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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is BasilDowny 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), Basildowny 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.
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 Basilplants 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 Basilis not the same flavor and addition to my cooking that I wanted.
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 Basilcalled 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 basilvarieties that focus most or all of their energy into seed production.
For other basil varieties that are resistant to Downy Mildew, go to my African Blue Basil post. I am back to pesto making again!
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.
If you don’t have access to beeswax, use plain old paraffin white wax instead.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
7. Place in the freezer until hard for several hours. Remove the cutters when firm and cold.
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.
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.
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 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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Start bundling your herbs together using green florist pipe cleaners so you can easily attach them to the base.
Start attaching the bundles one at a time, moving around the wreath, overlapping one on top of another, hiding the pipe cleaner.
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.
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.
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 Basilplants on hand, but it can be hard to keep alive indoors. And outdoors my Basilgets 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!
I was delighted to find ‘Pesto Party’ from Burpee which is very resistant to the dreaded mildew. Where has this Basilbeen 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’ Basilfrom 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Easily 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.
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.
Aromatic, culinary, and medicinal. Winter Savory, Satureja montana, was named by the Roman writer Pliny. Derived from the word satyr, the half-man, half-goat creature in mythology who owned the savories. Like its better known cousin, summer savory, winter savory is most often used as a culinary herb, imparting a spicy, peppery flavor to dishes.
Easy to grow, the hardy perennial makes an excellent companion plant for most other herbs. Its aromatic scent repels harmful insects and pests while attracting bees and other pollinators. Winter savory has a stronger, sharper flavor than its summer cousin, but it still blends well with thyme, sage and rosemary as well as most mints.
This hardy semi-evergreen bush has branching roots which produce a woody base. The glossy, dark green leaves are about an inch long, opposite, and lance shaped, widening at the tips. The white or lilac flowers are two-lipped with purple spots on the lower lip. The flowers are 1/3 inch long and grow in terminal spikes.
One of my all time favorite herbs for landscaping, I only occasionally use it for cooking. I depend on this plant mostly as a ground hugging bright green plant that blooms in October and November with delicate white tinged with pink blooms. Rarely seen, I always have several plants mounding up and providing a late season show with its white flowers that my bees appreciate when little else is blooming. I have several in both sun and shade and they both do very well, even in deep shade. If our winter is mild, the little mound will stay evergreen, providing a splash of much-needed color in the winter.
Perennial and hardy to zone 6, Winter Savory only gets about 10 inches high but can spread up to 3 feet across. The literature says it will grow about a foot wide, but in full sun where it is happiest, it spreads so much that I trim it to reduce its size and use the trimmings to flavor soups. Seek it out at garden centers and don’t be put off by its small size and unimpressive appearance. Winter Savory is a keeper!