One of the most attractive culinary herbs in foliage and flower, the soft blue blooms fit in perfectly in a perennial garden. Usually gardeners plant it separately in an herb garden, but I use it throughout my perennial beds.

Blue sage spikes, seen at Stratford On Avon

Sage Biscuits

Moist flavorful biscuits great for small sandwiches or for soup

Servings 9

Ingredients

  • 2 C Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter, cut up into pieces
  • 3/4 C buttermilk
  • 1/4 C Fresh sages leaves, cut up

Instructions

  1. Measure dry ingredients in large bowl

  2. Wash and dry your sage leaves. Chop up sage leaves into pieces

  3. Add cut up butter into dry ingredients and mix with pastry blender until pieces are no larger than a pea

  4. Add buttermilk and cut up sage leaves and mix with fork into a ball

  5. Turn out onto cutting board dusted with flour and mash down with the heal of your hand until the dough is about 3/4" thick

  6. Cut with biscuit cutter or juice glass to make 8 or 9 biscuits and place on ungreased cookie sheet

  7. Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes until the tops just start to brown

Recipe Notes

A great addition to these biscuits would be 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese.

For instructions and inspiration on making a fresh herbal wreath that includes sage, go to Fresh Herbal Wreath.
Materials for a kitchen culinary wreath
Completed dried wreath with sage, thyme, globe amaranth, bay leaves, and curry plant

Basil Bumper Crop

Late summer is Basil time around my house. After growing all summer in my veggie garden, it is full and bushy, even though I am using it regularly in cooking. Heat and sun loving, this summer has been both, and the Basil this year is loving it! The hydroponic stuff you buy in the grocery store doesn’t compare with sun warmed fresh cut Basil from the garden.

Downy Mildew

Basil, one of my top herb favorites, has become a little more difficult to grow in the mid-Atlantic region. Normally a cinch to grow, Basil has been plagued by fatal downy mildew, which makes it unsightly and unusable.

Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant
Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant

Appearing in the last couple of years, downy Mildew is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant inedible. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), Basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your Basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes Basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores. So, it is here to stay.

Mildew disfigures the entire basil plant
Mildew disfigures the entire Basil plant
Some good looking basil showing signs of downy mildew

Disfiguring my Basil plants by late spring/early summer, I despaired of growing this stalwart of my kitchen for pesto ever again.

Try Resistant Amazel Basil

I was delighted to find a new cultivar of Basil called Amazel, a game changing plant, which is resistant to Downy Mildew. Amazel is a hunky vigorous plant  and I am back in the green with Amazel Basil from Proven Winners.

Amazel has excellent resistance to Downy Mildew, which will keep plants growing and producing for home gardeners throughout the entire season. Unlike typical Basil, Amazel is seed sterile and therefore continues to produce leaves and shoots even after starting to flower unlike other Basil varieties that focus most or all of their energy into seed production.

A healthy hydroponic basil plant
A healthy hydroponic basil plant

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea this tasty herb was so good for you!

Amazel Basil
Amazel Basil from Proven Winners

Pesto

For simple Pesto to use up all that extra basil:

Place in your food processor or blender, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup raw pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely, and 4 cups of basil leaves, 1 cup of parsley, chopped coarsely and packed lightly into the measuring cup.

Wash and strip off the basil leaves
Blend all the leaves together

Blend well, stirring large bits back into the mixture and re-blending as needed. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and stir in 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add a sprinkling of grated black pepper.

Blend in the pine nuts

And sit back and enjoy this concoction on your pasta or my favorite- grilled salmon ! You can keep this in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top for a couple of weeks or freeze it. I freeze it in ice-cube containers for ease of removing throughout the winter.

Slather pesto on top of salmon on the grill

Fragrant Sweet Annie

Sweet Annie, Artemisia annua, is an herb I remember from the seventies and eighties. Intensely fragrant smelling green herb wreaths were made up in the fall from the branches and I would see them everywhere for sale at craft fairs and outdoor festivals.

Wreath of Sweet Annie

I kind of forgot about Sweet Annie for a long time until a volunteer plant emerged from my asparagus patch this summer and shot up all summer long, until by September it towered over 6 foot high with many sweet smelling branches ready to be harvested. Deciding to let it remain in my asparagus patch, I watched it all season long until I accidentally brushed against it to release the intense sweet fragrance. Once you smell it, you will never forget it! Lingering on my hands and clothing long after brushing into it, the fragrance is hard to describe with an almost fruity fragrance.

Sweet Annie growing in my asparagus patch is about 6 feet high

Classified as an annual weed, Sweet Annie has escaped cultivation and is a favorite of crafters for its versatility and sweet fragrance and to floral arrangers as an aromatic filler. Slow to germinate, and late to bloom (mine just started to bloom in early to mid-September here in zone 6b), it readily self-seeds, so I know I will have more next year and will probably have to pull some out. Not a beautiful plant, more weed-like than ornamental, it was fine relegated to my vegetable patch.

Harvesting

Yellow green beads form on the end of the branches as flower buds

Growing like a well-branched Christmas tree, I waited until yellow beads appeared on the branches arranged in panicles, which are the buds of the flowers. This is the perfect time to harvest it and I cut the woody trunk down with loppers and then cut off each individual branch for drying. If you harvest it earlier, the branches will kind of shrivel up. Some I bunched up with a rubber band and hung up in my basement for 1-2 weeks, for straight trusses. Other branches, I curled up in a trug for drying. That way, the branches will dry in a rounded form, perfect for making into sweet smelling wreaths.

Drying branches of Sweet Annie in round trugs

A sun lover, my Sweet Annie plant required no care and it loved our drier weather this season.

Sweet Annie’s Uses

Sweet Annie, known in China as qing-hao, has been used in treating malaria and fever for hundreds of years. Fruity, astringent, aromatic, Sweet Annie has been used as an air freshener and pest deterrent. You can crumble some into your carpet before vacuuming for a long lasting fragrance to linger long after you have finished cleaning.

Freshly cut Sweet Annie ready to be bundled up

Commonly used in crafts as a base for wreaths and swags, and a filler for arrangements, the dried plumes can be used in a variety of ways. Break up the large branches into smaller pieces for different projects. More pronounced in humid weather, the fragrance can waft on the breeze into my house. If you hang a branch in a bathroom, the damp air will release the fragrance. Unfortunately, some people are allergic to Sweet Annie, with bouts of sneezing and sometimes skin irritation. I find that the sneezing happens if I work with it too much, so limit my time with it. I enjoy Sweet Annie from a distance!

Sweet Annie makes a great filler in arrangements; here I arranged with marigolds, cosmos, dahlias, and goldenrod

For other herbal wreath ideas, go to my post Fresh Herbal Wreath.

Fresh Herbal Wreath

Lemon Verbena-Growing & Using

Lemon Verbena has always been at the top of my list of herbs to grow for its intense lemony fragrance. More pungent that lemon balm or lemon thyme, I ended up with a bumper crop last year and found many uses for it. Be sure to buy a transplant this spring and place it where it will get full sun and good drainage. Planting near your outdoor living space will ensure that you will enjoy brushing by it to release the lemony fragrance.

Lemon Verbena

Strongly scented and known for its refreshing lemony fragrance, Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is the most strongly scented lemon scent of all the herbs. Used in making perfumes, and toilet water, as well as a flavoring in baking, jellies and preserving, lemon verbena also makes a great herbal tea, either fresh or dried.

Steeping dried lemon verbena leaves for tea

Dried branches and leaves can be used to scent your drawers and linen closets with a light fragrance. I fill gauze bags with dried leaves to tuck in my lingerie. Introduced to England in the 1700’s, lemon verbena can grow to 15′ in height in the UK! Here in the U.S., the plant is treated as a tender perennial but can overwinter in US zone 8 or higher and reaches in the mid-Atlantic region about 4′ in height.

Growing my lemon verbena in a container keeps it happy because I can control the water it receives. Over watering a lemon verbena plant is certain death to this very fragrant herb, so only water when the soil is completely dry. Plus I can bring the container into my greenhouse to winter over as it is hardy to zone 8-9. Leaves release their refreshing fragrance each time they are brushed against or touched, making  it a pleasure to work with and near. A heavy feeder, unlike many herbs, I regularly fertilize my plant and pinch it back often to get a nice bushy shape. Full sun is best as the herb will get very spindly looking and the leaves will lack the essential oil fragrance. Tiny white flowers top the branches when the plant matures later in the summer.

I store the dried leaves in tupperware and use it for tea all winter

Lemon verbena is a heavy feeder and, benefits from frequent fertilization. Spider mites and whiteflies adore the citrusy leaves, so be prepared to fight these pests off with an organic pesticide.

Place your fresh leaves on paper towels before placing in the microwave

To dry your lemon verbena, gather a bunch of leaves and lay on paper towels and microwave for one to two minutes at high. The leaves should still be green, but be crispy to the touch. I leave the leaves alone for a day or two to fully dry and then strip the leaves off the stems and crush them with my fingers. Toss then into a plastic container to store until you are ready to steep them for a zingy tea.

The lemon verbena is dried and crispy
Lemon verbena is dried and crispy

To make tea with the fresh leaves, boil water and pour over freshly harvested lemon verbena leaves in a mug. Let steep for 3-5 minutes and then pull the leaves out and enjoy!

Lemon verbena tea with fresh leaves

Excellent for your stomach, relieving indigestion and heartburn, and for toning the digestive tract. Also, good for soothing anxiety and a good sedative for insomnia. Start those plants this spring for a fresh harvest later in the summer!

 

Loving Basil

Amazel Basil

Basil, one of my top herb favorites, is getting some bad knocks lately. Normally a cinch to grow, Basil has been plagued by fatal downy mildew, which makes it unusable.

Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant
Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant

The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is Basil Downy Mildew, which has appeared in the last couple of years and is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant inedible. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), Basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your Basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes Basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores. So, it is here to stay.

Mildew disfigures the entire basil plant
Mildew disfigures the entire Basil plant

Disfiguring my Basil plants by late spring/early summer, I despaired of growing this stalwart of my kitchen again. See my post African Blue and Downy Mildew for more information on this scourge.

Using Basil in many of my dishes, I always like to have some growing Basil plants on hand, but it can be hard to keep alive indoors.  I had almost given up growing it in any form and was buying the hydroponic plants at the grocery store as needed. Dried Basil is not the same flavor and addition to my cooking that I wanted.

A healthy hydroponic basil plant
A healthy hydroponic basil plant

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea this tasty herb was so good for you!

I was delighted to find a new cultivar of Basil called Amazel, a game changing plant, which is resistant to Downy Mildew. Growing in my greenhouse now, it will be planted outside as soon as the frosts subside so I can enjoy it fresh from the garden. Amazel is a hunky vigorous plant that I already have cut back twice in my greenhouse since January for pesto. Once I cut it back, fresh shoots sprout up and are ready in about 10 days to use again. I am back in the green with Amazel Basil from Proven Winners!

Amazel has excellent resistance to Downy Mildew, which will keep plants growing and producing for home gardeners throughout the entire season. Unlike typical basil, Amazel is seed sterile and therefore continues to produce leaves and shoots even after starting to flower unlike other basil varieties that focus most or all of their energy into seed production.

Amazel Basil
Amazel Basil from Proven Winners

For other basil varieties that are resistant to Downy Mildew, go to my African Blue Basil post. I am back to pesto making again!

African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil

Scented Beeswax Sachets

Scented Beeswax Sachets

Winter is the time that I make use of all my beeswax that I have collected from the hives in the summer. I have melted and cleaned it right after harvesting in August and it is ready to be made into something creative and useful. To see how I clean the raw beeswax, go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.

Scented Beeswax Sachets
Scented Beeswax Sachets

If you don’t have access to beeswax, use plain old paraffin white wax instead.

Beeswax from my hives
Beeswax from my hives

Sorting through all my Christmas stuff and putting it away, I noticed my cookie cutters still out, so decided to use these as my inspiration. I even had a bee skep shaped one!

Beeswax poured into a bee skep cookie cutter
Beeswax poured into a bee skep cookie cutter

The best way to melt your beeswax is in a dedicated crock pot – one that I have used for years for just this purpose. If you don’t have this luxury, use an old tin can inside of a saucepan of water on your stove top. I had about 4 lbs of beeswax to work with and ultimately only used about half of that for nine sachets. I added 2 tablespoons of lavender oil to the wax for fragrance. Use more if you want the scent to last and linger. Great as a small gift for someone, these didn’t cost me a penny, as I already had all the supplies.

I used old pressed flowers and lavender essential oil
I used old pressed flowers and lavender essential oil
Old crock pot for melting beeswax
Old crock pot for melting beeswax

Directions for Beeswax Sachets
1. Set out your cookie cutters on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. You can also use small pastry molds instead of cookie cutters.

Cookie cutters on parchment paper with dried flowers in bottom
Cookie cutters on parchment paper with dried flowers in bottom

2. Add pieces of fragrant dried flowers to the bottom of your cutters to add color and fragrance. Mine was pressed flat in my dried flower press over the summer. Or you can use crumbled pieces of dried flowers from an old flower arrangement.

3. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of essential oil (I used lavender) to the melted wax and swirl in. Don’t skimp on the fragrance to make sure it lasts.

4. Spoon melted wax, using an old plastic measuring cup, into the cookie cutters on parchment paper, letting the first layer of wax solidify before adding more. Wax will bleed out from the edges of the cutters onto the parchment. That excess can be gathered up later and returned to your crock pot for reusing.

Spoon wax into the molds
Spoon wax into the molds

5. Pour another layer of wax into the molds and drop in more dried flower pieces. I made my sachets about 1/2 inch thick.

6. While still soft, insert some dowels into the top of the shapes for hangers or leave them whole.

Insert dowels for hangers
Insert dowels for hangers

7. Place in the freezer until hard for several hours. Remove the cutters when firm and cold.

Place molds in freezer to harden
Place molds in freezer to harden

8. Take out dowels and insert hangers ( I used raffia) if desired. The dowels can be tricky to remove, but I just continue to rock them back and forth in the hole until they release.

9. To clean any excess wax on the cookie cutters, boil them in water in a large pot.

The whole house was very fragrant when I made these and the smell lingers after hanging them in your closet or placing in drawers with linens or lingerie.

For more ideas on beeswax projects, go to Beeswax Citrus Soap, and Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter.

Citrus beeswax soap
Citrus beeswax soap

 

Garden Trends and New Plants for 2019

January, right after Christmas, means MANTS (mid-atlantic nurseryman’s show), and I attend every year to see what is up and coming in the gardening world. New plants, new products, new trends, are the things that I look for in the upcoming year. It is the CES of gardening, not as exotic or techy as electronics, but still exciting and new, and way more interesting.

Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics
Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics

New Plants

My favorite item to look for are new plants, or new improved cultivars of old plants. I have written about ‘Party Pesto‘ a mildew resistant basil from Burpee Seeds before and found another resistant one called ‘Amazel’ from Proven Winners.

Downy mildew of basil is a destructive pathogen that develops on lower leaf surfaces, all but rendering what’s left as inedible.

'Amazel' is a new downy mildew resistant Basil
‘Amazel’ is a new downy mildew resistant basil

‘Amazel’ is a basil that is resistant to basil downy mildew, and because it doesn’t flower early in the season, produces more foliage in July and August than most plants. The plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. This is on my list to plant this year as I love basil and have had unsightly crops for the past couple of years.

Basil downy mildew
Basil downy mildew

‘Rockin Fuschia’ annual Salvia from Proven Winners caught my eye right away with glossy dark green leaves, and profuse bright pink flower wands that covered the plant. Salvias are one of my favorite plants because of the non-stop blooming and deer resistant traits, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Stockier and more compact than the taller forms, this would be perfect in a container.

Salvia 'Rockin Fuschia'
Salvia ‘Rockin Fuschia’
Truffula Gomphrena
Truffula Gomphrena

Gomphrena  Truffula also caught my eye because these are long bloomers, dry well, and last a long time as a fresh cut.This a tough and durable airy annual. I have written about ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena, another gomphrena. which I love and is a great looking plant, but I have trouble keeping it alive as it needs dry conditions with perfect drainage.

'Pink Zazzle' Gomphrena
‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena

I was ready for another Gomphrena with easier care. Truffula is a large multi-branched plant which mounds up and is literally covered with flowers and I hope this one fits the bill.

Another plant that appealed came from Terra Nova Nurseries, Artemisia Makana. A soft grey pillowy plant that you could sink into, Makana would be wonderful in mixed containers.

 Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova
Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova

NewGen Boxwood is high on my list of shrubs to try this year. Boxwood blight/leafminer resistant, attractive, and deer proof are all traits that I am looking for in my landscape design business. Introduced by Saunders Brothers who spent years developing it, NewGen will definitely  be on my list this spring.

Sandy’s Plants was introducing a new Arum ‘Pamela Harper’ with a beautifully patterned leaf. An under-used shade perennial that bears wonderful red berries in the fall, deer won’t browse on it. A great ground cover that will add beauty with foliage and berries, I will look for this one in the spring.

Sandy of Sandy's Plants in Virginia
Sandy of Sandy’s Plants in Virginia
Pamela Harper Arum

A New Invasive

The MD Department of Agriculture had a large display on the dreaded Spotted Lantern Fly which is moving south from Pennsylvania into Maryland. A scourge for crops, especially hops, grapes, and fruit trees, I have seen this insect in Pennsylvania and they are expected to hit us home in Maryland soon.

Spotted Lantern Fly
Spotted Lantern Fly

An invasive with no known predators and laying eggs in the host plant Tree of Heaven, another invasive, I am not looking forward to this onslaught. But it looks like the MD Dept of Agriculture is on top of it with tons of information to give out.

The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect
The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect

New Products

Root Pouch makes great seed starters
Root Pouch makes great seed starters

I have written about Root Pouches before and they continue to wow me. Great for Micro Greens which continue to be a huge health trend, these sustainable alternatives to plastic pots, are useful for many situations.

Root Pouches
Root Pouches

Hydroponics continues to be strong and I can see a Millennial having one of the new hydroponic carts on display in their apartment growing greens and herbs. No soil required is attractive, and growing a lot of edibles in a small space with no additional watering is the perfect solution for busy people. Fresh healthy greens at your fingertips all year round!

AutoCrops' hydroponic set up called LF-ONE
AutoCrops’ hydroponic set up called LF-ONE

Garden Trellis & Fence, Co. was a new vendor this year. They solve the problem of tall-growing plants and vines. The trellis system allows you to plant large plants in a smaller footprint using their easy put-together(no tools!) trellis system. How many times have you planted a tomato and it grows quickly to the top of the cage and then drapes over becoming this huge cumbersome plant? Supporting your tomato plants to grow up rather than out sold me on this hot dipped galvanized trellis system that won’t rust and can be left in place all year-long.

Garden trellis system
Garden trellis system

 

New Services

Best Bees
Best Bees

Have you always wanted honeybees on your property but were afraid of the upkeep and the work involved? Best Bees is for you! A company that installs and maintains beehives on residential or commercial properties, they will make sure you have honeybees that you can watch and enjoy the honey benefits but not lift a finger! Yes, it costs money, but if that is your dream, then you can use this company’s services.

You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house
You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house

Another unique service is Bower & Branch, an online service that delivers ordered plants to a local garden center for pick up. Trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses are available. Their plants on display were beautiful and you can get unusual things that a local garden center won’t carry. How many times have you lusted for a plant but it isn’t available locally? I can see the benefits of this right away. I need to try it!

Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers
Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers

Fresh Herbal Wreath

Fresh Herbal Wreath
Fresh Herbal Wreath
Cockscomb dries beautifully for wreaths

Summer is winding down, the nights are getting cooler, and I looked at my overflowing herb plants for inspiration. Preserving some of the garden bounty for the fall and winter is easy with culinary and ornamental herbs. A quick project using fresh herbs that are pliable and fragrant, you can whip up a simple wreath that will dry in a week or two. Hanging conveniently in the kitchen, it is easy to break off a sprig to add zest to your cooking.

Materials for herbal wreath-Sage, tarragon, rosemary, cockscomb, globe amaranth, bay, dill, african blue basil, lavender, scented geranium
Materials for herbal wreath-Sage, tarragon, rosemary, cockscomb, globe amaranth, bay, dill, African Blue Basil, scented Geranium
Scented Geraniums have scented foliage as well as beautiful flowers
Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

Basket and clippers in hand, I browsed through my gardens snipping off herbs that I often use in cooking, adding some globe amaranth Pink Zazzle, and Cockscomb to add a zing of color. Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has a straw like texture, so is easy to work into the wreath. African Blue Basil is another stellar herb for arranging and drying.

African Blue Basil has an unusual scent and flower
Wire wreath base
Wire wreath base

Using a performed wire wreath base to start ( I used a 14″ one), cut your herbs into short 6 inch lengths and lay the pieces into the base. I had lots of rosemary and lavender so used these as a fragrant base. Wind a continuous strand of florist wire around the base, keeping the short pieces firmly attached to the base. Use plenty of material as the herbs will shrink as they dry, leaving empty spaces.

I grow a hedge of lavender
Wire your herb pieces into the base
Wire your herb pieces into the base

Start bundling your herbs together using green florist pipe cleaners so you can easily attach them to the base.

Herb bundle wrapped with florist pipe cleaner
Herb bundle wrapped with florist pipe cleaner

Start attaching the bundles one at a time, moving around the wreath, overlapping one on top of another, hiding the pipe cleaner.

Wire your bundles, over lapping them around the wreath
Wire your bundles, over-lapping them around the wreath
Just about done with the bundled herbs
Just about done with the bundled herbs

When you have covered the base thoroughly with herb bundles, I like to add some color. Here I used pink cockscomb and globe amaranth which dries nicely.

Herbal wreath with finishing touches
Herbal wreath with finishing touches

Letting the wreath dry flat ensures that the herbs won’t sag or droop down as it dries. This takes about 2-3 weeks and you are ready to hang. After about a week, the herbs were shrinking so much, that I decided to add bunches of fresh thyme to fill the gaps. So, don’t hesitate to use loads of herbs to thoroughly cover the wreath base when you first make it.

Dried wreath
Dried wreath

 

‘Pesto Party’ Basil-Nutritious Flavor Powerhouse

 

‘Pesto Party’ Basil from Burpee
Whipping up pesto

A highly fragrant plant, Basil’s leaves are used as a seasoning herb for all different types of foods and is a major component of my favorite flavor – pesto. Pesto, a mixture of basil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan cheese, is a versatile mixture that can enhance breads, pastas, and even meats. Try my recipe for African Blue Basil. 

Whipping up a batch of pesto, I always like to have some growing Basil plants on hand, but it can be hard to keep alive indoors. And outdoors my Basil gets disfigured with Basil Mildew which makes it inedible. I had almost given up growing it and instead was buying the hydroponic plants at the grocery store.

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea!

Basil mildew will disfigure the entire plant quickly

I was delighted to find ‘Pesto Party’ from Burpee which is very resistant to the dreaded mildew.  Where has this Basil been all my life? ‘Party Pesto’ grew nicely into a mounded plant for me and is extremely slow to flower. As an experienced Basil grower knows, you don’t want the herb to flower as it changes the taste (bitter)and it will slowly decline. The inevitable mildew finally appeared in October on ‘Pesto Party’, when most of my plants were slowing down. I had gotten an entire season of harvest from my plant and my moneys worth.

I love Pesto! And with the new ‘Pesto Party’ Basil from Burpee I can make unlimited pesto all summer long. Burpee describes it this way;

Pesto Party’ is the latest-flowering basil from seed, letting you enjoy a preponderance of aromatic fresh-picked leaves deep into the season. Basking prettily in your favorite patio container, well-branching plants produce a continuing flourish of fragrant leaves infused with sweet Italian basil flavor. Late-to-bolt plants are paragons of tolerance to downy mildew—no other basil comes close.

I have to agree with that description- no other basil comes close. And growing it in containers right outside my kitchen door was a perfect solution for this mounding compact plant. Available by seeds or plants from Burpee, I received three plants in the spring and ate off of those plants all summer.

Purple Basil and Cinnamon and Anise flavored Basils aren’t as susceptible to Mildew
The mildew starts with yellowing of the foliage, progressing to blotching of the leaves

Downy mildew of basil is a relatively new, destructive disease that appears to be here to stay. First appearing in the U.S. in 2007, it appeared earlier in Europe. Basil is the leading culinary herb in the U.S. and it is decimating basil crops here. The pathogen can readily spread easily via wind-dispersed spores that it produces abundantly. This is likely the primary way it has spread throughout the eastern USA every summer since 2008.

Requiring a full sun location and well draining soil, easily grown in a container on a back deck or patio, ‘Pesto Party’ is on my short list for next year.

An added benefit of ‘Pesto Party’ is the slowness of bolting into flower

Bee Catnip-Pollinator Superstar

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Cats are naturally drawn to aptly named Catmint or Nepeta

If you own at least one square foot of sunny or partially sunny garden space, you should plant Catmint, or better known in the trade as Nepeta, for longevity of bloom, ease of maintenance, and attraction to pollinators.

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A gold banded dragonfly nectaring on a Nepeta

As a landscape designer, I feel so strongly about this plant, that I incorporate Nepeta in virtually every design that I create.  One of my “go to” plants when designing gardens, there are different varieties that range from a diminutive 8″ high to over 3 feet tall. Growing in billowing aromatic mounds, I place it in front of borders.

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Nepeta paired with Heuchera in border

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Related to catnip but a much showier flower, it will attract cats to explore it and rub against, though I have never had trouble with cats destroying it as I do with catnip. A “drug of choice” for my cat, she makes a beeline for my many plants of Nepeta when she escapes outside.

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Not only is it a totally reliable perennial for zones 3 – 8,  you can enjoy the lavender shades of blooms for many months if you sheer it back by 1/3 after the first flush of spring.

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A bee superstar, I am profiling all the plants on my poster “Plant These For Bees” available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop. Catmint is one of my all time favorite perennials in the landscape as it is trouble-free and most importantly-deer, rabbit, and any other critter resistant. Gray green leaves give off a minty fragrance that four-legged varmints stay away from. I even use it to barricade other more desirable plants that deer prefer.

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I use Catmint in heavily deer browsed areas in the landscape

Approaching a good stand of Catmint/Nepeta, the first thing you notice is the darting of insects, throughout the profuse lavender blue flower wands. Mostly bumble and honey bees, but I see all kinds of small native bees and butterflies are attracted to the display.

070Easily grown in average to poor soil, even clay hard-pan, Catmint once established is quite drought tolerant. Limey green is one of my favorite colors in the landscape, and I can even get Nepeta with a lime foliage, called ‘Limelight’. A great companion to roses and peonies, Nepeta should be on your “must have” list.

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Used in an entrance garden, Catmint looks good with golden leaved plants

Lots of varieties are available, but I prefer ‘Blue Wonder’ at 1 to 2 feet tall or the taller but confusingly named ‘Walker’s Low’. The smaller varieties, like ‘Kit Kat’ are so dwarf that they don’t flower as profusely as the larger ones but are useful in small areas. Preferring full sun, but tolerating some light shade, Catmints are great selections for a bee friendly landscape.

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Cats love this plant!

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