Category Archives: herbs

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Feverfew

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an old herb once thought to treat fevers but actually is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. I first saw the plant blooming at a demonstration garden a few years ago and liked the small, daisy-like flowers, similar to chamomile. I sowed seed late last summer and transplanted the seedlings in the ground before frost. They weathered the mild winter in my zone 7 Virginia garden but remained small. When the temperature increased in early spring, the plants grew up very fast and started blooming as early as . The plants are several feet tall now in full sun, oblivious to our current dry spell. I do not use feverfew medicinally but as a summer flowering perennial. Because they are small white flowers, they are great by themselves in a vase or as a filler with other flowers.

I read that the plant has a strong and bitter smell but I don’t notice it. I have also read that feverfew has mosquito repelling qualities but there are still the same number of mosquitoes in my garden.  However, I have noticed that nothing goes near it, no deer and no rabbits.

My variety is Heirloom Double White Wonder from Renees Garden but there are other cultivars on the market such as Aureum, White Bonnet, Golden Ball, Crown White, and Ultra Double White. You may not find this in your local nursery as a plant; you may have to purchase seed but the seed germinates easily. Feverfew is known to be a short-lived perennial but it will be a summer-long success in my garden this year.

The 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where garden bloggers post photos of plants that are blooming in their area across the country.

An Entertaining Lecture on Herbs at Merrifield Garden Center

Yesterday I attended Merrifield Garden Center’s free lecture on herbs and was pleasantly surprised by the great speaker and the event itself: part entertainment and part educational. Merrifield is known for its free seminars in the spring, which I have promoted on my website for years. The herb lecture was at the Fair Oaks location, which has a spacious room on the second level of the garden center. I arrived early and was surprised to find pastries, brownies, fruit, cheese, crackers, and coffee! Sarah, a Merrifield employee, created this lovely feast and topped it off with an eye-catching display of herbs. Apparently she is known for making such creative displays and generous offerings of refreshments. Sarah was a hoot!  She talked to everyone and encouraged people to submit their drawing on time!

I discovered that at each seat there was a handout on herbs, a 15% discount coupon to use that day or the following day, and a form to complete for the drawing. I did not know there would be a coupon and a drawing but I could tell there were plenty of “regulars” who knew the drill. They seemed to know each other and had been there many times. The mood was so friendly and jolly I almost thought they were part of a gardening club. Filling up on pastries, we completed our forms and dropped them in a large glass container.

At 10:00 am, right before the lecture, Peg Bier, also a long time Merrifield employee, drew slips of paper several times. I did not keep count but was surprised that there were several drawings, not just one. Winners could have their choice of circus tickets or a Merrifield gift card. I did not win but I did use my coupon to buy something after the event.

Peg then introduced our speaker, Nicole Schermerhorn, co-owner of A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields Herb Farm (wearing dark brown in the photo). A Thyme to Plant is a wholesale operation near Richmond, growing and selling USDA-certified herbs and vegetables. Her nephew manages Lavender Fields Herb Farm, the retail garden center that focuses on herb classes and demonstrations. Nicole was very entertaining and down to earth – I could have listened to her for more than an hour. She sprinkled her slide presentation with funny learning experiences and witty conversations with her husband. Nicole provided a lot of detail on cultural requirements, including growing herbs in raised beds, while her handout had information on specific herbs. She was very nice about answering everyone’s questions and offered to stay afterward. A few of the interesting tips I learned were: there are 200 varieties of rosemary but only a few are hardy in Virginia (Arp, Salem, and Hill Hardy); Vietnamese coriander is a heat-loving substitute for the cool-loving cilantro; and parsley is the most nutrient-packed herb one can grow (does not matter if curly or flat leaf). I liked the fact that there was a handout to take home about specific herbs and recommended varieties plus cultural requirements on the backside. If you are new to gardening or new to Virginia, I recommend attending Merrifield Garden Center’s free seminars, especially Nicole’s talk on herbs.

Growing Your Own Thanksgiving Herbs

As I prepare for Thanksgiving this year, I can’t help but think of the beautiful Simon and Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair.” I grow parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in my Northern Virginia garden and today, the day before Thanksgiving, I can walk outside and harvest these herbs for my holiday meal. These are very easy to grow here and blend well into the typical suburban landscape. All of these with the exception of parsley are perennial shrubs that will remain in the garden year round.

Parsley

I use the curly parsley as a garnish and the flat leaf type in the Thanksgiving stuffing. Placing a heaping mound of cooked potatoes on a platter of green curly parsley makes the dish colorful. Fresh flat leaf parsley adds flavor to stuffing as well as to turkey leftover dishes such as turkey soup.parsley

In Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground all winter long (I took this photo in January 2016). I always use parsley fresh; it does not dry well. Parsley is a biennial plant that will grow the first year from seed and bloom and set seed the following year. To create the illusion of having parsley in the garden every year all you have to do is scatter seeds every year. I started growing parsley years ago and now I have a string of plants just beneath the deck, in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. To harvest the leaves, cut outer, older leaves at the base with scissors (don’t pull), leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.

Sage

For Thanksgiving, sage can be used fresh or dried. I use it dry in the stuffing and biscuits, but I also use the fresh leaves as a garnish. Placing a ring of green sage leaves on a plate topped with cut up citrus fruit is a wonderful dessert after such a heavy meal.

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

Sage is actually a small drought resistant shrub that remains above ground all year long in my garden. In the summer, it blooms small, purple flowers that attract beneficial pollinators. I use both the leaves as well as the flower spikes for flower arrangements. Leaves can be solid green, variegated with cream or yellow, gray, gray/green, blue/gray, purple, or tricolor (pink, green, and white leaves). No matter what the color, all the leaves are edible. You can pick leaves when you need them without altering the shape or you can take a branch from the back and strip and dry the leaves for the kitchen, including making tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil on the dryer side.

Rosemary

rosemaryI use dried rosemary in the stuffing and biscuits but I cut fresh branches for the turkey platter. I either put slices of turkey directly on the branches or place the branches on the side as a decoration.

Rosemary grows well in my garden because my plants are in full sun in a well-drained, terraced site. They want to grow into large shrubs but since I cut the branches throughout the season for drying, cut flower arrangements, or for garnish, I am able to keep them small. The woody shrubs remain above ground in the winter and tends to bloom when you would least expect it. My shrubs have been covered in small purple/blue flowers in December but just a few blossoms during the rest of the year.  There are many different types of rosemary; some more cold tolerant than others; some prostrate and some are upright. If you have had trouble growing rosemary in the past, Debaggio’s Herb Farm & Nursery in Chantilly, VA, suggests the following as cold-tolerant: ‘Arp’, ‘Hill Hardy’, ‘Salem’, ‘Nancy Howard’, and ‘Dutch Mill’. Once established, rosemary is drought resistant and deer resistant.

Thyme

I use dried thyme in the stuffing, biscuits, potato dishes, and green beans. Thyme can be used fresh or dried but if dried, the leaves have a more potent flavor. Drying herbs concentrates the oils, thus a stronger flavor.thyme

Thyme can be grown as a groundcover, small shrub, edging, or topiary or used in a rock garden. Thyme is a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, full sun, woody shrub that prefers well-drained soil. In my garden, my English thyme serves as a groundcover to prevent erosion on a slope and it has spread to cover the soil, thus preventing any weeds. It remains above ground in the winter and blooms in the spring/summer, attracting bees.

Growing herbs is very easy. To be able to harvest fresh herbs for next Thanksgiving, consider buying these plants in the spring at your local nursery.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Remember me to the one who lives there,

For once she was a true love of mine.

Local Demonstration Gardens: Learn Which Plants Grow Well In Your Area

African Blue Basil

African Blue Basil

As the summer ends, I like to visit the local demonstration gardens to see how the flowering plants and vegetables fared (especially during this hot, dry summer). Demonstration gardens are a great way to learn what works in the Washington DC metro area and how to manage our local issues, such as deer. The gardens are open to the public, every day, from dawn to dusk, free. Each county that has a Master Gardener program usually has at least one demonstration garden, managed by the volunteer Master Gardeners. To find such a garden, call your local county Master Gardener program representative (your local extension agent) and ask if they manage a demonstration garden. Some have several to showcase various environmental conditions and some use the garden as a place to teach or host workshops.

The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (Arlington and Alexandria) have five demonstration gardens:

  • Glencarlyn Library Community Gardens, corner of S. Third and S. Kensington Streets, off Carlin Springs Road, Arlington
  • Simpson Park Gardens (E. Monroe Avenue at the end of Leslie Avenue, next to the YMCA in Alexandria
  • Organic Vegetable Garden, Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Marcy Road, Arlington
  • Rock Quarry Shade Garden, Bon Air Park on Wilson Boulevard and N. Lexington Street, Arlington
  • Sunny Garden, Bon Air Park, Arlington

The Prince William County Master Gardeners manage a very large “Teaching Garden” at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA. Within this large garden are mini gardens to illustrate certain conditions or issues, such as a deer resistant garden, shade garden, vegetable garden, and pollinator garden.

The Loudoun County Master Gardeners have Ida Lee Park on Ida Lee Park Drive, Leesburg, VA; which they also use as a teaching garden.

The Montgomery County Master Gardeners have a demonstration garden at the Agriculture History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD.

The Prince Georges County Master Gardeners are fortunate to use the Kitchen Garden at the Riversdale Gardens and House Museum, 4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, MD.

To learn of more public gardens in the area, read the tab “Public Gardens” on my site, http://www.pegplant.com.

'Lady in Black' Aster

‘Lady in Black’ Aster

You Can Grow That: Hyssop for the Fourth of July

hyssopToday’s “You Can Grow That” falls on July 4. “You Can Grow That” is a collaborative effort by gardeners across the nation to encourage others to grow something by posting about a plant on the fourth day of the month. Because today is Independence Day, I chose to write about hyssop, a popular colonial herb. Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, was introduced to the Americas by John Winthrop, Jr., in 1631. It is documented that he brought hyssop seeds, along with other herb seeds, from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is also documented that Quaker farmer and America’s first botanist, John Bartram, grew hyssop in Philadelphia. George Washington grew this herb at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s records mention hyssop at Monticello. Bernard McMahon, a Philadelphia nurseryman, included hyssop in his list of kitchen herbs in his book, The American Gardener’s Calendar, published in 1806.

Traditionally, hyssop has been grown for medicinal and culinary qualities. Hyssop tea helps with chest congestion. As an antiseptic, hyssop has been used to heal wounds. The leaves have a menthol taste and can be used to flavor green or fruit salads, make tea, or used in preparing meat or game dishes. Flowers are used as a garnish or in salads. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dry (they dry well). Hyssop also is used in perfumes, liqueurs, and wines and as a strewing herb.hyssop

Today, hyssop is popular as a landscape edible and beneficial plant for pollinators. Hardy to zone 3, it is a perennial in my Virginia garden which is partly why it was so popular with the colonists. It comes back year after year and seems to be deer and pest resistant. I certainly have had no problems with mine. Hyssop has dark green, lanceolate leaves that are opposite to each other on the stem and each pair is at right angles to the one above, giving a whorled appearance. The plant is bushy if left to grow to its height of 2 to 3 feet but can be clipped to be a border plant. Mine rewards me with purple flowers from June through August but there are white flowered and pink flowered types as well. The flowers are small but many on a stem, which can be cut for flower arrangements.

Hyssop can be grown in full sun or morning sun to afternoon shade, in well-drained soil, with little or no fertilizer. It is easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, or division and usually the large nurseries will carry it in the herb section in the spring to early summer.

Saturdays In the Garden with Prince William County Master Gardeners

tweety statue

Tweety in the Woodland Garden

This month I attended “Saturday in the Garden” at the Teaching Garden. Hosted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Prince William County staff and Master Gardener volunteers, this month’s event was “Lessons from the Deer Resistant Garden, Woodland Garden, and the Four Seasons of Interest Garden.” For me it was a 45-minute ride from my house in Fairfax County to Prince William County but easy to find. The program was free and outside in the garden, from 9:00 am to noon. Set on the grounds of the St. Benedict Monastery, the Teaching Garden is quite large, in full sun with the exception of the woodland garden and home to deer, critters, and ticks.

Solomon's seal

Solomon’s Seal in Woodland Garden

About twenty of us sat in chairs under tents while Nancy Berlin, coordinator of the Prince William County Master Gardeners, presented the speakers, all Master Gardener volunteers, and agenda. We received a handout listing each garden’s inventory of plants and characteristics. There were three presenters for three garden beds who first talked for a few minutes under the tent and then guided us to the beds. We also visited the Cook’s Garden and had the opportunity to buy plants culled from the gardens. The Master Gardeners gave everyone water bottles, milkweed plants, and a variety of seeds.

Harriet Carter started us off in the Woodland Garden, which was heavily shaded and vulnerable to deer. This garden demonstrates alternatives to growing grass in tree-shaded areas of one’s yard and is low maintenance with drifts of mostly native plants. Although it is basically dry shade, the volunteers have rain barrels and soaker hoses to use during extended times of drought. At this time of year, June, there were no flowers but Harriet showed us large photos of the spring blossoms for each plant. Harriet pointed out hellebores, witch hazels, bluebells, woodland phlox, toad lilies (“which deer do not eat”), Solomon’s seal (“the foliage make a good groundcover”), wood poppies, and epimediums. Harriet has the lead on this particular garden and you could tell it is a labor of love. She is trying to develop a glen of ferns, is learning that the yellow twig dogwood needs more sun, and just planted a summer blooming rose campion for a little bit of color. She also pointed out the garden’s “mascot,” a statue of a girl with small birds on her arms, named Tweety.

bears breeches

Bear’s Breeches in the Four Seasons of Interest Garden

Jean Bennett gave us a tour of the Four Seasons of Interest Garden, which was one of the original gardens started by Sister Pat, a nun who also was a Master Gardener. This bed was created to show year round beauty and blooms from late March through mid-November. She said that in the winter they have colored bark from the yellow and red twig dogwood and flowers from witch hazels and hellebores. In early spring they have daffodils (they sell the daffodil bulbs in the fall), followed by iris and then dianthus, gaillardia, spiderwort, and red hot poker plants in the summer. One of the more unusual plants is the bear’s breeches. With its large coarse leaves, it is easy to see why deer don’t like them.  Jean recommended the sweet pepper bush as a nice native shrub to have at home. The threadleaf coreopsis and daylilies were just starting to bloom. The only ornamental grass in the garden was a red switch grass (“a great grass to grow in Virginia”). Currently its green blades are tipped with red but by fall the leaves will turn burgundy color.

Leslie Paulson showed us the Deer Resistant Garden although she cautioned that the only truly deer-resistant plant is the one the deer do not eat today. Leslie suggested using textured, thorny, fragrant, waxy, and/or poisonous plants. The younger the plant the more likely the deer will eat it and the younger the deer the more extensive their palate so they will try a wider variety of plants.

sumac

Sumac in the Deer Resistant Garden

Leslie showed us a beautiful sumac bush, only a few feet high. Sumac is a large shrub or small tree, very common on Virginian roadsides. It is more noticeable in the fall when the leaves change color but trained as a shrub in the garden, sumac adds elegance with its lacy leaves. Leslie recommended growing lion’s tail next to it because its tall orange flowering structures make a great combination. There was blue flowering nepeta which is in the mint family so deer do not like it (“the white flowering one behaves itself a lot better than the purple one”) and alliums (“all alliums are poisonous to deer”). There was a large area covered with fuzzy lamb’s ears, a low growing native type and a taller type with large flowers that bees love. Yarrow was blooming and two ornamental grasses, pink muhly grass and red switch grass, will provide color in the fall.

squashwithcontainer

Squash and Nasturtiums in the Cook’s Garden

Harriet gave us the tour of the Cook’s Garden which was fenced to keep out the groundhogs, rabbits, and deer. They use their own compost but are starting to experiment with cover crops such as alfalfa, buckwheat, and crimson clover to add nutrients back to the soil. To control small bugs they hand pick and put them in a jar with soapy water which they call the “bad bug swimming pool.” We saw potatoes blooming and tomatoes with basil planted nearby as a companion plant. There were Brussel sprouts under a row cover to keep bugs out, onions protruding out of the ground, and squash plants with nasturtiums nearby as a companion plants. Next to each squash plant was a plastic container with drainage holes submerged in the soil. Harriet explained that the squash leaves will cover the ground so filling the bucket with water will ensure that the water reaches the roots.  A large bushy cilantro plant was flowering in the corner, attracting pollinators. We then walked to another area that was netted on all four sides, much like a rectangular box, which contained sweet potatoes.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and highly recommend this monthly event. I plan to go back at different times of the year to see how the plants change and to view the rest including the Zen, white, children’s, fairy, fragrance, mailbox, lavender, bee/butterfly/hummingbird, rock, shrub, and native plant sections. The gardens are open to the public every day but volunteers recommend that the public check in with the Monastery office before entering.

Saturday in the Garden is held once a month from April through October, 9:00 a.m. to noon, in the Teaching Garden, St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136. The program is free but registration is requested to ensure adequate handouts and weather cancellation notifications. Call (703) 792-7747 or e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org to register; visit the link below for more information http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/Saturday-in-the-Garden.aspx

Day Seven of National Pollinator Week: Grow Marjoram to Attract Pollinators

marjoramToday is Sunday June 26, the last day of National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, I have posted short articles daily about culinary herbs in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators. Today’s last herb is marjoram. To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Saturday June 25, Thyme

Sunday June 26, Marjoram

My marjoram is like an old friend, it has been in my garden for a long time, very reliable. I have read that it is hardy to Zone 8, but I have had no problems with it in my Zone 7, Virginia garden. The plant sits in a well-drained, full sun area, next to the driveway so between the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the car, it probably thinks it’s living in the Carolinas.

I trim it back in the spring or fall, depending on how scraggly it gets, and dry the leaves for cooking. It becomes bushy in the summer in a messy way. Although I could call it a landscape edible, really it is a wildflower – a wild looking plant that flowers. In the summer the green stems produce small knots at the ends that open to reveal white flowers. The flowers are insignificant to me but the bees and other pollinators love them.

Marjoram has history, mythology and folklore; it has been used for 3,000 years for culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatherapy but in my family, we only use the herb in the kitchen. The leaves add a sweet pungent flavor to tomato-based dishes and soups, flat breads and focaccia, cheese dishes, bean stew, beans, potatoes, corn, and corn muffins.  It can be a substitute for oregano, which I also grow very close to the marjoram. The marjoram has a sweeter flavor that does well with baking, while the oregano is spicy, with a zing.