Purple Sage, Purple Basil, and Parsley - two uncommon herbs and one very common herb. But all three are full of flavor and well worthy of a spot in the kitchen garden.
PURPLE SAGE: The pretty purple leaves of purple sage can be used ornamentally in container gardens, but they also are edible and can be used in dishes in place of common sage. The pungent flavor is known mostly for Thanksgiving stuffing, but has other uses as well. Add it when roasting potatoes or to fish dishes. The flowers of sage are edible, too, and can be added to salads. In the garden, purple sage should be treated as an annual as it is not hardy in our area.
PURPLE BASIL: Basil is probably the herb most in demand and is used for Bruschetta, soups, sauces, and pesto. Purple basil's flavor is clove-like and has a slightly spicy flavor. It makes a pretty purple basil vinegar and adds color to dishes when used fresh. To keep basil from getting too leggy, pinch it back just above a set of leaves.
PARSLEY: The 2021 Herb of the Year
- Parsley has become so common in the kitchen, that we usually consider it an afterthought - a pretty garnish on the dinner plate. But parsley is so much more! Rich in vitamins A, B, C, calcium and magnesium, it has a fresh taste. Add it raw to salads, chop finely and sprinkle on sandwiches and egg dishes. Italian flat-leaf parsley is often preferred by chefs over curly parsley for it's rich, robust flavor.
- In the garden, parsley is a biennial herb. It will often return in the second year and quickly flower and go to seed which is not necessarily a bad thing. Bees and pollinators will visit the flowers, and the finches will eat the seeds.
For me, it started several years ago when I read these words:
“Have vessel, must find beauty."
Life-changing words written by Ann Voskamp in her book, ‘One Thousand Gifts’ that a friend had given me. In her book, she writes that every time she picked a bouquet of flowers, she would have to hunt for a vase or vessel to put it in. One day she decided to leave the empty vase out on the table and go hunt for the flowers. It no longer was ‘have beauty, must find a vessel"; it had become 'have vessel, must find beauty." That small shift in perspective has had a huge impact on my life. So much so, that as a professed beauty-seeker, I am daily hunting to find beauty in the unexpected. Flowers are easy - daffodils, lilacs, roses, daisies - when they bloom, they demand attention, and I oblige. But now I have trained my eyes to seek beauty in a simple leaf with intricate veins, peeling bark on a tree, the smallest of insects gathering nectar. Even dead flowers have an essence of beauty.
It's paying attention to these small delights in a habitual way, that over time creates a life filled with beauty. Every day might not be beautiful, but it can have beauty in it. We must look for it! Each small delightful discovery in nature is a gift from the Creator himself - a reflection of His artistry, His love, and a reminder of His faithfulness. Season after season, He is constant. His grace is limitless and so are the gifts. No matter how small, I try to pay attention and look for them.
When my kids were growing up, I didn't take the time to practice the seeking and hunting beauty. Life was busy seeking lost shoes and hunting for misplaced homework assignments. I wish I had spent more time just being still long enough to pay attention to the beauty outdoors. I wish I had taught them to be beauty seekers. But perhaps my kids were the small delights that God had given me - beauty right under my nose. Perhaps they were the vessels that needed filling with my time, attention, love, and lessons of the Creator. Perhaps I was that vessel, and they filled me with love and beautiful moments that have woven a tapestry of a beauty-filled life. Hmmm, yes, and I am grateful for it.
Friend, may we never stop seeking beauty and filling our vessels, because seeking beauty will often lead to other things like gratitude, wonder, and joy.
It never fails. The film that wins an Oscar for best picture is usually not well-known. I think that’s what happened with this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year. The plant that has checked all the boxes and has won this year’s highest perennial honor is Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta.
Calamintha, also known as calamint, will grow well in a wide range of climates, is low maintenance, is virtually pest and disease free, and offers interest in multiple seasons. It’s also deer resistant and pollinators love it. Seriously, it comes alive with movement from all the bees flocking to it! Sit quietly nearby a planting of calamint and you can hear it hum.
If you are familiar with catmint (Nepeta spp.), then think of calamint as a cousin. It is a member of the mint family with aromatic foliage and square stems, but it does not spread by invasive runners like the mint that comes to mind. It’s white delicate flowers are often touched with blue as they age. Calamint is one of the few perennials that has a long period of bloom - early summer into fall. It grows best in full sun up to 18 inches tall and wide.
Calamint also happens to be one of the most versatile plants when creating perennial combinations in the landscape. It’s bushy habit reminds me of a soft, white, billowy cloud which is the perfect filler plant in the landscape. One combination strategy is to plant it with vertical- growing perennials like purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), a mix of Betonys (Stachys ‘Summer Romance’ and ‘Summer Crush’), or any of the Salvias. A good partner that offers contrasting texture and will carry the interest into the fall is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. My favorite combination is calamint interplanted with the broad leaves of Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ or ‘Windy City’ and the blue grassy foliage of Festuca ‘Cool as Ice’.
When shopping for calamint, a word of caution: Be aware that some cultivars can reseed and become a problem in the garden. Look for Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, which has smooth, glossy leaves - not pubescent (soft, fuzzy) ones.
Tracy Hankwitz is a Horticulture Adjunct at Gateway Technical College and owner of Bella Botanica, LLC located at 1787 Walworth Street, Springfield, WI. All photos in this post are compliments of Midwest Groundcovers, LLC.
Every spring, I know it will happen. I expect it to happen. And it DOES happen. A seed is planted, is watered, and nurtured. It swells and sends out roots, sprouts up shoots, and within a couple months, it blossoms and bears fruit. It’s this crazy miracle that fills me with wonder and amazement every time I witness it.
Cultivating a garden can be a lot of work, but for most of us, we do it because we enjoy it. Whether we garden for aesthetics or for pollinators or for nourishment, part of the satisfaction is the joy of watching things grow.
As we put time and effort into nurturing a garden, we are also nurturing ourselves. Personal growth, like this, happens in many ways. We grow when life gives us a bowl of lemons and we are forced to find a way to make lemonade - not exactly fun. But growth can be more intentional and enjoyable when we take an active role in it. There is no end to the possibilities of what we can learn and experience. Take a class, learn a new skill, do something creative, step out of our comfort zone and do that thing we've always wanted to do.
What if we cultivate growth in a different way? What if we become intentional in becoming more patient with others, show them kindness and grace? What if we cultivate gratitude and generosity? This kind of growth not only changes us, but it affects those around us in wondrous ways! But how do we encourage this kind of self-growth?
For me, the one thing that is at the core of this type of growth - true personal growth - is my faith. When I make the effort to spend time in God’s Word, I’m cultivating and nurturing my faith. The more I water it by learning about him and his love for me - for all of us, seeds of gratitude begin to swell and form roots. That gratitude then affects my whole life as it sprouts, grows, and blossoms into fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And those fruits, dear friend, are worth cultivating. They begin to self-sow and spread - changing not only us, but others in ways we don’t always see.
How about you? This spring, as you think about what you will grow, I encourage you to also consider how you will grow or how you are growing. Spend some time being still so you can hear your thoughts. Take a walk and listen to what your heart is saying. Write in a journal to sort through your ideas. If you are a believer, pray to God who always listens and will guide you. Then begin. Begin to intentionally cultivate growth.
I've heard many of you say that you can't grow orchids. Full confession: I've had my share of orchid frustrations, too, but I've been determined to figure out what I did wrong. Growing a happy orchid can't be rocket science! Let's unearth the secret to growing a happy, healthy orchid.
Before we begin, let's assume the orchids being referred to are Phalaenopsis (also known as moth orchids). They are the most popular and the most common orchids because they are easy to grow. First let's address when your new orchid arrives home. Most orchids do not need to be transplanted until it has finished flowering. However, if the roots are circling the pot or if the pot has no drainage, then it's best not to wait to repot.
CHOOSING A POT
Look for pots that have good drainage as orchids do not like to sit in water. Terra cotta pots work well because they are porous and allow the roots to breathe. Some orchid pots have openings in the sides that allow extra air circulation for the roots which is a good thing! Choose a pot that is one size bigger than the one it is currently in. Orchid roots like to be cozy in their home. Clean the roots off and place the orchid in it's new pot. Use an orchid bark mix. Most mixes have perlite and charcoal included with the bark.
WHAT ARE THOSE CREEPY TENTACLES?
Have you wondered about this? Those alien-looking things are not tentacles or roots that need to be pushed back into the pot. They are air roots and can indicate the health of the plant. Firm and fleshy is a good sign! And please don't cut them off - just let them be, hanging out above the pot.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are quite content in an east-facing window or any spot in a room that has bright, natural light.
WHAT ABOUT USING ICE CUBES?
As orchid guru, Marc Hachadourian, says, save the ice cubes for your drinks - not your orchids! The best way to water them is to take them to the sink about once a week and water from the top, letting the water flush through the bottom. Water less frequently in fall and winter and always check to make sure they feel dry before watering.
WHEN TO FEED THEM
Orchids need to be fertilized after repotting and when done flowering. Most orchid fertilizers are fairly balanced in their N-P-K levels to ensure that leaves stay dark green and to promote flowering. Try to use one with more phosphorus (a higher middle number) every 2-3 waterings to encourage new blooms.
HOW TO HELP THEM REBLOOM
This is the question I hear the most: How do I get it to bloom again? Here are a few tips:
1. First, if the flower stem has turned brown, cut it down to the base. If the stem is still green and the leaves and air roots are healthy, cut back the green stem just above the third or fourth node. It may send out a new shoot of flowers from that node. If the plant doesn't look terrifically healthy, then cut the green stem back to about an inch above where it rises from the leaves.
2. If orchids haven't bloomed for 6-12 months, move them to a cooler spot and continue to feed them with a bloom-boosting fertilizer.
Orchids like a humid environment, so group orchids together with ferns to raise the humidity level and/or keep the pots on trays of pebbles that are kept moist.
Those are the basics! If you want to learn more, I highly recommend these two books which are written for beginner orchid growers. Both are available here in the shoppe:
If growing orchids has frustrated you in the past, give it another try,
and let me know how it goes. Happy growing!
I find it so exciting to discover a new perennial garden gem that performs well in my SE Wisconsin garden and then feel the need to make sure everyone else knows it and falls in love with it, too. The last few years, my fondness of Geums has grown into pure infatuation as I indulge in adding more to the garden every year. So here is my attempt to charm you with them as well.
Geum, also known as Avens, is a member of the rose family so it is not surprising that it has a 5-petaled inflorescence like roses and apple blossoms. What is surprising, no matter how many times I see them in bloom, is how much they resemble miniature roses with their double layers of petals. They add a touch of elegance to the garden with their tidy and attractive, deep-green foliage and their lovely flowers that dangle above on wiry stems.
Species & Hybrid Cultivars
There are over 50 species of Geum. One of the most well-loved one here in Wisconsin is Geum triflorum (Prairie smoke) which is native to the midwest. Although other species originated in Greece and Turkey, the midwest has another claim to the many hybrid cultivars. Since 2006, Brent Horvath at Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, IL has been breeding a new series of Geum called the Cocktail series. ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘Mai Tai’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘Banana Daiquiri’, just to name a few, vary in colors ranging from yellows, bright orange, and sweet pinks, rose, cream, and peach. Even the creamy white-colored ‘Champagne’ is charming and is more robust than the others in the series.
How to Care for Geum
Geum make good cut flowers to admire indoors in a vase. They grow 12-18” tall when in bloom and are deer and rabbit resistant. In clay soil, they can be short-lived, so place them in a spot that is well-drained and receives morning sun accompanied by shade in the afternoon. Dividing them every few years can also help prolong their life span. The lovely blooms begin to open as early as late April and can last into June.
Remove spent flowers to extend the bloom period. In spring, fertilize established Geum lightly once annually with a granular fertilizer (try an organic one by Fox Farm or Espoma). By the way, this is how and when most perennials should be fertilized. When you clean out your beds in spring, apply the fertilizer to slowly feed through the season, then top with mulch. Faded blooms can be deadheaded to prolong bloom time, but leave a few on so you don’t miss their cool wispy seed heads. Don’t be too hasty to deadhead Prairie Smoke, or you will miss why it is so named.
Designing with Geum
Geum are ideal for rock gardens as long as the soil isn’t too dry. Plant them in drifts of 3, 5, or 7 along the front of the border in a staggered manner to create a naturalized look. Remember there are no straight lines in nature! Plant other spring-bloomers nearby like Polygonatum ’Prince Charming’ and mix in summer bloomers to compliment the Geum foliage. One of my favorite combinations is Geum x ‘Champagne’ planted with Hosta ‘First Frost’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (see above). The effect of the greens, purples and creams is stunning elegance.
Have you been convinced or at least intrigued? Seek them out - it is worth the effort.