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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Winter Savory-A Keeper!

Winter Savory spilling over a walkway
Winter Savory spilling over a walkway

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.

The white flowers cover the plant in the fall
The white flowers cover the plant in the fall

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.

Winter Savory is great as an edger
Winter Savory is great as an edger

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.

Winter Savory's foliage resembles thyme
Winter Savory’s foliage resembles thyme

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!