Monday, April 20, 2009


Imagine that the folks behind Anthropologie (one of my favorite stores, especially for housewares) came up with a garden-related store.

Too good to be true?

Not so!

Terrain at Styers in Glen Mills, PA is the Anthropologie-for-the-garden store! Swoon! Too bad it's 2.5 hours away from me...

Road trip anyone?!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

No Yard? No Deck? No Problem!

Don't have a yard? Don't have a deck? Don't even have a stinkin' sunny windowsill? You can still get your plant on!

Seriously. There is no excuse for not getting elbow-deep in gardening, *if* you want to do it. (I don't judge those that aren't out by plants as I am!) In the DC area, we are lucky to have lots and lots of parks, county gardens, and even community gardens. So, there's plenty of opportunities to volunteer!

Let's start with Arlington and NoVA:

Arlington Community Gardens. Word on the street is that these have a long waiting list so sign up ASAP!!

Northern Virgina Regional Parks Volunteers.
Meadowlark Botantical Gardens in Vienna, Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington, and Uphill Regional Park all have volunteer opportunities that involve gardening. And, if you enjoy gardening & haven't been to Meadowlark...GO! It's great to get landscaping ideas as well as good photo opps for macro photography.

Check out for additional opportunities! Here's one on helping landscape an Arlington library. Also check out your county/city's webpage; Arlington has a site dedicated to volunteer opportunities, both gardening & not. Alexandria and Reston have something similar.

And, to not be a snotty Arlingtonian, here's some resources for DCers:

DC Community Gardens



Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garden Vampires

Ugh. Things were going so well! The seeds I sowed on March 7th (has it really only been slightly more than a month?) have grown into sturdy teenage plants. Look at this tomato! What a handsome guy!

Then, last night happened. What 1980s kid remembers Bunnicula? (I remember having to read it in secret because mom didn't approve for some reason.( I thought that vampire-bunny was the only thing that sucked the life out of plants. Not true, my friends! Aphids are a *real* vampire of the garden.

I'm not quite sure how it happened...the soil was fresh and I haven't brought any new plants near the plantlets. Yet, there they were! The nasty brutes!

Aphids, the bastards that they are, are soft-bodied insects that suck the "juice" out of plants. (See, I told you! Vampires. Photo to the left is from Wikipedia) They are teeny tiny, can be white (mine are), green, black, yellow, and a light grey. Unfortunately for me, the reproduce like crazy and none of their natural predators (hopefully) live in my house. So, the only solution to me was insecticidal soap. You can make your own but I've bought a commercial brand. I've heard that some fragrances and dyes and such in soap could scrotch plants. So, if you decide to go the homemade route, make sure you go for something mild.

Luckily, I think I caught them during their first feast because the damage thus far has been minimal. So, I guess there's that. sigh.

Anywho, looks like I'll be on aphid patrol for a while. I'm going on vacation in a few weeks so hopefully they'll be all gone by then. Otherwise I fear I'll come home to a few dozen dead plants.

Here's a photo of some aphid damage and some aphids dying a slow death in some insecticidal soap (that's the wet stuff).


Edited: I spoke with the guy at the plant clinic at Merrifield. Apparently, the only way an aphid could have gotten into my house was on my clothes or through an open window. Thus, when this freak infestation is over (he was surprised it happened), all should be well. And, I am happy to report the plants were clear this morning & this afternoon. Hurray!

Now, if this happened outside, I'd have more options on pest control. Like hosing the buggers off. Or getting ladybugs to have an aphid feast. Here's a great article from You Grow Girl on attracting ladybug (and deterring aphids) to your garden: article.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pinkies Up!

(Note: Photos are from Wikipedia articles, not me. Herb are, starting from top left, lavender, rosemary, sweet woodruff, bergamot, chamomile and mint)

{Note: Um, blogger is currently experiencing technical difficulties. I will fix the photos when it starts working again...}

I'm more of a coffee drinker in the morning, but if I need a warm beverage at any other time of day, I reach for tea. An afternoon pick-up is usually yerba mate. Something after dinner? Then, I favor a roobios for it's caffeine-free-ness.

When planning my 2009 herb garden, I knew I wanted mint(s), bergamot (aka bee balm) and lavender. Then I found out that chamomile is a good companion plant to strawberries so decided to save some room for it in the strawberry patch. Next, it turned out that sweet woodruff would be perfect in the bed in the front of the house. And, finally, I found a local source of scented geraniums. And couldn't resist buying one. Before I knew it, I had the makings of a tea garden!

What is a tea garden you ask? Ideally, it's a container or patch of an herb garden dedicated to herbs that can be used in teas. But since I like my plants to multi-task, they are going to be a spread out across the yard: in a pot in the house, in the herb garden, in the strawberry patch, ground cover in the front bed, and ground cover in a raised bed under a tree.

Here's what I'm planting that could be used for tea:

  • Mint (spearmint, chocolate mint and maybe apple mint)
  • Bergamot/bee balm
  • Chamomile (german, most likely)
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Old-fashion rose (scented geranium)
  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
What other herbs could be used for tea:

  • Lemon verbena
  • Lemon balm
  • Marjoram
  • Lemon grass
  • Other scented geraniums
  • Rose hips
  • Sage
Now, it should be noted that before you turn anything into a tea you should first verify that it is what you think it is AND that there aren't any restrictions for use. For example, scented geraniums are an entirely different species than regular geraniums (scented ones are Pelargonium {variety}, regular ones are Geranium {variety}). Additionally, sweet woodruff is good for making a tea that helps you go to bed at night in small doses but can be toxic at high doses. And, obviously, if you're going to be eating the leaves, it's best if they aren't coated in a layer of pesticides.

So, dear readers, do your research! Be smart about what you ingest!

To make a tea out of herbs, you can do it two ways: with fresh leaves or with dry leaves. Either way, put the leaves in a cup & pour hot water over them. Then, let steep for 5 or so minutes and strain. Voila! Garden-fresh tea! For those of you that I know in real life, anticipate that a good crop of herbs this year will result in you getting homemade herbal teas and homemade reusable tea bags like this:
(sorry it's not clicky. blogger is buggin' out on me!). Fair warning folks, fair warning.

Who's growing a tea garden (I'm even talking containers on windowsills here! You don't need a yard to garden.)? And, if you think you can't grow any herbs, then clearly you haven't read my previous post: (I have no idea why this link is clicky but the other one isn't. :::shakes fist at blogger:::)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This I Believe

On my way home from work, I listen to NPR. They are winding down their This I Believe series which is sad. This series gives me hope for the human race...that we aren't a bunch of uncaring idiots. If you haven't heard of it, you should definitely check it out.

To make this relevant to THIS blog, I thought I'd ramble about what I've learned from gardening. So, here it is:

I believe humans need a connection to the earth. Most of us wake up in our man-made house and drive in our man-made car to work (which is in man-made building) on man-made roads which have been made by clearing trees and relocating wildlife. For lunch we eat genetically modified food or overly processed food. The closest thing many of us get to "nature" is our lawn which in many regions of the country is completely unnatural. We soldier on in our man-made surroundings thinking everything is OK, that our lives are full.

And they are in a man-centric sense. We've got the best things (wo)man has created: comfortable shelter, machines that get us from point A to point B without any effort by us and food which we do not need to do anything to, save nuking in the microwave.

But, what about all the stuff that was around before we patented walking upright? We're missing out on all THAT stuff. Only interacting with stuff "we" made is kinda like living a "half-life."

The satisfaction of watching your food grow is amazing. Did you know that tomato plants have a unique smell to them? It's sorta "earthy" but bright. Peppers and other vegetables in that family don't have that smell; it seems to be unique to the tomato. Did you know that blueberry bushes can be huge? Like 6 feet tall! Or that scented geraniums can smell like roses, apples, cinnamon or limes? By gardening you're connecting to nature virtually everyday, even if it's just a bunch of containers of herbs on your windowsill.

I've found that, by gardening, I'm outside more. I get more exercise (lugging bags of compost or digging something up is hard work!). Additionally, I've found that I notice more of my surroundings. Driving through my neighborhood I've noticed new plants and trees. I'm positive they were always there, I just was too wrapped up in "man-made" concerns that I didn't notice. Also, I find that I can more about sustainability, as well as reduce/reuse/recycle. I mean, I don't want to muck up soil, air and water that help me grow my food and flowers.

I believe, in short, that a little dirt under your fingernails could do you, and the world, some good.

Friday, April 3, 2009

An Herb for Every Pot

Herbs, in my oh-so-very-humble opinion, are what "makes" a dish. Chicken stock, for me, isn't complete without a bay leaf or two. Ever had salsa without cilantro?!? Not the same. Where would your Thanksgiving turkey be without the classic thyme and sage combo? They instantly make anything taste better without adding fat or calories. In short, they are a wonder seasoning. And for that, you pay the price!

With glass jars of rosemary hovering around $4 and a bunch of fresh cilantro over $2 (i.e., highway robbery!), what's a cook to do? Grow the damn things yourself. Herbs work wonderfully in containers for those without a yard and of course are fine in ground for those that do. You can start them from seeds for dirt cheap (a pack of 25+ seeds costs 1/4 of the price of a jar of the dried leaves), propagate from cuttings from a friend (free!!) or buy a plant for less than what you'd pay for a few sprigs at the grocery store. There's an herb for every location...and every container.

The following herbs are almost all available (with multiple varieties) from DeBaggio's, an herb nursery I hope to visit soon!

Herbs for Shade:
And in this context, I'm meaning, dappled light, not a total void of light. Part of this depends on your climate. In extreme tropical climates, basil might do best with a fair amount of shade-- otherwise it'd get burnt by the intense sun. More examples can be found here. Note: Often this means the herbs will tolerate the low light level. You'll get better yields with more light.

Anise hyssop

Lemon balm
Sweet Woodruff

Herbs for Part-Sun/Part-Shade:
By this I mean 4-6 hours of sunlight per day. Again, this can depend highly on where you are. I'm talking mostly about north Mid-Atlantic. If you're on the low end of the light requirements, you may be able to grow shade-tolerate herbs in addition to these. If you're on the high end, then maybe some of the full-sun herbs will work out (but they probably won't produce like they would in full sun).


Herbs for Full Sun:
By this I mean 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Again, whether or not these herbs will work in full-sun light conditions this can depend highly on where you are. I'm talking mostly about north Mid-Atlantic. In general, most herbs thrive in full sun & just tolerate everything else, so the above part-sun will likely work for you too!

Lemon balm