Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Drying Herbs the Old Fashioned Way

I like to air dry my herbs.  I think that they taste better (for the most part) than when you dry them in a dehydrator or use the microwave-and-paper-towels method. And here is how I do it:
1. Cut herbs in the morning, before their aromatic oils have time to volatilize (evaporate) and before they start flowering.
2. Knock dirt off then, gently and lightly wash and allow to them to air dry on a kitchen towel. Check for bugs that hitched a ride and remove them.
3.  Use common kitchen string (the kind you use to truss up a turkey) and tie them in small bunches (too big of a bunch can invite rot).
4.  I then take a brown paper grocery bag, and drop the herbs inside, looping the string through the handle so the herbs dangle inside the bag.  This cuts out light, catches any leaves that fall off and keeps the herbs cleaner.
5. Hang in a cool dark place by the string or the handle of the bag, like a closet or indoor storage area.  Do not hang herbs in an open room, over rafters, as you many have seen in historic homes, unless you are doing that just for show.
6. When they are dry, I strip them into a glass jar with lids.  I do not use small herb jars, as I usually have too much for that!
In a few weeks, your herbs will be dry!

Herbs I have done this successfully with: all types of basils, thyme, oregano, marjoram, mints, lavender, dill.  The one common herb this will not work with? Chives.  These need to be dried in a dehydrator.  They turn yellow if you attempt to air dry them.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Garden "Whispers"

Remember that game in elementary school, where the first child in a long row of children had to repeat a message whispered to him or her?  By the end of the chain, the message was usually so distorted that everyone had a good laugh! (I also remember that my brother deliberately distorted the message wildly, so it would be really crazy at the end!).  Some call the game "telephone" some "whispers" and there are many other names. Above is a photo of two plant tags for the exact same variety of sedum.  I bought them at a volunteer plant sale.  I suspect that the "whispers" phenomenon accounts for the fact that one is called "Emperor's Wave" and the other (maybe?) "Emperors Slave!"
Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Lovely Tradescantia

"White Trasdescantia" photo courtesy of Scott Vrana:

     A spring and early summer bloomer, tradescantia, named for the British botanical explorer, John Tradescant, is one of my favorite flowers.  The common name of this native, North American (and  South American) flower is spiderwort, for its long, spidery foliage (wort simply means plant in Middle English). It is a strong bloomer, with interesting shades and crosses of white, lavender, blue, purples and pinks.  It is carefree and little harms it in my Virginia garden.  The only disadvantage is that it fades as the hot weather arrives, but comes back strong the following spring.  This is a plant to place in a mixed boarder, where other, later summer bloomers will cover up the fading plants.

A lovely, hot pink tradescantia, photo courtesy of Scott Vrana:

...and the blue-purple with lime-green leaves,  photo courtesy of Scott Vrana:

Lovely photos!  Thanks Scott!  Visit his 500 Pix page for more lovely photos!
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: A Snapper

This is a snapping turtle. A snapping turtle can take off an adult's finger. Any questions?

My neighbor called me over in late May.  This snapping turtle was on her driveway, mind you, this is a suburban subdivision, and it was not 5 feet from the road.  Do not attempt to move a snapper, call a certified wildlife rehabilitator for assistance and advice (most animal controls will only come out for domestic or clearly rabid animals, so they would not help here).  My neighbor had the snapper moved to a wild area, as we did not want it to roam the neighborhood, where little children might try to "pet" it.  Though we were worried, it is a cool creature and we were delighted to see it: this means something is going right in our little ecosystem!  And, if it is a she, was she out laying eggs?  Might we expect baby snappers?
Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Good Choice, Poor Choice

We all make choices about plants in our landscape.  Some can be evaluated as good, some bad.  This is a subjective determination, but can be objective too.  These choices can also be well considered, or spur of the moment. This post is about two plants: both were spur of the moment, or fairly spontaneous, choices. One worked out well the other did not.

The photo on top is from what I like to call my "edible landscaping." This photo was taken in one of my front yard flower beds, yes, flower bed.  Ten years ago, I planted strawberries in my backyard vegetable garden. I tried hard to follow the spacing guidelines and, having ordered 50 plants, had 15 or so "leftover."  What to do?  Well, I was also working on my flower beds in front at the same time, and they were pretty sparse, so, the extra strawberry crowns got tucked in here and there among the flowers.

For years, both beds flourished, but, don't you know it, the beds in the vegetable garden faltered, while the flower bed strawberries, which have been pretty much ignored, took off,  and set lots of fruit.  Now, the flower bed berries are doing much better than those in the veg garden, and they make a nice, green ground cover all season long.  A serendipitous choice gone well.

The photo above is of a choice that has not gone so well and is a "morality play" about the potential problems with "passalong" plants (those plants given you by an enthusiastic gardener friend).  Most of the passalong plants I have been given are great: day lilies, iris, sedums.  But this one not so much.  The grassy foliage above is river oats. I was initially charmed by the cool, draping seed heads of this plant, sort of like draping oats or wheat, and for years I used it in flower arrangements.  But it grew and spread and, if I don't continue dig it out, my garden will consists of it and obedient plant, another passalong (luckily obedient plant is easy to pull).  We had a wet spring, thank goodness, which enabled me to remove almost all of the river oats, but do your research before you plant it!

So, we gardeners make good choices and bad ones, and have to deal with the consequences.  Hum, I guess that is like life in general!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday Lagniappe: Love It or Hate It?

At one point, I started a series of occasional posts called "Love It or Hate It?" but found that I like most any plant I see and that most landscaping practices are fine by me.  I recently got a fall bulb catalog (I do get a few gardening catalogs, but not as many as you might imagine) that had this on the back cover: the tulip "Ice Cream."  Do you love it or hate it?  I formed an opinion right away: I despise it!  It looks like a diseased or infected plant, part tulip, part ...  well, I will be polite.  It also looks like someone stuffed tulips with tissues.   I guess I get the idea, like it is a pink bowl full of vanilla ice cream, but...yuck! The white center petals ruins the graceful form of the tulip. Anyone have a different opinion?  I will be kind!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Winterthur Field Trip

Fairy garden at Winterthur

I recently visited Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Wilmington, DE, and was really impressed.  I am only going to review the garden (this is a garden blog and we did not have time for the museum anyway!).  We visited in early May, so got to see many early spring ephemerals, like Virginia bluebells and woodland trillium (as a matter of fact, the place was stuffed with a variety of trillums):

There was an amazing collection of highly fragrant lilacs: light to deep purple, white and cream.  You could smell the lilacs a long way away!

In addition, the garden was stuffed with azaleas, dogwoods, white and lilac redbuds, bluebells, and primrose.

The most charming feature of the garden was the Enchanted Forest.  You do not have to go with a child to enjoy it, from the woodsman's cottage, the witch's hut, the large birds nest, story- telling circles and foot bridge.  This is the way a children's garden should be: it is a creatively designed, woodland space, that enhances a child's imagination.  As you walk through, the path twists and turns, exposing unexpected areas hidden behind a screening of plants.  It is delightful!

You can get information on the garden and museum at:
The admission was a bit steep, at $18 per person, but this also includes the museum. If you have membership at a reciprocal garden, as we did, it is free as a member benefit.
Happy garden visiting!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wednesday :Lagniappe: The Washing of the Garden Gloves

     We do a thorough cleaning of our garage every spring, after the overwintering plants in pots have been carried outdoors.  Good thing, it is usually awash in soil, gravel, dead leaves, stakes, fencing and trellising, watering cans, hoses, other garden paraphernalia brought in from the outdoors and garden critters taking advantage of the disorder (this year we found two shed snake skins).  And most years, I collect and wash my garden gloves.  I seem to have amassed quite a collection!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

No-Till Experiment

Ruth Stout was an advocate of a gardening method called no-till.  Tilling has many disadvantages. The primary one is that it exposes dormant weed seeds that then sprout.  Tilling is a lot of work, even with a gas-powered or electric tiller.  It disturbs the soil structure, and displaces earthworms.  As I recall, Stout's method involves piling compostable materials atop the garden beds: leaves, pine straw, grass from untreated lawns, compost, etc.  These materials are left on the top of the bed and renewed as needed.  You do not till at all, but simply plant into this mulch.

I am interested in no-till gardening for one main reason:  I am in my mid-50's and am looking for  easier ways to garden.  Though I am not yet old, I am also not young and have some of the usual twinges and aches associated with my age.  No till will save my back, which has been a source of trouble for me for years.

Last fall, I asked someone in my neighborhood for their bagged leaves (after checking that they did not have walnut trees in in their yard-all parts of walnut trees, even leaves, inhibit plant growth).  I took these, and spread them on one of my vegetable garden areas, along with grass clippings and pine straw.  The mulched areas sprouted almost no weeds over winter, as compared to the weedy beds that are often tilled. Benefit one!  When I moved the mulch aside to plant squashes, I saw no weeds sprouting underneath.  The soil was light and fluffy and seemed to have more earth worms that other areas: benefit two! (These earthworms may attract tunneling moles, so this benefit has a cost).  And the most important benefit: I did not have to till!

We'll see how this experiment fares and if I will use this method all around the garden.

Happy gardenig!