Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All About: Basil

Basil is a must for any herb garden, especially an herb garden of a cook. It's essential in Italian cooking as well as southeast Asia (of which, Thai is my favorite). Needless to say, we have 3 types: purple (5), green Italian (4) and Thai basil (3).

Last year I tried to grow Italian basil with disastrous results. First off, I used some clay soil I dug up to my back yard. This was neither the most well-draining nor fertile choice! The basil survived but hardly thrived. This year, I vowed to do things right! That includes:

  1. Good soil. Basil loves well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

  2. Full sun. To thrive, basil needs the heat of summer, but appreciates a bit of afternoon shade around July & August when the summer sun is at its hottest.

  3. Harvest early & often. Harvest as soon as plants have several sets of leaves. Wherever you cut/pinch off, the basil will fork thus becoming more bushy & more productive. About once a month in the summer, do a big harvest and remove about 2/3 of the plant (leave a few sets of leaves at the bottom). The plants will come back bigger & badder than ever in just a few weeks!

  4. Pinch off flowers. I've read that basil is predetermined to flower after they get a certain number of leaf sets. If this is true, then harvesting often or doing one big harvest a month will help prolong the plant's life. If it's not true, just pinch off the flowers, preferably the node below where the flowers are.
Ideas on how to store your excess basil:
  1. Freeze pesto.

  2. Wash, dry, & place into ziploc bags. Place these bags in the freezer.

  3. Chop up basil, mix with a little oil, and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze.

  4. Chop up basil, mix with a little water and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze.
Ideas on creative ways to use basil:
  1. Strawberry-Basil Tea

  2. Basil-Lemon Granita

  3. Basil Gimlet

  4. Bruschetta

  5. Watermelon salad with feta & basil

  6. Basically, anywhere you'd use mint! (basil & mint are related)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Arlington Homes & Gardens, Part 2

The second in the series!! Not only is this house totally rad (love the front porch), but I totally dig the trees flanking the front walk. I'm convinced these trees must be original to the house. They are like no trees that I have ever seen before!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recipe: Lemon-Lavender Sorbet

I've been wanting to post a recipe from my garden's bounty, but...um...aside from a sprig of thyme here and a few snipets of chives there, I haven't done anything interesting with my garden produce. I've been quite excited about my lavender plants. And, my favorite sorbet at the Dairy Godmother is their Lemon-Lavender flavor. Since President Obama recently visited Dairy Godmother, I fear I won't be able to go back anytime soon!

Luckily for me, my lavender is thriving!

Here's what you need:

******Warning: This recipe takes 2 days to allow for ample chilling******
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 or more sprigs of *culinary* lavender, cut into pieces (About a tbsp. Don't use stuff from a craft store.)
4 lemons, juice & zested
2 tbsp lemoncello (or vodka), optional

Here's what you do:

1. Bring water to a boil. Add sugar & stir until dissolved. Take off heat and add lavender & zest.
2. Chill sugar mixture at least 4 hours, overnight is better.
3. Remove lavender sticks from sugar mixture and add lemon juice & lemoncello to sugar mixture. The lemoncello will help you get a more scoopable sorbet since it won't freeze.
4. Freeze according to ice cream maker's directions. You'll probably need to chill it in the freezer for a few hours after the machine is done so that it's firmer. (No ice cream maker? Use the granita method, but you may want to leave out the alcohol)



I've recently started to consider obtaining some more formal training in gardening. Perhaps you have too?

Here are the educational opportunities available in the DC/VA area:

Free or Cheap:
Merrifield Garden Center Seminars
US Botanic Gardens

A Bit More Pricey:
Northern VA Community College
Grad School (formerly USDA Grad School)

Most Expensive (Also Requires Commitment to Degree Completion):
George Washington University Professional School

I've personally gone to one of the Merrifield Garden Center seminars (on seed starting, you might recall). I enjoyed it and felt it was informative. Plus, it was free! So, I'd start there if you're interested.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Propagating Mint

I am dangerous. Seriously. I walk on the wild (gardening) side, throwing caution to the wind! I'm a rebel, baby! Let's just say I'm sooooooo dangerous, I planted chocolate mint in the ground. Without a pot. Without any sort of barrier what so ever.

See, I told you: Dangerous.*

I did, however, take out some "insurance," if you will. I planted the chocolate mint (smells like peppermint patties! Swoon!) in a location that gets a good deal of shade. This, I figured, should slow the mint down.

I was right. Too right, in fact.

My visions of making gallons of chocolate mint iced tea this summer were being dashed by it's slow growth. So, I did whatever any gardener with a frugal side would do: propagate more plants via cuttings. Here is what you do:

  1. Clip off a 5in or so piece of mint (this also works for other types of mint).
  2. Strip off the leaves on the bottom half.
  3. Stick into water.
  4. Change water every 3 days or so.
...and, here's what you get:

In the cup. Roots are coming from where the leaves I stripped off were. Even above the water line.

After 7 days, these are the roots my mint grew! This is a perfect project for anyone impatient, like myself.

Now these cuttings are ready to be planted. I'm going to put these 3 new plants into a pot & place in a sunny location. I may be dangerous, but I've not completely lost my mind!!!

Note that this method of propagation is the same as I did with ivy.

*In case you didn't know, mint can be highly invasive. I can completely take over a bed. Resulting in constantly cutting it back & weeding.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fall Seeds: Buy Now

Last year was my first year gardening & I attempted to do a fall crop in the ground. It was probably in August when I decided to do this & went to the nursery & big box stores for seeds. And, the selection was SPARSE. I had thought that seeds were like fashion: the ones for the appropriate season would come out at the end of the preceding season.


I had failed to grasp that many fall crops can also be grown in spring. Thus, "fall" seeds would be start being sold in January. I also underestimated the level of planning most gardeners undertake. Thus, this year I've learned from my mistakes and have just bought the seeds I want for the fall, now! I was trying to wait until the seeds went on sale, but I just couldn't hold out any longer. Here is what I hope to be eating in November:

French breakfast radish
Early purple Vienna kohlrabi
Chancellor kohlrabi
Florida broadleaf mustard
Kaleidoscope carrot mix
Touchon carrot
Red Russian kale
Purple top white globe turnip

...and whatever else comes my way!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Postcard from US Botanic Garden

The DC area is blessed with green space & gardens, especially for a big urban area. There is the Meadowlark Botanic Gardens, Brookside Gardens, National Arboretum, Rock Creek Park, Mt. Vernon, Great Falls, Hillwood Gardens, Washington National Cathedral Gardens, and River Farms. There are probably others that I'm forgetting.

And, of course, there is the US Botanic Gardens. It's my favorite place on the National Mall, especially in winter when it is warm and tropical inside. But in spring and summer, the gardens are fabulous full of bulbs and colorful annual & perennial flowers. Each visit to the USBG you see tons of "tourists" (either actual tourists or locals enjoying the tourist attractions in the area) with their cameras out, intently photographing flowers and leaves and landscapes. For good reason, too: Not only are the flowers themselves very nice but in the conservatory there is excellent lighting. It's sunny but with shadows that hit the flowers in very, well, illuminating ways. You can really paint with light in there!

Here are some macro photos from my recent trip with, when possible, names listed:

Phragmipedium Grande (in color and black & white)

Another type of orchid

An unnamed lily

Another unnamed flower
Same as flower above, but not yet unfurled



Note: Above photos are copyrighted material and should not be used without permission.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pretty is as Pretty Does

I like things to be functional, but beautiful. Life is just entirely too short to not be able to enjoy the beauty of everyday objects or to make everyday objects beautiful. I don't own anything I don't use. Partially due to living in a small house with limited storage and paritally due to being on the cheap side. :) And, I admit, I also love using "special" things as often as possible. Special occasions happen far more frequently than most people realize! Sometimes surviving a Tuesday is quite a feat!

Case in point: I drink my morning coffee out of a china tea cup (it's the most frequent use of our china actually) and have a tiny silver spoon that I got cheaply to eat my Yoplait. It's actually kind of funny...me, sitting around on a Sunday morning in an old T-shirt and Winnie-the-Pooh flannel boxers (from high school no less!) sipping coffee from fine china and eating yogurt with a silver spoon while I peruse a magazine from the library. Quite the contrast!

Similarly, I like that kind of quirky contrast in the garden. Vegetable gardens can look...well...a bit farm-y for a small backyard in the suburbs. Or just a little too functional for my taste. What I need is a bit of whimsy. Unexpected color. My "whimsy" touches include some small garden gnomes and red ceramic mushrooms I found in the dollar bins at Target several months ago.
The gnome, playing peek-a-boo in the chives.

The mushroom, "growing" in the strawberry patch.

Additionally, I had been on the lookout for a rain gauge but...to be honest, most were kinda too ugly for *my* garden. That is until we went to Smith & Hawken and found the yellow one below! (picture from Smith & Hawken website) Cuteness!

In addition the the whimsical touches above, I planted some marigolds and nasturtiums in between the peppers and tomatoes. These add pops of color until the tomatoes & pepper plants provide something other than green. In addtional, they have been attracting butterflies. See?

Form + Function = Fabulous.

Next year I plan to make the tomato stakes more attractive. I am considering painting wooden stakes a nice purple or blue (This depends on first researching whether the tomatoes would be safe to eat if the plant comes in contact with paint. And if chemicals would be leached still if the paint does not touch the soil...meaning I would plan to only paint the part that it above-soil. Anyone know the answer to this?). The other idea is to use cedar stake with colorful cabinet knobs screwed into the top. This second idea would be much easier and since I'm pretty lazy, is probably what I will go with...

Another ideas for quirky garden additions: colorful bottles with the necks buried to create an edging, bottle paths/"plantings", broken plate edging (bury the sharp pieces!), and crazy containers (think old rain boots with annuals spilling out or tin cans or a baby carriage!).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Talk to me," says the Tomato

We all know I get too emotionally attached to my plants. I've been known to mourn their death. Curiously, however, I don't really talk to them. Perhaps b/c they don't really talk back. In fact, they just kind of stand there unresponsive. It's totally rude, but they give me food, so I forgive.

Prince Charles, however, begs to differ. The British Royal Horticultural Society is doing a study to see if tomatoes grow better if you talk to them. But, since this is the UK, no mindless American-style convo can do. No sir! The tomatoes must get Shakespeare streamed via an MP3 player attached to their pots. A delicious tomato must be cultured, literally.

Folks, I'm not kidding! Promise!

I'm attempting to reserve judgement until the study's findings are revealed. But, until then, I have allowed myself a little giggle.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Garden Update!

Remember how the garden started out?
Or how it looked just after being planted?

Check out how it looks now, after several non-consecutive weekends of rain:
It's huge! It's green! Everything is still alive! Woah!
We still aren't sure what we are going to put in between the beds. The pavers above I got from freecycle, but I think that we might go for stepping stones with low ground cover in between.

Here are some close ups (click on the photo to enlarge):
Herb Garden

Vegetables (hot peppers & tomatoes shown below. With nasturtiums and cilantro mixed in)

Clematis (with a bit of hail damage)

So far, I've only see 1 white butterfly in the garden and 1 ladybug. However the lack of a serious aphid infestation leads me to believe there are more beneficials around. The Sungold tomatoes are the first picture. They are REALLY coming along. All of the other tomatoes that I started (my Freecycle tomatoes are planted, but not shown in the photo) have buds with the exception of Wonder Light...they look healthy though. And my cayenne peppers? Totally rockin'. Don't believe me? Check this out:

The herb garden has also been quite productive. I love picking a few sprigs to put into whatever I'm cooking. Most of my herbs should be perennials, so I won't have to buy or plant them again! Hurray!

Also note that the garden was planted approximately ONE MONTH ago! Holy cow! I don't think my plants grew this big during the entire season last year!!! The difference? Um...following advice from books: using good fertile soil (check!), getting at least 6 hours of sun a day (check!) and planting diversely to attract beneficial to eat pests (check!).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blog Roll Updated

As I find new blogs that are both informative & entertaining (and garden-related), I will update the list on the right. For now, we have:

Garden Rant
Moxie Gardener
Sustainable Gardening Blog
You Grow Girl™ - Gardening for the People
DC Urban Gardeners

It's great to learn from the experience of others (even if they are equally new to gardening! Perhaps they have encountered something I haven't...) as well as "borrow" landscape or garden designs.

Any other recommendations?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Arlington Homes & Gardens, Part 1

This is the first edition of what I hope to be a monthly post: Arlington Homes & Gardens.

I am a big fan of walking. I find walking around Arlington neighborhoods a great way for exercise, catching up with friends and finding good landscaping ideas for my own home. This way I can see what plants work in my climate as well as ones that look good with the Arlington brick-style homes. It's a great way to learn from others. And I've noticed that Arlingtonians are awesome at taking the same circa 1930-40s home and really making it unique, despite it being the exact same layout as the rest of the block. There are so many different variations on the theme of the yards!

This house, which I think is more of a "meadow" theme, has my favorite garden so far. Fa-vor-ite. Note the green roof (close ups below)! Also, the front yard is 100% garden. No lawn. Love it.

I also love the upside down tomato planters hanging from the roof of the porch. Both decorative & functional!

Now, one thing to keep in mind with this kind of garden is that it doesn't just happen overnight. It takes a few years for plants to establish and fill in the gaps. Of course, you could spend a *fortune* on plants & not have any gaps. This would certainly provide an instant garden. However, after a few years you'd have to dig up plants to give everything a little room to grow.

Remember, there's a difference between "natural" and "overgrown"!

Monday, June 1, 2009


Ever wonder: Is this a baby plant or a weed? Or, perhaps, is this a weed that is going to look pretty or ugly? (I personally don't mind the violets that pop up all over our lawn. They are purdy.)

Here's a site with lots of pictures if you already have an idea what you're dealing with: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/weeds_multi.html and http://www.wssa.net/Weeds/ID/PhotoGallery.htm

Here's a site where you can search for weeds by their appearance: http://weedid.aces.uiuc.edu/

With all the rainy weather the DC area has been having, it should be easy to pluck them out of the ground. Do it now before they set seeds...which will just make weeding a bigger chore next year!