You Can Grow That: Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil

lemon basilEvery summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large pots on the deck and in the vegetable garden. Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad; with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes; as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad; and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a few stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil until the fish is cooked. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but they leave the fish infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor. We also like to make syrups by boiling 1 cup of sugar, ½ cup water, and about ½ cup of leaves in a small saucepan for a few minutes. After straining out and removing the leaves, we let the syrup cool and then drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit or cold drinks like lemonade and ice tea.

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns who introduced the plant in 1939 in New Mexico. This particular cultivar is different than “lemon basil,” the lemon flavor is supposed to be more intense and the leaves are supposed to be larger than lemon basil. Certainly the leaves are lighter, smoother, and more pointed than sweet basil.

In addition to its culinary use, Mrs. Burns lemon basil attracts birds after the plant has flowered and set seeds. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of seeds by summer’s end. Yellow finches in particular love to eat the seeds off the stalks. Then in October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them upside down in a large paper bag. Later, while watching Downtown Abbey in January, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the remaining seeds to plant in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Gardeners usually post articles on their blog on the fourth day of the month (fourth day, four words: #1: You; #2: Can; #3: Grow; #4: That). Click on the logo below to read more posts.


Peg’s Picks October Gardening Events in Washington DC Metro Area

check out the new structures at Green Spring Gardens

check out the new structures at Green Spring Gardens

3, Saturday, Under the Arbor: Chile Pepper Day, 1:00 to 4:00 pm, National Herb Garden, presented by members of the Mid-Atlantic Units of the Herb Society of America, free and no registration required. U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002.

3, Saturday, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Urban Agriculture Symposium, 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. This is an opportunity to meet local and regional government representatives to learn how the growing interest in urban agriculture is being accommodated in space-challenged cities. Learn about community gardens, small space gardening, growing microgreens and mushrooms, faith-based community gardening, urban permaculture and more. Fairlington Community Center, 3801 S. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA. Sponsored by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, VCE, AFAC, VSU, George Mason University, and The Garden Whisperer. Fee and must register. Call (703) 228-6414; e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com

3 and 4, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am, Your Edible Garden: Preparing your Vegetable Garden for Winter with Carol Allen, free but must register. Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD, (301) 937-1100.

4, Sunday, Fruit Trees and Pruning Strategies Workshop, 1-4 pm, by Ecologia owner Michael Judd, at Judd Homestead, Frederick MD. For more information contact $50 and must register (limit 25 people).

6, Tuesday, Fall Composting Workshop, 7:00 to 8:30 pm, Fairlington Community Center, 3801 S. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA. Sponsored by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, free but registration required. Call (703) 228-6414; e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com

7, Wednesday, Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes and Teaming with Nutrients will speak from 7:00 to 8:30 pm about soil and microbes. Free. Arlington Central Library Auditorium. 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington VA; (703) 228-5990.

10, Saturday, Meadows Farm Nursery will host Pink Day events over the Columbus Day weekend with main events being held on Saturday, October 10. Each Meadows Farm location will host their own event so call in advance to see what is scheduled; for example, the Manassas store will have vendors, entertainment and food while the 7 Corners location will have a silent auction. Proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. (703) 327-3940.

17, Saturday, opening day of the National Building Museum’s exhibit “The New American Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden,” running until May 1, 2016. In collaboration with the Cultural Landscape Foundation, the NBM exhibit will chronicle the careers of and influence of Oehme and van Sweden, who revolutionized landscape architecture with the creation of the New American Garden, featuring large swaths of ornamental grass and perennials that celebrate the seasonal splendor of the American meadow. Check NBM’s web site for hours and admission, there is a fee to enter the museum. National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington DC 20001, (202) 272-2448.

24, Saturday, Lecture: Creating a Forest Garden, by Lincoln Smith, founder of Forested, 10:30 am to noon, free but must register. U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington DC (202) 225-8333.

24, Saturday, Wild About Mushrooms, 1-3:30 pm, by Ecologia owner Michael Judd, at Yellow Springs at Judd Homestead, Frederick MD. For more information contact $65 and must register (more details and directions will be given once registered).

27, Tuesday, 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Lecture: A Plantsman’s Favorites: Exciting, Long Blooming Perennials. Visitor Center Auditorium, National Arboretum. Jimi Blake is a noted Irish horticulturist, teacher, and plantsman who began his career as head gardener of the historic Airfield Garden in Dundrum County, Dublin. Eventually, he secured twenty acres for his own collection. Hunting Brook Gardens is Blake’s boldly idiosyncratic creation and is considered Ireland’s most innovative landscape. Fee: $12 ($10 FONA) and registration required. U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002.

Green Spring Gardens always has events but highlights include The Continuous Garden Symposium, on October 3, Saturday, 8:00 am to noon. The symposium introduces people to low-maintenance shrubs, lovely perennials and container gardens that inject beauty and carry the garden through the year. Learn how to use color and focal points to draw the eye through the garden, how to use containers to manage problem areas and get a recipe for winning plant combinations for a beautiful, four-season garden. Fee and must register. Also at Green Spring Gardens (check their web site for possible fees and registration):

  • 16, Friday, GardenTalk: Gardening with Deer, 1:30 to 2:30 pm, presented by Northern Virginia Master Gardeners
  • 17, Saturday, Best of the Eco-Friendly Fall Garden, 10:00 to 11:00 am. Educational walk of the gardens with Green Springs staff.
  • 24, Saturday, Regionally Adapted Plants, 11:00 to noon, presented by Washington Gardener magazine owner/editor, Kathy Jentz
  • 24, Saturday, Fall Garden Highlights Tour, 9:30 to 10:30 am, presented by Green Springs staff

Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312. (703) 642-5173.

Merrifield Nursery has free classes and workshops every Saturday in October at their three locations. In addition, they have a sunrise tour at the Fair Oaks store on Sunday, October 4, 7:00 am for a special behind-the-scenes tour before the garden center opens to learn what is blooming and what is exiting at the garden center. Must register for the free garden tour. All other Saturday workshops are free, do not have to register, and start at 10:00 am.

  • 3, Saturday: Merrifield, Creating Real Curb Appeal; Fair Oaks, Gardening with Native Plants; Gainesville, Bulbs 101
  • 10, Saturday: M, Designing Gardens with Color; FO, Dazzling Displays of Bulbs; G, Living fences
  • 17, Saturday: M, Native plants for wildlife and pollinators; FO, Drainage Solutions; G, Trees and Shrubs for Fall and Winter Interest
  • 24, Saturday: M, Trends in urban gardening; FO, Four Season Gardening; G, Prune Like a Pro, Part 1
  • 31, Saturday: M, Gardening in Deer Country; FO, Halloween Fun Just for Kids; G, Prune Like a Pro, Part 2

Ladew Topiary Gardens has announced its Fall Lecture Series, which are on Thursday mornings in October, starting at 10:30 am. $25 for Ladew members and $30 for non-members. To register, call Rachel at (410) 557-9570 or e-mail at Ladew Topiary Gardens, 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD 21111.

  • 1: New and Underused Perennials to Expand your Palette with Ruth Rogers Clausen
  • 8: Coherent Design versus Obsessive Collecting with John Gwynne
  • 15: Windowsill Art by Nancy Ross Hugo
  • 22: Stonecrop Gardens: A Hudson Highlands Gem with Caroline Burgess
  • 29: Thomas Jefferson: Gardener with Peter Hatch

Cookbooks That Focus on the Harvest Are More Useful to Gardeners: The Renee’s Garden Cookbook

The Renee's Garden CookbookThe more I garden, the more I want to increase my repertoire of vegetable and herb-based recipes. I have plenty of cookbooks that were given to me years ago, but they are of little use to me now. With them, I have to wade through dozens of recipes to find one that highlights fresh chard, kale, or spinach, much less mention rosemary, thyme, or basil, all of which I have in abundance in my Northern Virginia garden. For me, cookbooks that focus on the harvest are more useful to gardeners than ones that focus on the type of course. Because many of my vegetable seeds come from Renee’s Garden, an online seed company in California, recently I learned that owner Renee Shepherd published The Renee’s Garden Cookbook with co-author Fran Raboff, cookbook author and cooking teacher. The Renee’s Garden Cookbook is the third in their collaborative effort; Renee and Fran already published Recipes from a Kitchen Garden and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden a few years ago. The recipes for these cookbooks come out of a gardener/cook partnership; Renee brings the harvest from her company’s trial gardens to Fran’s kitchen and together they cook and test recipes to make easy dishes for families to enjoy. The recipes are by no means vegetarian dishes but vegetables and herbs are prominent.

I have the most recent cookbook, The Renee’s Garden Cookbook, and I suspect from the sample recipes on the Renee’s Garden web site that the other two books are similar. Unlike traditional cookbooks, Renee and Fran divided the recipes in The Renee’s Garden Cookbook by the main vegetable, salads, and herbs. In the first section, 29 vegetables are highlighted in alphabetical order, each with several recipes and sidebars on growing the plant. The section on salads and salad dressings has both leaf as well as fruit salad recipes with instructions on growing lettuce and Asian greens. The third section covers savory and sweet herbs. Savory herb recipes include herb encrusted lamb chops; Whitney’s tender chicken with pasta, mushrooms, and fresh herb sauce; apple chutney with wine and sweet basil; Thai shrimp soup with lemon grass; and spiced mint vinegar. Sweet herbs are used for desserts such as upper crust pear pie with lemon basil or lemon thyme; yogurt cheese pie scented with lemon geranium; caramel custard cups scented with rose geranium; and lavender jelly to name a few. Your mouth waters and you instinctively add the plants you don’t have to your “garden wish list” (got to get those scented geraniums!). Illustrated by Mimi Osborne who designs the watercolor images on the Renee’s Garden seed packets, the 158-page book has over 300 recipes.  Each copy is $17.95 or $19.05 for a gift box (great holiday present). To order and to view sample recipes and the other cookbooks, visit


Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Gaura lindheimeri

gaura (2)This past August and September has seen little rain in Northern Virginia, which is highly unusual. I am forced to water with my hose or watering can, which I don’t particularly enjoy.  Except for the veggies and the new kids on the block, my other garden residents better be tough enough to make it without my constant attention. Yesterday, while watering a new kid on the block, a Proven Winners hydrangea given to me to trial, I noticed that one of my veterans has bloomed consistently during this dry period. Gaura or Gaura lindheimeri is an herbaceous perennial native to Texas and Louisiana, which explains its heat and humidity tolerance. Gaura grows to about 4 feet tall but really is a clump of leaves at ground level from which many wire-thin stems sway back and forth while butterflies try to land on the small, white flowers. Drought and deer resistant, gaura has bloomed every year for me in full sun with no pests or diseases. I have heard that gaura self-seeds but in my garden I consider myself lucky to find one new seedling in the spring. My plants are so old I don’t even know where I got them but they are easy to find in local nurseries and now there is a wider variety from which to choose — shorter stems or variations of flower colors. Gaura is my nomination for September’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!gaura

Blessed with Native Aster ‘Lady in Black’

Lady in Black aster at Derwood, September 2014

Lady in Black aster at Derwood, September 2014

I love participating in giveaways for gardening items and plants. Recently, I won a flat of fifty asters from New Moon Nursery, a New Jersey-based, wholesale company that specializes in Eastern native plants. The gift was actually a flat of any plant they had in stock and I specifically asked for Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’. I first saw Lady in Black last fall at the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. I was struck by mass of pretty small flowers and the colorful foliage. Also known as calico aster, this particular type of aster grows to 3 feet, has purple black leaves, and blooms small, daisy-like white and purple pink flowers in September and October. Drought tolerant when established, Lady in Black is a low maintenance, native plant known for attracting butterflies but not attracting rabbits and deer.

Fifty asters in flat, September 2015

Fifty asters in flat, September 2015

I was excited to get the asters but fifty plants! What was I going to do? I barely had the space for five let alone fifty! And even if I had the space, it was too hot and dry to plant in the ground, the small roots would shrivel up in no time.  These plants were in a 50-cell, deep plug tray which means that each plant was only about 2 inches in diameter with a 4-inch depth. Planting them in the ground now during the current drought and high temperatures would only kill them. Yet leaving them in the flat all winter long would also kill them. For now, I put the flat in a place in the garden that received morning sun and afternoon shade to reduce the heat and stress and watered every few days. Later in the month, when the heat diminishes, I will plant all fifty in my melon patch, which is a new bed in full sun, but vacant now as melon season has passed. The little asters will live in the melon patch over the winter in a holding pattern (alive but not growing) while their roots dig down for moisture and insulation. In May, I will transplant most of them into small plastic containers and plant the ones I want to keep elsewhere in my own garden. So friends and family, next year I will be sharing about 40 native aster plants, lovely perennials with beautiful fall flowers!

You Can Grow That! Tuscan Melons

You Can Grow That! Tuscan Melons

This summer I grew cantaloupe from seed and was pleasantly surprised at the delicious taste of the melons plus the ease at which I could grow the vines. These were not just any cantaloupes; these were Tuscan ‘Napoli’ melons from Renee’s Garden.melons3

I started the seeds indoors under lights in early spring and in May, when the danger of frost had passed here in Northern Virginia, I planted several seedlings in two very large smart pots. By using large smart pots, new bags of potting soil, and a slow release fertilizer, I was able to give the seedlings the optimal balance of air, water, and nutrients. I placed the bags on a new garden bed I was creating that had a layer of hardwood mulch. The bags were in full sun, within reach of the garden hose. The vines grew down the sides of the pots and onto the mulch in no time. By June I had so many yellow flowers my kids thought we would be eating melons every day. Sadly, I had to explain that melon flowers are either male or female and they do not always open at the same time. In order to get fruit, bees have to visit both a female and a male flower on the same day. Statistically speaking, by summer’s end, we would have less melons than flowers.melons

Still, we watched the vines grow and by the fourth of July, we could see five small fruit, with smooth green skins. As summer flew by, the skins changed and developed the rough texture and netting pattern. Eventually, as the melons ripened, the skin turned to a yellow buff color, the netting pattern became more pronounced, and the garden was perfumed with a sweet aroma. Our Tuscan melons were incredibly fragrant; we could stand a few yards away and still smell the sweetness. When we picked our melons they were completely ripe, which is when the sugar level is highest. Tuscan melons in general have higher sugar content than the grocery store type of cantaloupes. Additionally, commercial growers harvest melons before they are fully ripe in order to ship with minimal damage. So ours were not only fully ripe they naturally produce more sugar and thus were sweeter than what we could have bought from the store. Next year, try growing Tuscan melons – you just can’t buy such beautiful homegrown freshness!melons2

Click on You Can Grow That! — a collaborative effort by gardeners to encourage others to grow something – to read more gardening posts.


Peg’s Picks: September Gardening Events in Washington DC Metro Area

Here are Peg’s Picks for September 2015 gardening events focusing on edible gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area.

Arlington Central Library hosts the “Garden Talks” series of free presentations every Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. The website lists the topics and provides gardening resources for gardeners in the area. 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington VA; (703) 228-5990.

  • September 2: Putting the herb garden to bed for the winter
  • 9: Cover crops and crop rotations
  • 16: Extending the season: cold frames, row covers, etc.
  • 23: Inside Arlington kitchens: tasting our cultures
  • 30: Preparing the garden for winter: tool and garden bed care

3, Thursday, Using Fresh Herbs in Summer Cocktails, 6 to 8 pm with a rain date of September 4, 6 to 8 pm, National Herb Garden, U.S. National Arboretum. Must register via e-mail, fee is $59 or $47 if a FONA member. Fee includes food and drinks, a garden tour, and demonstrations. 2400 R Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.

11, Friday, Garden Talk: Edibles: Mix It Up. Green Spring, 1:30 to 2:30 pm. Must register; $10 fee.4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312. (703) 642-5173.

12, Saturday, Fall chores in the garden: clean up, plant division, soil preparation, fall cover crops in the cooks garden, MGPW plant sale, 9:00 am to noon, “Saturdays in the Garden” at the Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, presentations are given by VCE Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers. 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136; Free but must register (703) 792-7747. E-mail: master-gardener@pwcgov.org

12, Saturday, Friends of Brookside Gardens annual plant sale, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Brookside Gardens Service Hill, follow signs on Glenallen Avenue, Wheaton, MD.  (301) 962-1435.

12, Saturday, Fall Herb Faire, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Free admission, parking, classes and tours. Lavender Fields Herb Farm, 11300 Winfrey Road, Glen Allen, VA 23059; (804) 262-7167;

14, Monday, through October 5, Landscape for Life (sustainable gardening practices), Monday evenings 6:30 to 9:30 pm with a field trip on October 3.  Crossroads United Methodist Church, 43454 Crossroads Drive, Ashburn, VA 20147. $60 and must register, call Sharon Hines (703) 729-5100 to register or e-mail instructor Nan McCarry at for more information.

19, Saturday, Fall Garden Day & Plant Sale at Green Spring, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312. (703) 642-5173.

26, Saturday, Hot! New! Plants! Walking tour. 9:00 to 10:30 am, meet in visitor center at the U.S. National Arboretum. Hot: thrive in hot humid weather; New: creative designs include new cultivars; Plants: incorporated into striking designs. Free but registration recommended. Call (202) 245-2708 to register. 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington DC 20002.

9th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival, September 11-12, at Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

The 9th Annual Heritage Festival is presented by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello in partnership with the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Each year the Heritage Harvest Festival honors Jefferson’s legacy with this fun, affordable, family-oriented, educational event promoting gardening, sustainability, local food, and the preservation of heritage plants. Participants enjoy tastings, workshops, hands on demonstrations, interpretive walks, and a variety of garden tours and exhibits.  Friday and Saturday offer more than 100 programs and workshops, 90 vendors and exhibitors, and sample food from local farms and restaurants. On Thursday, September 10, from 1 to 4: pm, there is a special presentation with Craig LeHoullier author of Epic Tomatoes; Nan Chase, author of Drink the Harvest; and Ira Wallace, author of the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. Afterwards, there will be questions and answers, book signings, and a tomato tasting. For more information, including ticket information, see