Thursday, January 12, 2017

Scented Geraniums - Variety in Your Sunny Window

No collection would be complete without the velvety leaved Peppermint Geranium, Pelargonium tomentosum.  The decumbent growth and slivery sheen of the fine hairs on the leaves make each plant look like a flower arranger’s idea of perfection right in its own pot. (Description GBF, photo RFL, Lyon Botanical Garden, France.)


Scented geraniums, Pelargonium species are simple to grow and have enough uses to repay the care taken to bring them in the house year after year. The most commercially available scents are rose, lemon, apple, nutmeg and peppermint, Their leaf growth in its variety of forms adds to this plant family’s diversity.

One summer I asked a friend to check on my herb garden for some weeks.  She was happy to trade a few hours weeding and watering for the chance to harvest fresh herbs for her cooking. I had just set out a six inch rooted cutting of the lemon scented geranium, Dr. Livingston.  She rubbed the leaf and remarked on the nice smell.  When I came back from my vacation my friend greeted me with the sad news that she could not find Dr. Livingston.  Together we walked to the spot where it was planted.  I smiled as I looked down at the large sprawling Dr. Livingston geranium that had flourished in my absence.  I picked a couple of leaves and gave them to her and she smiled too.  Certainly it did not look like the young cutting and she had no idea it could grow that quickly.  The following copy written by my mother suggests that it is easier to learn to take cutting than to bring in a large plant at the end of summer. - RFL

Herbs for Every Garden by Gertrude B. Foster p. 123
Geraniums, Scented (Pelargonium species)
  The way one group of plants can develop scents similar to other flowers and fruits, as in scented pelargoniums, is one of nature’s great mysteries.  Certainly, perfumes have powers for remedial action against bacteria and affect the psyche to the extent of raising the spirits and stirring appetite and memory.  If all other means of gardening were closed to me, the fragrant mimicry of pelargoniums on a windowsill would carry me through the year, provided I had cuttings, a bit of sand, soil and adequate sun. 

Height. Aside from some climbing species, most geraniums do not exceed two feet in height, except where they are grown outside the year round, as in their native South Africa or in California
Leaf and blossom. There are many greenhouse varieties of pelargoniums.  The most familiar to herb growers is rose geranium, Pelargonium graveolens, with its broadly cut leaves of a rose-like perfume.  The flowers are small, separate pinkish or pink-veined with purple, and the foliage is the most significant aspect of the plant.  Peppermint geranium, with its velvety, grape-like leaves and small white blossoms is P. tomentosum. Lemon-scented, P crisp has the most conspicuous flowers of the group, on quite long stems, which are a deep rose color  Here again it is the leaf texture, crisped and of a fruit fragrance, which is distinguishes the plant.  Nutmeg and apple geraniums have small, almost rounded, soft gray leaves with the scent of spice or apple.
Culture.  Propagated by cuttings rooted in sand in full sun in the window garden or greenhouse, pelargoniums often grow too large in the garden to be returned to the house in the fall.  The lemon geranium takes longer than most to root, sometimes three months.  Cuttings of geraniums should be made six weeks before frost so that the plants may be potted before the source material is lot.  Drainage is important to pelargoniums.  The average potting soil mixture should have sand or fine grit added to it. It does no harm to the plants to have the pots small enough to dry out daily between waterings.  Blooms will be encouraged by undersize pots, and there will be less danger of root rot.
Uses. The pelargonium clan can furnish the basis for tiny bouquets called tussle-mussies.  The fresh leaves invite experimentation for garnishing fruit cup or salad. If leaves of rose geranium are put in a pint jar with granulated sugar the sweetening will take up the perfume flavor to be added to any dessert you prefer.  Apple jelly flavored with rose geranium leaves is an old-fashioned delight. 


1955 Herb Grower Magazine Volume 4 by Gertrude B. Foster
Scented Geraniums for a sunny window: A collection of Scented Geraniums, better known as Pelargoniums, offer fun and fragrance for the whole winter.  The variety of shapes of leaves, perfume of the foliage and general habit of growth is so great we often wonder why Pelargoniums are not more popular than African Violets.  The propagation is easier and the care indoors less fussy.

Maybe we really like them because they are unusual.  To collect all the types now available would take several years and a successful grower can make his own crosses.  Plants will bloom toward mid-winter, especially if they are fresh starts from cuttings made in late summer and kept slightly pot-bound. The blossoms are not as large as those of the well-known Geraniums but in their dainty way quite as appealing.  The real difference between the two groups is in the irregularity of petals in the Pelargoniums.

Geraniums have five evenly spaced and regular petals whereas in Scented Geraniums or Pelargoniums the groupings are in twos and threes with the upper ones usually larger and more colorful.

Not all Pelargoniums are as easy to propagate as the familiar Rose Geranium.  It has cut leaves of a rich rose-like odor often used to flavor apple jelly or sponge cake by placing a leaf in the bottom of the jelly glass or cake pan before filling. There are quite a few forms of Rose Geranium, Pelargonium graveolens.

Just glancing down one page of Pelargoniums in a catalog we see Camphor Rose, Skeleton Rose (the leaves are much thinner and cut like a skeleton of the Rose Geranium leaf), Large leaved Rose, Little leaf Rose and even a variegated mint-scented rose.

Usually the variegated ones are in the lemon-scented group, (botanically, Pelargonium crispum).  The leaves are smaller and crisped about edge with fine indentations.  Prince Rupert is the largest of the group with a very handsome form with creamy edging on the leaves.  Pelargonium crisp in all its varieties needs more water than Rose Geranium and is very slow to root.

Another Lemon-scented group is Pelargoium limoneum with a strong lemon pungency and fan-shaped, tooth leaves.  Lady Mary is Pelargonium Limoneum also, with showy flowers and a slight lemon scent.  Lemon Balm-scented Pelargonium is given a different species name, P. Melissimum.

There are forms with leaves in the shape of oak leaves, Pelargonoiium quercifolum, such as Giant Oak, Sharp-toothed Oak, Prostrate Oak, Staghorn Oak Leaf and Fair Ellen. There seems to be a sticky, glandular secretion upon the oak-leaf Pelargonium foliage.  It is not much scented but the flowers are among the showiest of the Scented Geraniums.

The Apple, Nutmeg types are rounded in leaf with a fine flannelly texture.  Apricot and Filbert-scented are other offerings in the Village Hill Nursery catalog.  To see the names, makes one want to create a conservatory just for Pelargoniums.  Mecca for a collector of this genus is the glass house at the New York Botanical Garden which houses a huge collection [in 1955].

Thursday, December 15, 2016

ODE TO MY SIDE YARD BORDER GARDEN





It has come to pass that the Town of Greenwich needs a four foot one inch easement along the side of our house so it can replace a storm drain on our neighbor’s property.  This is not a happy development.  When I moved to Old Greenwich in 1995 I assumed the yard from Charlotte and Joe, my in laws.  It was their home for over 50 years.  The hemlock hedge around the property was 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide and in decline.  The yews by the front steps left little room to reach the porch. I could see the charm of the house built in 1917.  

After my husband, Jay took his chainsaw to the overgrown shrubs and I dug out the roots, it was time to plant anew.  It was also time to sell my parents' home where they had gardened for 60 years and our own family’s eight acres where I collected many wonderful varieties of flowers, shrubs and herbs.  With less than a quarter acre to work with and large Norway Maple trees close by in neighbors’ yards I took a Noah’s Arc approach and transplanted my most treasured plants.  

Now I must plan a rescue removal of the plants growing in the 160 foot long and five foot wide bed that includes the proposed easement.  Perhaps we can negotiate a fair arrangement to save the two specimen Chamaecyparis obtusa trees I planted twenty years ago that have grown into handsome specimens. The fifteen year old flowering “Stewartia” accenting my steps will be chopped down. 

The town’s engineer asked if this list was accurate, he could not imagine growing all these plants.  I will admit that if you are not a gardener it could raise eyebrows.  But this is the list that I made in May as I weeded and mulched the plants along my border garden.

Syringa - 2 lilac shrubs (one white and one dark purple)  
Kolkwitzia amabilis - Beauty Bush - 17 years, gift from my father at my mother’s passing - seedling of his plant  
Clethra - pink flowering gift from friend 18 years 
Narcissus - 30 Daffodils  
Hemerocallis - 25 Daylily plants various hybrids and rare selections (no wild orange) 
Hosta Blue Cadet - 10 
Hosta Francis Williams - 3 
Hosta Mrs Allen - 5 
Adiantum - 12  Maidenhair fern  
Asarum europaeum - European ginger 
Sanguinaria canadensis - Native wildflower - single bloodroot 
Hydrangia - 4 varieties established shrubs 
Iris Japanese 3 varieties(White heron, rare purple/white, Eleanor Perry) 
Iris Henry Shaw - 10 white German iris 
Iris pumilla - 25  dwarf early flowering purple 
Iris dwarf cherry - 15 semi-dwarf red iris 
Iris dwarf yellow - 15 semi-dwarf yellow iris  
Iris  - yellow flag 
Iris cristata - 50 (rare native) 
Paeonia lactifolia - single flowered peony - 3 pink  
Polygonatum  - Variegated Solomon seal 
Rubus - Jewel black raspberry (8 plants) established and productive 
Rubus - red raspberry (5 plants) established and productive 
Cyanococcus - 2 hybrid blueberry shrubs (10 years) 
Podophyllum - Mayapple 
Epimedium  - yellow  
Muscari - grape hyacinth 
Cornus florida - white Dogwood 50 years old 
Paeonia - Double pink peony  
Nepeta cataria - Catnip 
Levisticum officinale - lovage herb 
Allium schoenoprasum - chives herb 
Allium tuberosum - garlic chives herb 
Rosa Floribunda - 3 roses (pink and red)  
Hakonechloa m. aureola - Golden dwarf Japanese grass  
Buddleia - 2 Butterfly bushes (purple) 
Angelica - 10 culinary herb 
Buxus - English boxwood 17 years - rooted from a bouquet at my mother's funeral 
Artemisia albula - Wormwood Silver King 
Malva - Pink 
Digitalis (- pink foxglove) first planted 1979 
Helianthus tuberosus - Sunchoke  
Silene coronaria - Rose Campion 
Lismachia purpurea - Purple Loosestrife 
Platycodon - balloon flower 

Onoppordum acanthum - Scotch Thistle 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

SAGE - A GARDEN BEAUTY

Purple Sage and Curly Parsley at the Denver Botanic Garden

Tri-color Sage in my Greenwich garden

The holiday feast would not be complete without a turkey and stuffing flavored with sage. If you have it growing in your garden you can rely on it to be available for the chef because it can be harvested over a long season.

As fall mellows and then chills, many garden plants become tattered and straggly tempting the gardener wielding clippers to make the garden tidy. There are leafy herbs that defy this trend and show their glory even through frost and light snow.  Lavender, rosemary, silver horehound, thyme and sage all put on a fine display until a heavy freeze or deeper snow.

One delicious and durable member of this group is Salvia officinalis.  The most common varieties have gray green leaves with a matte textured surface. However, I find the purple, gold and tricolor leafed sage plants impart color while also adding their traditional flavor in cooking. 


Late in October my husband, Jay, and I spent a happy week in Denver with our daughter and her family.  The Denver Botanic Gardens, a lustrous jewel in Cheesman Park has plentiful herbs in formal and informal plantings.  Sages seem to love the high dry climate.  They are more fragrant there than in my Connecticut yard.  The difference is most likely due to the intense sunlight in Colorado and Long Island Sound’s summer humidity. My yard has lots of shady areas and fewer hours of hot sun.

Monday, November 7, 2016

PINE NEEDLES - Free and Easy Garden Mulch

Eastern White Pine - Pinus strobus
Newly fallen pine needles

Each fall pine needles drop. 

This year there is an abundance probably due to the drought that Connecticut and Massachusetts are suffering. One of the best ways to protect plants from drought conditions is to cover the soil  around your plants with mulch. Pine needles make an excellent mulch.  The water passes directly through and the resin content of the pine needles makes the mulch dry on the top deterring plant diseases.  And if you look around your neighborhood there could be plenty, just for the taking. 

Before the dinosaurs 50% of the earth's plants were conifers. Then plants (and trees) with flowers arrived 140 million years ago and became the dominant success story, reducing conifers to only 15% of the earth’s plants today. So if you are considering adding trees to your landscape consider conifers to keep plant diversity in your neighborhood.

The pine trees pictured here are along the edge of a parking lot owned by my town.  The ground crew will soon blow them into the parking lot and take them away to a landfill.  This is unfortunate.  If they were left in place they would feed and enrich the soil, save some labor, eliminate the noisy use of leafblowers and save space in the local landfill.

Last week I saw that the parking lot and grass were covered with pine needles.  I put some bags, boxes, baskets and my rake in my car for a quick stop to harvest this wealth of free clean organic mulch.  I used some immediately around leeks and garlic that will stay in the vegetable garden until I am ready to harvest, even if that is next season. The remainder is stashed away in my garden shed until spring.

It is important to look carefully at the area around the pine needles.  I did and saw some poison ivy growing at the bottom of the boundary fence, a recognition insuring that I will not rake up leaves that will make me itch. 


If you miss the fall pine needle gathering, the trees may drop again in the spring, but it will be much less. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

FIRST FROST FRENZY

  

A vase of basil for the kitchen


By Rosemary Louden 
Adapted from The Herb Grower Magazine, 1979

The evenings have grown short again and the ground is damp from more frequent rain, yet the earth remains warm from the summer sun.  Annual plants are putting on a final show of green foliage and bright flowers.  Then, suddenly, the day is warm, bright and breezy.  As the sun sets it becomes quickly cooler.  There is a chill and you realize “It may frost tonight.”

All summer is held for a moment before you, lush and vulnerable.  It will be so different by morning.  Tiny vandals will scamper about darkening leaves and causing them to hang limp in the morning sum.  The impulse is to grab any spare basket, box and sheet for covering the plants as you did against the late spring cool spells; but you are struck by the size of the herbs. Six little basils fit under soup cans then. Somehow they have grown together in a fragrant mass to over three square feet.  Even bushel baskets will bend over the tops and make them look sad from a night of confinement.

Then you look at the number of cold-sensitive herbs in your garden.  So many grew from those few trays of seedlings.  It seems hopeless, short of a tent to cover your whole garden.

After the feelings of guilt for having failed to use, dry and pot plants  subsides, you realize the only road becomes clear: compromise.  Take inventory of the plants to be hurt by frost.  Decide what reasonable action can be taken.  Here is a suggested list:

BASIL - (tender annual) Cut to dry, make pesto, or flavored vinegar.  Put cut sprigs in a vase of water for rooting to grow in a window. If you see black seeds ready for harvest, clip the seed heads, put them in a paper bag, label and keep for sowing in the spring.
CILANTRO (hardy annual) - Cut for using immediately or make an olive oil parsley/cilantro pesto to freeze.  Harvest the brown seeds or scratch them into the soil for next year’s plants.
SCENTED GERANIUMS (tender perennial)- Put sprigs in a vase of water for potting up.
LEMON VERBENA (tender perennial) - Cut to dry. Leave a few leaves on lower stems and pot the main root to bring in for dormant storage. 
ROSEMARY (evergreen perennial) - Pot up and move to a sheltered porch or place up against a building.  Rosemary is cold tolerant but can’t survive a total freeze.  It should be transitioned indoors in the same way you gradually bring plants out in the spring.
DILL (hardy annual)- It is likely that a light frost will not harm dill, but it is better to cut some greens for drying or storage in your freezer and gather seeds when dry. Since this herb goes well with hot vegetables, you can create an herb butter log and freeze it; cut a pat of the dill butter for serving on squash or beans. 

BAY (evergreen perennial) - This tree is happy to stay in a pot all year.  It is time to move it with your rosemary plants and gradually bring it in for the winter.

Monday, October 17, 2016

GERTRUDE B. FOSTER 1920 - 1997 Herbalist



In the month of November we celebrate the birthday of Bunny Foster, editor of The Herb Grower Magazine, which was published by my parents, Phil Foster, the printer and Bunny, the writer. 

During WWII the supply of reliable herb seeds from Europe was interrupted giving Bunny and Phil a reason to start their herb seed business. In 1946 with the war won the first issue of the Magazine was released. 

In 1943 Bunny authored a booklet titled, It Is Easy to Grow Herbs, to encourage people to grow their own garden of herbs from seed.  Here are two paragraphs from page one of that booklet.

Perhaps this brief account of some of the herbs we have grown and loved may inspire you to discover for yourself the new fields of adventure they have opened for us.

You may gain a new enthusiasm for cooking with herbs at hand to enhance favorite dishes or transform less palatable ones.  Botany and history come alive through the fascinating lore surrounding these age-old plants.  In the gardens of the early colonies sweet herbs (for flavoring), pot herbs (vegetables) and simples (medicinal herbs) mingled happily to provide savor, sustenance, and physic. 

The pictures of Bunny and her garden were taken in Falls Village, CT in 1966.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE CLOVER AND THE BEE, A BOOK OF POLLINATION




Review by Rosemary Foster Louden

Anne Ophelia Dowden’s The Clover & the Bee was published in 1990.  As author and  illustrator, she details the magical process of pollination.  Although the Library of Congress Catalog lists this book in “juvenile literature”, it is a joy to read at any age.  As with all her scientifically based books she clearly presents the concepts and exquisitely illustrates them. 

If you have not read this book it is available from many used book sellers, some at nominal cost.  If you are a gardener, find and read it. Purchase a copy for your library, share it with the next generation and observe all the many pollinators around you.

Gardeners are an optimistic group. They spend many hours preparing for events that may or may not happen. Will the perennial plant enjoyed last season grow again this year? Will the tomatoes ripen early? Will the newly planted Dogwood display its color on Mother’s Day?  When the roses open their first bloom, will the showers spoil their perfection?

Even when people follow gardening “best practices”, Mother Nature’s support is essential to achieve the desired results.  Gardeners read information, buy seeds, plants, fertilizer, hoses, and tools. Their money expands the horticultural industry in many directions. These millions of dedicated and occasional gardeners can improve their community.  They can choose organic methods and join together to inspire even non-gardeners to buy food at markets that offer local produce.

While tending my small plot at Greenwich Community Garden, I happened to talk to a budding gardener.  He asked me if what he was growing would taste better than what he could buy in the supermarket.  That is not an easy question to answer.  I told him that if he harvested his beans young and picked is tomatoes at their peak of ripeness he would be rewarded.   

Gardening is a recreational activity, farming and landscaping are businesses.  The science of agriculture brings about more changes in the natural environment than individuals’ gardening. People and animals need food, sports need playing fields and florists need constantly available flowers. For business, predicability is key to success and as a result their focus is on the money as well as the product.  

Chemicals are used extensively in agriculture to minimize the need for labor.  Eliminating “pests” can mean destroying weeds, insects and animals.  One of the chemical treatments now available is neonicotinoid pesticide.  Corn seeds and soybean seeds, among others, are treated with it so that the emerging plant will be filled with chemical protection as it grows.

Fortunately, there are scientists who study the web of life, watching for changes, both beneficial and harmful.  In recent years honey bees vital to agriculture have been dying in large numbers.  These losses have been labeled “colony collapse disorder”.  There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids caused this problem.  In July 2014, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides in all national wildlife refuges across the United States by January 2016. While many people rail against genetically modified foods, other equally worrisome products are sold without any fanfare.  Even your neighbors’ lawns treated with chemicals become a desert of green, providing no habitat for essential insects, and become a death trap for bees and butterflies. Our life on this planet requires pollinators: observe, preserve and encourage them.